Shirley Temple Black was the original child star, before “child star” was a bad word. As Shirley Temple, the precocious young actress was just 3 when she began her screen career, with her radiance and sunniness eventually exploding like a solar flare to make her Hollywood’s brightest and most beloved star.
Black died this week at age 85, after starring in over 60 films and later becoming a diplomat, meaning she had devoted her entire lifetime to one mission: making the world feel better. As anyone who’s sat with their grandmother to delight through a viewing of Curly Top or watched their daughter, granddaughter, or niece cheese their way through their own spunky rendition of “Good Ship Lollipop” knows, she accomplished that mission ten-fold with her bright, magnetic, always genuine on-screen glee.
At a time poisoned by Toddlers and Tiaras, stage moms, and child-star meltdowns, it’s never been more appropriate—or needed—to look back at why we loved Shirley Temple so much. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” And as our luck would have it, we will always have her.
“On the Good Ship Lollipop”
Maybe the most iconic Shirley Temple performance, from the 1934 movie Bright Eyes. This is the epitome of precocious professionalism. Sure, her gee-golly choreography is unbearable cute, but watch her eyes. The expression and gumption she sells the number with her eyes is the real magic of Shirley Temple.
After the merger of Fox and Twentieth Century, a Shirley Temple Development Unit was set up specifically to develop star vehicles for Temple with a singular mission: to help lift American spirits in the last days of the Great Depression. As Temple effortlessly tap dances on the top of white piano, it’s safe to say that the mission was accomplished.
The first few seconds of this number for the 1936 film Early Bird, with Temple scrunching her face and stretching sleepy-eyed as she wakes up in the morning, is what the word “cute” was invented to describe. The trick with Temple, though, is that as she then gets out of bed and begins tap dancing around her bedroom while she dresses in the morning, the cute never becomes cloying. Just always, always charming.
“Animal Crackers in My Soup”
I JUST WANNA SQUEEZE HER AND LOVE HER FOREVER.
Shirley and Bojangles
Temple and famous American tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson danced together in a series of films in the 1930s, including 1935’s The Little Colonel. Watch Temple, then barely 7, keep perfect sync with world-renowned, lifetime-trained Robinson.
“Auld Lang Syne”
Tears. Oh, the tears.
Presenting Walt Disney With a Special Oscar
She calls Walt Disney the “daddy” of Snow White and Mickey Mouse, which is about the most adorable thing ever.