The Corner

Shirley Temple: After the Movies She Starred in a Diplomatic Role

I join in Jack Fowler’s fond remembrance of Shirley Temple, who died at age 85 yesterday. “America’s Sweetheart” not only enchanted Americans in over 20 movies as a child actress, but her success saved one of America’s great studios from bankruptcy. “If there had not been a Shirley Temple, there would not be a 20th Century-Fox,” a Fox spokesman once said.

But unlike many child actors, Shirley Temple grew up to be a responsible adult who contributed to both her country and the conservative movement. She first entered politics in 1967, when at age 39 she ran in a special election for Congress in the San Francisco Bay Area. She lost the Republican primary to liberal Pete McCloskey by twelve points, in part because she backed the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War and partly because her campaign wasn’t serious enough (“The Good Ship Lollipop” was her theme song at events).

But she didn’t let that defeat deter her from public service. She became U.S. representative to the United Nations during the Nixon administration and later served as ambassador to Ghana and as the U.S. chief of protocol for the Ford administration.

In 1989, she had the good fortune of becoming U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia only three months before the “Velvet Revolution” overthrew the Communist regime there. The new ambassador skillfully assisted the new government in the transition to a free society and earned plaudits from figures ranging from Henry Kissinger (“Very intelligent, very tough-minded, very disciplined”) to free-market finance minister Vaclav Klaus (“She helped in many ways and made us many friends in the West at a crucial time”). 

In her diplomatic career, she was often asked how having been Shirley Temple affected her job. It was quite helpful she said, “mainly because it provides name identification,” but it ultimately had “little bearing on whether I succeed or fail thereafter.” Shirley Temple succeeded as both a talented child star and a level-headed adult.


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