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Associated Press
Shirley Temple, age 8 in this 1936 photo, left acting at age 21 and became a diplomat later in life.

Child star gave shape to an era

Actress-dancer-diplomat Shirley Temple dies at 85

Any kid who ever tap-danced at a talent show or put on a curly wig and auditioned for "Annie" can only dream of being as beloved – or as important – as Shirley Temple.

Temple, who died Monday night at 85, sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers and remains the ultimate child star decades later.

Other preteens, from Macaulay Culkin to Miley Cyrus, have been as famous in their time. But none of them helped shape their time the way she did.

Dimpled, precocious and adorable, she was America's top box office star during Hollywood's golden age and such an enduring symbol of innocence that kids still know the drink named for her: a sweet, nonalcoholic cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

Her movies – which included "Bright Eyes" (1934), "Curly Top" (1935), "Dimples" (1936) and "Heidi" (1937) – featured sentimental themes and musical subplots, with stories of resilience that a struggling American public strongly identified with.

She was a tribute to the economic and inspirational power of movies, credited with helping to save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy and praised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a bright spirit during a gloomy time.

Temple, known in private life as Shirley Temple Black, died at her home near San Francisco. The cause of death was not disclosed.

From 1935 to 1938, she was the most popular screen actress in the country and was a bigger draw than Clark Gable, Joan Crawford or Gary Cooper.

In "Bright Eyes," Temple introduced the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop." She was teamed with the dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the 1935 movies "The Little Colonel" and "The Littlest Rebel."

Their tap-dance up the steps in "The Little Colonel" – at a time when interracial teamings were rare in Hollywood – became a landmark in the history of film dance.

At age 6, she won a special Academy Award – and was presented with a miniature Oscar statuette – in 1935 for her "outstanding contribution to screen entertainment" in the previous year.

Decades later, her interest in politics brought her back into the spotlight.

She made an unsuccessful bid as a GOP candidate for Congress in 1967. After Richard Nixon became president in 1969, he appointed her as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. In the 1970s, she was U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later U.S. chief of protocol.

She then served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

Temple married Army Air Corps Pvt. John Agar in 1945. They had a daughter, Susan, in 1948. The actress filed for divorce the following year.

She married Charles Black in 1950, and they had two children, Lori and Charles. That marriage lasted until his death in 2005 at age 86.

To view a photo gallery of Shirley Temple Black, click here.

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