Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple’s death has brought back memories of Ghana.

Shirley Temple Black was US Ambassador to the country for a couple of years during the Administration of President Gerald Ford.  I always thought she was wasted there.

For those not old enough to remember, Shirley Temple was one of the most famous people in the world eight decades ago.  From 1933-38 she made a number of movies (ten in 1934 alone).   When I was growing up in the 50’s, her movies were still being shown at Saturday morning matinees.  I have to admit I was never a fan.

But thirty years later I did show some to our children and, more recently, to our grandchildren. They are all good, wholesome entertainment, the kind that is rarely made nowadays.

Born in 1928, she was only three when she became famous.  Her career peaked before she was ten, but continued for a few more years.  She was internationally acclaimed in 1934 with the movie “Bright Eyes.”  You can still check it out of a video store exactly 80 years later!

Shirley Temple had the sense to quit acting at the age of 21.  After taking time to marry and have children, she became active in politics.  When Secretary of State Henry Kissinger overheard her talking about Namibia, he offered her the post of Ambassador to Ghana.  After Ghana, she became Chief of Protocol.  Both posts were under President Gerald Ford.  Over a decade later, she became US Ambassador to Prague under the first Bush Administration.  She was in Czechoslovakia when the Iron Curtain came down.  She received a great deal of praise for her three assignments.  Kissinger later said she succeeded because she was extremely intelligent, talented and disciplined.

Why was she wasted as US Ambassador to Ghana?

The reason is that, because of major cultural differences, she was unknown in Ghana.   The US would have benefitted more if she had been sent to the Court of St. James in London or to Paris.  Perhaps it’s just as well – a US Ambassador in London has to spend a lot of money, his own money, entertaining royalty and other famous people.

Temple was not particularly wealthy – her father had made mistakes with her childhood fortune.  Although she had earned 3.2 million dollars as a child actress (a great deal of money in those days), she only had $44,000 when she retired at 21.  She never blamed her father – the 1930’s was a very challenging period financially.

Shirley Temple stands out amongst child stars, some of whom turned to drugs or alcohol and were real brats (witness Justin Bieber today).  She went on to become a real lady, raising money for the Republican Party, which, in turn, led to her political appointment to Accra.

She could be quite mischievous.  She once told the story of an invitation from Eleanor Roosevelt to a White House barbecue.  When the First Lady bent down, Shirley took a sling shot and hit Mrs. Roosevelt in a very sensitive area!  The Secret Service spent some time trying to figure out who attacked the President’s wife, but failed to nail the culprit.  Perhaps Shirley was simply establishing her Republican credentials early!

Shirley Temple will always be remembered, through her cinematic performances . . . and, of course, by the non-alcoholic drink named after her.

She lived to be 85 and died peacefully in bed with close family members present.


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