News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2014

RONN MOTT: Shirley Temple was sweet as you can be

Ronn Mott
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The year I was born, Shirley Temple was the richest actress in America and, certainly, the most beloved of actresses as well.

You could see why even today Shirley Temple was cute, cute, cute! I have no idea about her temperament, but the image she portrayed in all of her roles on the silver screen was that of a sweet and caring child. Some of that had to be true. There were Shirley Temple dolls, Shirley Temple cocoa mugs, etc. She was the top of the top as far as marketing was concerned. The toughest situation any child star faces is that of growing out of being a cute star and becoming an adult.  

Shirley Temple, who died last week, actually handled it very well. One movie I remember was “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer.” She played opposite Cary Grant, who exuded charm like the rest of us breathe in oxygen. She even played in a western where she was the cute daughter of a cavalry officer, and in that film met the young actor she would marry for the first time. The marriage didn’t work. I think it would be tough to be Shirley Temple and be married to a struggling young actor who wanted to be a star. I was a little too young to know all the gossip ins and outs but it was obviously a marriage that wasn’t going to work.

Her next husband, Charles Black, was a wealthy man and active in Republican politics. As is our want to do with people who contribute heavily in the financial graces of your political party, they get appointed as an ambassador. Obviously, Mr. Black, Shirley’s husband, would have rather had his famous wife as an ambassador. So, that’s what happened. Shirley Temple became ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia. And according to all of those who care about those things, she was very good at her politically appointed job.

Little girls all over America had to sit through the process of getting their hair placed in 56 separate curls because that’s what Shirley Temple did every time she stepped in front of the camera. She was as famous around the world as she was in America. On her 11th birthday, she received more than 130,000 birthday cards. And because she was so beloved, Hollywood put black tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in many of her movies and Shirley’s popularity made that possible.

She ran once for Congress but didn’t make it. But if you’re Shirley Temple you have to wonder if she cared whether she was a congresswoman or not. There was never any scandal with Shirley Temple Black. It would seem that with everything she did, she did well. For those who remember, she was everything an American little girl should be and unlike the fiction she performed on screen, Shirley Temple was really as close as you can get to being that sweet, little girl. She will be missed.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.