It seems like I have always known about Shirley Temple. Oh! How I envied those ringlets. Being raised in a family where grandparents, aunts and uncles, and great aunts and uncles were always around, it seemed like the past was just as real and important as the present. Gossip about relatives and stories about saving aluminum foil and cooking with oleo during the depression mingled side by side in conversation with ease. And so it made sense that I should love Shirley Temple and love hearing my grandmother and great aunts talk about her.
One of my most treasured gifts as a child, which my Mom still has protected in a curio cabinet, was receiving a vintage Shirley Temple doll from my great aunt Sara. I was in love with that doll not only because it was something that she owned and loved and would pass on to me, but because Shirley Temple was all that a girl could hope to be: cute, talented, and famous – but all in a way that would make your family proud of you.
Although these traits are something many young girls still aspire to, the context now is such that child stars are usually doomed to be felons or addicts. Additionally to reach fame, young girls usually have to compromise their identities as children and grow up far before they should have to. And that is why Shirley Temple’s death is so poignant.
After her career in Hollywood – where she was more famous than Clark Gable and received more fan mail than Greta Garbo, according to the NYTimes article this morning – she went on to be politically active serving as a diplomat overseas and being an early advocate for breast cancer awareness. In short, she used her notoriety for making the world a better place, not making an empire of her image.
I will deeply miss this Hollywood icon. Here is a youtube clip from “We Should Be Together” (1938) which and a scrolling gallery of some of Shirley Temple’s most famous movies.