Everybody’s favorite moppet, 9-year-old Shirley Temple, was busy filming Little Miss Broadway in 1937 when a visitor appeared on the Twentieth Century-Fox set. By the time she left, Eleanor Roosevelt—whose husband had once praised the dimpled star for keeping up America’s spirits during the Depression—was proudly wearing a genuine “Shirley Temple Police Force” badge.
Now preparing for her latest role as the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Ghana, Shirley Temple Black, 46, credits the late First Lady with her own interest in diplomacy. Concedes lifelong Republican Shirley: “A lot of Mrs. Roosevelt’s work in international affairs has got to me by osmosis. It’s been an inspiration to me.”
Although she has never been to Ghana, Shirley views her appointment as just another step in a “logical progression of jobs” since she retired from films in 1949 at the age of 21. Married to a wealthy businessman, Charles Black (following a divorce in 1949 from her first husband, actor John Agar) she has raised a family of three in the well-to-do San Francisco peninsula town of Woodside. Long a stellar name at Republican affairs, she campaigned for the GOP nomination for Congress against Pete McCloskey in 1967—and lost. One reason, she believes, is that she was cast as a bedrock conservative. “Really, I’m a fiscal conservative,” she explains, “but I’m liberal to moderate on domestic issues and very liberal internationally.”
She has put her internationalism to work, serving a one-year term as a member of the U.S. delegation to the UN. As a child star, she was known as “one-take Temple,” and she has not lost her ability to cram. Instead of the usual workload of four committee assignments at the UN, she took on 13. “I’m a fast learner,” she says, “and interested in a lot of things.” An ardent environmentalist, she also represented the U.S. at the Stockholm conference on human environment in 1972 and until early this year served on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
Once mother is confirmed by the Senate, all the Blacks—including daughters Susan, 26, and Lori, 20, and son Charles Jr., 22, plan to move to the embassy in Accra. Although Shirley underwent a much-publicized mastectomy 18 months ago, she insists that the assignment poses no special strain on her health. “My health was great before my operation for breast cancer, and it’s been great ever since,” she declares. “It’s just that in between I lost an old friend.”
Her career in public service has left her with an attitude toward those long-gone Hollywood days that approaches indifference. She has prints of her movies but keeps them in the toolshed. Nor does she feel haunted by her child-star image. “Oh, I loved my life as a child. I wouldn’t change any part of it,” she contends. “But this I find much harder work. There’s no ending to the stories. It’s not like having a script where it all works out neatly.”