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Cover story: More than a star

After she left Hollywood, Shirley Temple Black shined as a diplomat, active community member

By Almanac Staff

Shirley Temple Black was much more than an internationally known child star who ruled the movie box office in the 1930s. She was a Woodside neighbor for more than 50 years and was active in local community service prior to embarking on a diplomatic career.

"Shirley Temple Black lived in my neighborhood, just up the hill from me," said Councilwoman Anne Kasten during a tribute for Ms. Black at the Woodside Town Council meeting on Feb. 11, the day after Ms. Black died at age 85. "When she came to our gatherings (in the neighborhood), everyone stood up a little bit straighter and behaved themselves a little better."

Ms. Kasten pointed to Ms. Black's many achievements, which included serving as president of the Commonwealth Club of California and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union broke up. "She handled it with fabulous diplomacy and grace. I know she has inspired a lot of women."

In 1972, Ms. Black openly shared the news of her mastectomy, which led to a broader public discussion of breast cancer and its early detection and treatment. "When she started taking that on ... that takes a lot of dignity and courage and tenacity," Ms. Kasten said. "She wasn't just an entertainer or a politician. She was a human being who cared about other people."

"I feel like we've really lost a marker in my neighborhood and we were extremely lucky to have her living here."

Surrounded by family members, Ms. Black died peacefully at home of natural causes, the family said.

"We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black," the family said in a statement.

Shirley Temple started her acting career at age 3 and starred in such hits as "Stand Up and Cheer" and "The Little Colonel."

She had met Mr. Black in 1950 when she was vacationing in Honolulu. A party was given in her honor and Mr. Black, a handsome young bachelor, was invited.

He surfed every night after work and told the hostess he wouldn't come to the party if the surf was up. "We would never have met if the surfing was good that day," Ms. Black said. The couple was married later that year at his parents' Monterey ranch.

After marrying and leaving her Hollywood career behind at age 21, she and her husband settled in Atherton in 1954 and moved to Woodside in 1961.

Mr. Black, an internationally recognized marine expert, died Aug. 4, 2005. They had two children, Charles Jr. and Lori. Susan Falaschi is Ms. Black's daughter by a previous marriage.

During the years her children were small, Ms. Black plunged into community activities. She was a Pink Lady at Stanford Hospital, a saleswoman at Allied Arts, and a receptionist for the Children's Convalescent Hospital now the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

She served on seven boards of community organizations. She also was an usher for productions of the Peninsula Children's Theater. "I never got to act," she told Almanac writer Marion Softky in a 1995 interview.

"It was a wonderful way to get to know people in the community and really make good friends," she said.

What got her back into the public arena was a speech she gave to 50,000 people in a Texas arena. "I told them, 'Just don't sit on the stands; get down on the field and join the game,'" she said. "I guess I talked myself into it."

In 1967, she entered a field of 13 candidates to replace Congressman J. Arthur Younger after he died in office. She lost to fellow Republican Pete McCloskey.

In 1969, President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the 24th General Assembly of the United Nations. Later she held other UN and international posts. She was ambassador to Ghana, was chief of protocol for the United States, and during the Reagan administration, trained ambassadors and their spouses to represent their country.

She was U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the collapse of the communist regime there in 1989.

Her autobiography, "Child Star," was published in 1988.

In recent years, she led a quiet life out of the public spotlight.

When Woodsiders would see her in town, ordinary moments became memorable. Thalia Lubin recalls saying hello to her a couple of times in Roberts Market in the checkout line. "There she was bagging her own groceries."

George Roberts, the owner of Roberts Market in Woodside, said: "She just was a very down-to-earth person, not like a celebrity. It was a joy to know her. She was just like the gal next door. ... It's been years since we've seen her."

Dolores Degnan of Woodside recalls Ms. Black visiting her family's business, Degnan Printers, several times when it was in Menlo Park and later in Redwood City. Ms. Black had her print work done there. "She was always very friendly and wanted to meet everyone that worked in the back shop, and visit with my husband, Jim," Ms. Degnan said. "She liked to find out about all the different presses."

Ms. Black received many honors, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2006. She was given a special juvenile Academy Award in 1935. In the late 1970s, she was grand marshal of the Woodside May Day parade.

Funeral arrangements are pending and will be private, the family said.

For those wishing to make a donation in her memory, the family suggests either the Education Center at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles or the Commonwealth Club of California's 2nd Century Campaign.

Notes

● Go to tinyurl.com/Softky-1995 to see Marion Softky's May 10, 1995, cover story on Shirley Temple Black. The PDF document may take awhile to open.

● Go to shirleytemple.com to see Shirley Temple Black's website.

● Go to tinyurl.com/Black-2005 to see the Almanac's obituary on Charles Black.

Much of the information in this story is drawn from a 1995 Almanac cover story on Shirley Temple Black, written by the late Marion Softky, a longtime Almanac writer. Dave Boyce and Barbara Wood contributed to this report.

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