This morning, I checked on Twitter to see the latest news and grew sad to discover that actress Shirley Temple Black passed away yesterday at the age of 85. So today, I’d like to pay tribute to her.
I own a copy of her autobiography, Child Star. Although biographies are not particularly my favorite genre, there’s something special about this one that has me going back to it time after time. Her book is a wry and entertaining account of her stardom in Hollywood and contains great anecdotes about the quirks of the famous people she met, the movies she made and the friendships she had. I had to laugh at her account of smacking Eleanor Roosevelt with a pebble from a slingshot. Whoops.
It would have been easy for Shirley Temple Black to succumb to the “I’m so famous” bug, but she didn’t. Reading between the lines of the book, she sounded like a sensible, talented and classy person who didn’t let fame go to her head, even though she entered Hollywood at such a young age. She could sing, dance and act — triple threat!
I also loved the story of her friendship with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. I liked her description of how kind he was to her, while at the same time he faced obstacles of his own in society as an African-American dancer. He was the first African-American male to appear on film dancing with a Caucasian female in their movie “The Little Colonel”.
To my mind, that movie contains one of the best dance sequences ever filmed (see below). It’s hard enough to tap dance on a level floor, let alone go up and down a set of stairs (or backward!) at the same time without missing a beat. They made it look so easy.
In later life, Shirley Temple Black was a mom and grandmother as well as the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She received numerous awards for the work she’d done, including being a Kennedy Center Honoree, for her contribution to American culture.
I’m glad she got the recognition, which she well deserved. One of the most touching tributes to her that I’ve read this morning was a Facebook post from a man who said, “I worked for her for three years when I was at the embassy. A great lady.”
Take care, Shirley. We’ll miss you.