Shirley Temple Black’s American Legacy

Kelsey Harris /

Shirley Temple Black died late Monday night at the age of 85, but her legacy lives on as the dimpled, curly-headed-cutie who saved the spirits of so many Americans during the Great Depression.

Shirley Temple / Photo

Most fans grew up watching her movies in the 1930s and younger audiences appreciated the “classics” on Turner Classic Movie Channel marathons or re-packaged “America’s Sweetheart Collections.”

Shirley Temple

She starred in more than 40 motion pictures, and most were made before she celebrated her 12th birthday.

Shirley Temple

A later film landed her in a movie with Ronald Reagan. “That Hagen Girl” debuted in 1947, and Shirley played the “illegitimate daughter” of Reagan’s character, Tom Bates.

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a big fan:

“…as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

So was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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But who was Shirley Temple post-curls and movie superstardom?

Shirley Temple Dies Aged 85

In December 1950, she married Charlie Black at the age of 22. He was the son of the president of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and a war veteran.

Shirley Temple and Charles Black - 1968

She had three children. One from a previous marriage and two with Black.

Actress Shirley Temple 1928 -

None of them had curls like she did.

She volunteered for the Republican Party and campaigned for Nixon. According to Reuters, her interest in politics started when her husband was called to work in Washington with the Navy in the early 1950s.

Shirley Temple Black Child Actress

In 1967, she ran for Congress in California’s San Mateo County.

Shirley Black running for Congress

She lost.

…but she still rubbed shoulders with many Presidents in her lifetime.

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Nixon appointed her a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1969 and in 1974 President Gerald R. Ford named her ambassador to Ghana. She went on to serve as his chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977.

Ford and Shirley Temple Black

And in 1989, President George H.W. Bush made her ambassador to Prague.

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This was “a sensitive Eastern European post normally reserved for career diplomats,” Reuters reported. But Prague’s President Gustav Husak was also a big fan of Shirley. He told her that he’d been a fan of “Shirleyka” and officials brought her “Shirleyka” cards to autograph.

Shirley Temple Dies Aged 85

In 1972, Shirley underwent a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  She publicly discussed the process to educate women.

Shirley Temple Dies Aged 85

Shirley may always be remembered for her dimples and curly locks, but her life will live on as a symbol of hope and joy in both good times and bad.

Shirley Temple / Photo c.1935

All photos courtesy of Newscom.

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.