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Why Shirley Temple Quit Hollywood for Politics

Today, we’ve got something pretty rare to share with you. We’re going to be talking about a former child star that grows up to be a mature adult. Seriously though, how often do you hear about that? Most of the time when we think about child stars, we think about slow-born horror stories. Through the pages of the tabloids about people like Corey Haim, Macaulay Culkin and Dustin Diamond.

Shirley Temple remembers the perpetually positive child star with those golden curly locks and dimples who starred in more than a dozen films in the 1930s. She helped bring optimism to Americans when they needed it the most. She was there to warm hearts and bring smiles to those who were dealing with the harshest years of The Great Depression.

Upbeat song and dance numbers like ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop‘ from the 1934 film Bright Eyes solidified her position as one of America’s most cherished darlings. She even earned herself an Academy Award at the tender age of six. Who else can claim that?

People living through the great depression needed something to lift their spirits. Actually, that might be a bit of an understatement, but an adorable little girl with her loyal, loving dog companion was apparently just what the doctor ordered.

Being America’s little sweetheart didn’t last forever. She couldn’t hold on to her success at the box office either. As she grew up, the public’s interest in her work began to wane. By the time she turned 22, she had already officially retired from the entertainment industry, but she didn’t drop out the spotlight completely. Not in the least bit.

After leaving Hollywood and show business behind, Temple pursued a flourishing and successful career in politics. In fact, she’d spend more of her life as a politician than as an actress.

Her story is one worth telling. She was an inspiration to many and her dedication to her values and political beliefs propelled her down a path that few ever have the opportunity of treading. This is the true story of Shirley Temple; an actress who traded the glam and glory of the spotlight for diplomacy and politics. 

She Brushed Shoulders With Political Big-Whigs As A Child

The fame that Temple found early on in her life turned her into a global sensation of sorts. As such, she receives the invitation to the most prestigious and exclusive events. Even from an early age, she got the opportunity to meet some of the nation’s most influential movers and shakers and governmental officials.

Shirley had a few humorous stories from her childhood that she loved to tell. There was the time that she remembered sitting on what she described as the ‘fleshy’ lap of President J. Edgar Hoover when she whipped out her trusty slingshot and launched a pebble at Eleanor Roosevelt’s backside during a barbecue she was attending in Hyde Park, New York. Can you imagine?

Shirley’s peak box office years were between 1935 and 1938. As she got older, fewer casting opportunities and projects came her way. When she was a teenager she would do one or two movies a year tops, but like so many other child stars eventually discover, transitioning into an adult actor can be a daunting task.

At 17 in 1945, she married the brother of one of her classmates, John Augar. They end up having a daughter, Linda Susan together but their marriage quickly fell apart primarily because of Agar’s alcoholism and temper. They ended up divorcing in 1949 – the same year Shirley gave up acting.

Just a few months later while she was vacationing in Hawaii, she met Charlie Black, a man that had never seen any of her movies. Less than two weeks after they started dating, they were already engaged,  And just 10 months later, they tied the knot.

During the Korean War, Charlie promotes as Navy Lieutenant Commander at the Pentagon. Shirley and Charlie lived in DC for two and a half years during this time period. While living in the nation’s capital, she got the opportunity to meet many key members of the Eisenhower administration. The more time she spends in Washington, the deeper her desire to involve with politics grew.

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And keep watching to find out how Shirley ended up becoming one of the nation’s top diplomats. It really is remarkable how her life story unfolded.

Shirley Ran For Congress

Once her an interest in politics, Shirley starts studying political theory more deeply. At that point, she considered herself to be a self-proclaimed ‘citizen politician’ as she put it. As often as she could, she involved herself in political action. She worked with an organization called the League of Women Voters, raised funds for the Republican party, and lent her support to Richard Nixon.

Eventually, Shirley and Charlie settled down in Northern California where they had their two children. They welcomed their son Charlie Aiden Black Jr. into the world on April 28, 1952, and two years later their daughter Lori was born on April 9, 1954. Notably, Lori would later go on to be the bassist in the pioneering American rock band The Melvins.  Charlie Jr ended up becoming a real estate agent and representative for US and foreign clients in international business activities.

