Her achievements did not end with movies. Retired from acting at 21, she went on to hold several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the sudden collapse of communism in 1989.
Former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Black to the post in Prague, saluted her yesterday for “her selfless service to our country” and her film career.
“In both roles, she truly lifted people up and earned not only a place in our hearts, but also our enduring respect,” Bush said in a statement.
Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died at her home near San Francisco. The cause of death was not disclosed.
From 1935 to 1938, she was the most popular screen actress in the country and was a bigger draw than Clark Gable, Joan Crawford or Gary Cooper. In 1999, the American Film Institute’s ranking of the greatest screen legends put Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses.
“I have one piece of advice for those of you who want to receive the lifetime achievement award: Start early,” she quipped in 2006 as she was honored by the Screen Actors Guild.
But she also said that evening that her greatest roles were as wife, mother and grandmother: “There’s nothing like real love. Nothing.” Her husband of more than 50 years, Charles Black, had died a few months earlier.
In “Bright Eyes,” Temple introduced the song “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and did battle with a charmingly bratty Jane Withers, launching Withers as another major child star. As a bright-eyed orphan in “Curly Top,” she sang “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”
She was teamed with the legendary dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in two 1935 films with Civil War themes, “The Little Colonel” and “The Littlest Rebel.” Their tap dance up the steps in “The Little Colonel” (at a time when interracial teamings were rare in Hollywood) became a landmark in the history of film dance.