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Opinion

February 13, 2014

Column: Shirley Temple turned fame into a second career

Americans who learned of the death Monday of Shirley Temple Black at age 85 will recall her varied career as an actress, singer, dancer and, later, U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

The part of Ms. Temple’s life that grabbed the country’s heartstrings were her films in the 1930s, in which she typically played an irrepressible, singing, dancing 6-year-old in pin curls. Many of her fans consider her best screen moments to be tap-dance performances, including memorable numbers with tall African-American actor and dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The contrast between him and little Shirley and their evident talents together were priceless.

Ms. Temple received a special Academy Award in 1935, when she was America’s top box-office draw, and a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2006.

Her second career was in public service. As a Republican, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1967. She had been active on the board of the National Wildlife Federation when President Gerald Ford in 1974 named her ambassador to Ghana. In 1989 President George H.W. Bush appointed her the ambassador to then Czechoslovakia.

Those who knew Ms. Temple as a diplomat found her unfailingly charming, with a vibrant sense of humor. Leaders of the countries where she served considered her, as a non-career political ambassador, to have useful connections to official Washington and were charmed by her allure as an American star.

Shirley Temple Black’s movies are still on cable television and, despite the passage of time, are a joy to see. Her years in government, though, are proof that life can have a second act.

This editorial first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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