Shirley Temple, who lifted America’s spirits as a bright-eyed, dimpled child movie star during the Great Depression and later became a US diplomat, has died in California of natural causes aged 85.
One role with which Temple – known in private life as Shirley Temple Black – will always be associated is the main character in the 1937 Hollywood film of Heidi. Johanna Spyri’s children’s book, first published in 1880, is by far the most popular work of Swiss literature, with more than 50 million copies of the books sold worldwide.
The 1937 film, one of many versions of the story of an orphan who lives with her grandfather up in the Swiss mountains, was made when Temple was eight.
It was a commercial success and reinforced Switzerland’s image in American eyes as a mountain paradise. However, none of the film was actually shot in Switzerland – the Alpine scenes were filmed at Lake Arrowhead, California.
Temple was America’s top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.
She stopped believing in Santa Claus aged six, she once said, when “Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph”.
According to Temple’s biographer Anne Edwards, Heidi was a story suited to Temple’s “slightly more mature personality”. Edwards points out that Temple’s hair had darkened by then, her signature ringlets smoothed into larger curls.
Her theatrical instincts had also sharpened, and she suggested the film’s Dutch song and dance dream sequence, “In Our Little Wooden Shoes”.
Temple retired from films at 21. She raised a family and later became active in politics and held several diplomatic posts in Republican administrations, including ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the historic collapse of communism in 1989.
swissinfo.ch and agencies