When Republican J. Arthur Younger passed away from leukemia in 1967, this left a vacancy in California’s 11th congressional district. Shirley decides that it is a good time for her to involve in politics on a whole new level so she ran for office. She was the last person to enter the race and she was the only woman in the running. All the other 11 contenders were men.  Shirley Temple quotes as saying that it won’t hurt to have a woman’s viewpoint in office.  She described herself as Republican-Independent and pursued the GOP nomination.

Despite being somewhat at a disadvantage, she still ended up earning 34,000 votes and coming in second. She lost to Paul N. McCloskey, who later challenged President Richard Nixon for the GOP presidential nomination in 1972 on an anti-war platform. McCloskey ended up losing that campaign but he served in the House of Representatives until 1983.

Temple Worked For The State Department For Decades

Even though she didn’t get elected into office, her run still impressed a lot of people. One of her biggest fans was none other than President Richard Nixon. He saw a significant amount of political potential in her. So in 1969. he ended up appointing her to the US delegation for the UN General Assembly’s 24 sessions. She took the opportunity to advocate for issues like refugee rights, the growing challenges faced by the elderly, and various environmental issues.

That was just the beginning of her prolific political adventures. A few years later, President Gerald Ford appointed her as the US ambassador to Ghana. When she returns to DC in 1976, she promotes to the chief of protocol, a post that allows her to oversee the program training of new envoys.

She ends up stripping of her position during the Carter administration but she brings back during the Reagan years as a co-chair for the ambassadorial training seminars. Under George H.W. Bush, she receives the opportunity to become the ambassador to Czechoslovakia. The position gives to career diplomats, and she is the first female to hold the title, so in more ways than one, she ends up making history by serving in that role.

Shirley’s childhood fame brings up – there is no way to escape it – but she didn’t resent that fact in the least bit. She told Newsweek that Shirley Temple opened up doors of opportunities for Shirley Temple Black. She saw no reason to deny her past or forget where she came from. Rather she saw each leg of her journey as a stepping stone.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had nothing but praise for her. He told the Times that she was a very intelligent, tough-minded, and disciplined woman. She may have first received recognition for her work as a child star but her hard work and accomplishments in her adult political career were all well earned. Proving herself qualified and competent time and time again.

She ended up working for the State Department in various positions for a total of 20 years. In 1988, she received the honorary rank of U.S. Foreign Service officer. 10 years later in 1998, she was honored once again at the Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime of achievements.

While it’s true that it was her talent as a young girl that propelled her into the national spotlight, it was her dedication to her country that solidified her legacy in politics.

In addition to working for the State Department for two decades, Temple was also extensively involved with the Commonwealth Club Of California. The organization bills itself as the oldest and largest non-partisan public affairs forum in the United States. She spoke at many of their meetings throughout the years and was made president for a term in 1984.

She Survived Breast Cancer

In 1972, when Shirley was 44 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgeons were able to successfully remove the tumor but she had to undergo a painful and traumatic mastectomy. At the time, cancer wasn’t the kind of thing that most people discussed freely. When people did talk about it, it was normally in the form of hushed whispers with a great degree of confidentiality.

Shirley Temple, however, was vocal about her battle and made it a matter of public knowledge. Her willingness to raise awareness for breast cancer awareness is considered a major milestone of the movement. As such she helped reduce the stigma associated with the disease. She ended up announcing the results of the operation live on television and published an article in McCall’s Magazine detailing her experience in February 1973.

Shirley Temple died of pneumonia and obstructive pulmonary disease on February 10, 2014. She smoked cigarettes for her entire life but she never did so publicly for fear of setting a bad example fore her fans. Buried at Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto, California.

She might no longer be with us, but her legacy will endure for many generations to come.

Anyway, we’d love to hear from you! How do you think Shirley Temple will be best remembered? Will she be remembered for her delightful childhood musicals like Curly Top and Heidi or will she be remembered for her service to her country as diplomat? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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