During the prime of her then-unprecedented stardom, from age 6 to 11, Shirley Temple was a living example to all the little girls (and boys) of how to move through the world: with effervescence, good cheer, a song on the lips, and a tap dance in the toes. Were the grown-ups having problems? They’d sort themselves out and, if not, a little child would lead them. Even the Great Depression seemed to buckle before her steel-belted optimism.
From a modern vantage point, though, with the announcement of Shirley Temple Black’s death Monday at 85, she represents a different example: a lesson in how to be famous while retaining one’s sanity, humanity, and perspective. This matters very much in a culture in which public attention, more than ever, is a cheap commodity easily obtained and to which our celebrated children respond by flipping out.