Editorial: Right time for the right little girl

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 11:55 PM

Dimples, curls and the cutest red top we could imagine. Shirley Temple was the right little girl for just the right time in American history.

Known as Shirley Temple Black in her private life, she died Monday. She was 85.

When we recall even the vaguest of images of Temple, whether we grew up with her or in the latest generation, invariably it is the black-and-white pictures of a 6-year-old that come to mind. She was adorable, yes. But oh, how she could act and sing.

Fellow members of Hollywood and its observers marveled at her abilities. She knew everyone’s lines, ready to supply them if need be. She could cry on cue, or warm her way into our heart or make us laugh in the most natural of actions.

Like anyone, Temple had her adversities. We just seldom saw or realized them. She was the victim of a producer’s self-exposure at age 12, lost her first marriage to a husband’s drinking and abuse, and had a father who squandered her millions. A department store Santa Claus even asked for her autograph.

Her mother was a comfort, a rock, in her life. She prepared her daughter’s 56 curls for each film, and only once was she not stage-side.

Gifted every bit as much as cute, President Franklin Roosevelt said of her timing to the Depression era, “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.”

Decades later, one of Temple’s enduring Hollywood assets is an image free of scandals and troubles.

Tinseltown is a tough business. Temple didn’t get every part, such as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” And by 21, she was retired.

But her legacy was far from done.

She was active in politics, served globally through the United Nations and served as a U.S. ambassador and chief of protocol.

An American icon from the big screen’s golden age, our lives were enhanced by Shirley Temple. Hers was a most splendid life.