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Shirley Temple Dies; Childhood Movie Star Became Diplomat

Shirley Temple, who charmed the nation as a child movie star in the 1930s and went on to become one of the nation's diplomats in posts that included ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, has died.

She was 85.

The Associated Press writes that publicist Cheryl Kagan says the actress, known as Shirley Temple Black in her private life, died late Monday evening at her home near San Francisco. Kagan tells the AP that Temple's family and caregivers were with her.

'Morning Edition' looks back at the life of Shirley Temple

In a statement, the family says:

A bit of 'On the Good Ship Lollipop'

"We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black."

On Morning Edition, NPR's Alison Bryce's report begins by calling Temple "the most famous childhood star of all times." It recalls a 1985 conversation Temple had with NPR in which the actress says she "loved learning to dance and sing. ... Children don't have a lot of memories and so you're like a blotter — everything you learn very quickly — and for me, since I didn't have much in my head, I was able to learn everything relatively easily."

The BBC reminds us that:

"The actress found fame as a young girl in the 1930s in films like Bright Eyes, Stand Up and Cheer and Curly Top.

"After retiring from films in 1950 at the age of 21, Temple returned to the public eye as a Republican candidate for Congress and as a U.S. diplomat."

She was, the AP adds, "a talented and ultra-adorable entertainer ... [and] America's top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the top 50 screen legends ranked Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses. She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing 'On the Good Ship Lollipop' for generations."

Hollywood Reporter calls Temple "the enchanting singing and dancing child star with the glowing corkscrew curls who saved a Hollywood studio [Fox] and helped yank America from the throes of the Great Depression." It adds that:

"Making $1,250 a week at age 6, the incandescent Temple was a veteran of 46 features and one-reelers before she turned 13. A huge star in a pint-sized package, she received an average of 16,000 letters a month, and for one birthday, fans sent her 167,000 presents."

She will also be remembered for a drink designed to supposedly make children look grown-up. During her diplomatic career, Temple once told NPR's Scott Simon, everywhere she went people couldn't resist serving her a "Shirley Temple" — a nonalcoholic cocktail of 7-Up, grenadine syrup, orange juice and a maraschino cherry. "Yes, well, those were created in the 1930s by the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood, and I had nothing to do with it," she told Scott.

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Mark Memmott
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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