Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The current generation will most likely have never heard of her. Those that have might only recognize the name. I highly doubt if more than a tiny fraction of 1% of today's youth have ever even seen a clip of one of her movies. And yet, to those of us who were familiar with her, she was an icon.
Her bouncy golden curls were so desperately important to a nation wallowing in the Great Depression that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Temple "Little Miss Miracle," declaring, "As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right." She was the #1 box office draw for 4 years in a row, a record that still stands. I remember as a small boy, watching re-runs of her movies on television, a medium that didn't exist during the height of her career.
What Shirley Temple represents to me, and why I find her passing so bittersweet, is the stark contrast she offers to what we, as a comparatively sick and depraved society, now accept as "normal." And more importantly, how today's child stars respond to adversity.
After Shirley Temple's box office success, she became less and less popular. Her audience refused to accept the fact that she had "grown up." Her popularity waned. It became harder and harder for her to obtain roles.
Instead of selfishly imploding into a narcissistic, self-pitying disaster of immeasurable proportions a la Macauley Culkin et al, she never missed a beat... instead, she placed her attention where it should have been... on getting on with her life. She became a wife and mother, raised a family, and then quietly refocused her attention on giving back to the nation that had given her so much attention and adulation... and helping people less fortunate than herself in the process.
In 1962, she became a diplomat. She served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, and U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She served as the Chief of Protocol for the U.S., and was the only person ever given the distinction and honor of being an Honorary Foreign Service Officer. She would faithfully... and diligently... serve in public service until 1993... a span of 31 years.
Shirley Temple Black, as she would later be known, was truly a class act. When her career faded, she didn't allow herself to descend into the vapid pits of despair and wallow in self-pity, nor did she sacrifice her morals for the sake of shock value in a vain attempt to inject life into her career. Nor did she retreat into the dark comfort of drugs or alcohol.
Shirley Temple held her head high, looked around, and found a dignified place where she could leverage her considerable fame into an extraordinarily effective new career that actually helped millions of people... one that wasn't even in the same universe as show business... and one that didn't focus the spotlight on herself at all.
This, America, is what dignity looks like. Please make a note of it.