Peggy Keener: America’s darlingest dimpled diplomat — Continued

Published 6:13 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Editor’s note: This is the continuation of Saturday’s column.

As she entered adolescence, Temple’s box-office popularity swiftly lost its sparkle. From ages 14 to 21, she starred in only fourteen films which forced Shirley to retire from film in 1950 at the age of 22.

Still, the world was not yet finished with Shirley Temple. After an eight year lull, she made another stab at show business with a television series—a two-season anthology of fairy tales. She, as well, made numerous guest appearances on TV, and even filmed a sitcom pilot that somehow mysteriously got lost. Her show business career had come to an end.

Then to everyone’s surprise, in 1969, Shirley began an entirely new career as the U.S. representative to a United National General Assembly session. Calling on her natural spunk and drive, she reinvented herself as no longer America’s little darling, but instead as America’s newest politician.

With determination she jumped into the political fray, becoming active in the California Republican Party. She even ran unsuccessfully in a special California congressional election. Extensively involved in the Commonwealth Club of California, she eventually became their president.

At a party, a very astonished Henry Kissinger overheard Shirley talking about Southwest Africa. He immediately encouraged Richard Nixon to select her as a delegate to the 24th United Nations General Assembly. Following this, Gerald Ford appointed her as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.

After two years of service there, she returned home and became the first female Chief of United States Protocol where she made all the arrangements for Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and inaugural ball.

Not least of all, from 1989 to 1992, Temple served honorably under George H.W. Bush as our Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, the first and only woman in this role.

But, of course, she had a private life, as well. At age 15, Shirley fell in love with John Agar, an Army Air Corps sergeant, physical trainer and son of a Chicago meat-packing family. She was married at 17 in front of 500 guests. Three years later, their daughter, Linda Susan, was born. By now Agar had become an actor and the couple made two films together. But things were not ideal. Temple divorced Agar and was awarded custody of baby Linda.

A year later, in 1950, Shirley met Charles Alden Black, a World War II Navy intelligence officer and Silver Star recipient. At that time Black was the assistant president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and was reputed to be one of the richest young men in California. Within the year they were married.

The family moved to Washington, D.C. when Black was recalled into the Navy at the outbreak of the Korean War. During this time, son, Charles Alden Black, Jr., was born. At the war’s end, the family moved back to California in 1953. Black became manager of the KABC-TV studio in Los Angeles, while Shirley became a homemaker. A second daughter, Lori, was born. The couple was married for 54 years until Charles’ death from bone marrow cancer in 2005.

Years before, when Shirley was only 44, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A modified radical mastectomy was performed. At that time, such information was only spoken of in hushed whispers. Shirley changed all that by announcing the results of her operation on radio and television, as well as in McCall’s magazine. A lifelong cigarette smoker, Shirley hid her habit from the public to avoid tarnishing her image. America’s darlingest darling died in 2014, at age 85, from pulmonary disease. Rest in peace, Ambassador Dimples.