Shirley Temple Black: Child Star, Singer, Public Servant

FILE: Shirley Temple Dies At The Age Of 85


Shirley Temple Black, the child star whom we know and love has died at the age of 85. Shirley Temple, as she is widely known, was a former child star who danced and sang her way across the silver screen during the Great Depression, bringing smiles and laughter to audiences across the country during a time when smiles and laughter didn’t come so easily.

What few people know, however, is that Black went on to become a public servant. She spent time with the United Nations and two ambassadorial stints in Ghana and Czechoslovakia. According to an article in the NY post ( she was also a charter member and active participant of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Her passion for public service started at an early age. Although she was a former child star and has a hairstyle named after her, she gained the respect of her colleagues and later was appointed ambassador to two countries–both experiencing turbulent times during her appointments. She served both countries well during her tenure.

The purpose of this post is not to recount the laurels of a famous little girl who grew up to become an ambassador. Political appointed ambassadors face a lot more criticism than their career Foreign Service Officer counterparts. The argument is that political appointees are selected because of the amount of money they contributed to the President’s campaign or because of old favors owed, stealing the coveted ambassadorships from career Foreign Service Officers with years of experience. While I do believe that career foreign service officers sometimes get the short end of the stick, I am not against politically appointed ambassadors like Former Ambassador Temple-Black.  American icons like Shirley Temple are perfect public diplomacy tools. Because she lit up the screen during a less than prosperous time in American history, people associate her with a kind of nostalgia and happiness. I am a proud member of Generation Y and I grew up on her movies and still appreciate Shirley Temple curls every once in a while. Likewise, other countries knew and recognized her and associated her with American ideals and values. That, coupled with the fact that she was genuinely interested in public service and took her job incredibly seriously made her the effective ambassador that she was.

Thank you, passenger of the Good Ship Lollipop, for your years of dedicated public service.


–Miranda Patterson

5 thoughts on “Shirley Temple Black: Child Star, Singer, Public Servant”

  1. Hi Miranda – thanks for this very interesting post! As you mention, Shirley Temple was much more than just an American cultural icon and talented child star. Her commitments to public service and diplomacy are unmistakeable, from her work with the UN, to her role of Ambassador in Ghana and Czechoslovakia, to her subsequent position of Chief of Protocol.

    Shirley Temple’s appointment to high-level political and diplomatic positions brings up an interesting debate about the merits of having cultural figures, particularly those who are prevalent in the entertainment industry, play a role in US politics.

    As Miranda has mentioned, I believe that it can be an extremely useful diplomacy tool to enlist the service of well-liked and well-respected cultural figures who have the power to attract and entice the public. This is a form of soft power, which I believe can be extremely effective.

    According to Joseph Nye, “Soft power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies” (Public Diplomacy and Soft Power p. 94). Shirley Temple’s appointment to high-level political and diplomatic positions is a key soft power strategy, as it focuses on the elements of attraction, likability and relatability, as opposed to the coercive strategy Nye mentions.

    Furthermore, Nye explains that soft power has the ability to establish and influence preferences, with the help of certain “intangible assets such as an attractive personality, culture, political values and institutions, and policies that are seen as legitimate or having moral authority” (Public Diplomacy and Soft Power p. 95). Coercion is not necessary nor useful in this case, because individuals can be otherwise persuaded.

    There have been other famous individuals who have utilized their status in the entertainment industry to become involved in diplomacy, politics and humanitarian causes. One example that comes to mind is Angelina Jolie, who is the former Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

    Finally, Nye argues that especially since the invasion of Iraq, US soft power has declined, and that many nations foster a negative view of the nation (Public Diplomacy and Soft Power p. 96). More effective soft power tools and resources need to be employed in order to further US foreign policy goals. As we know, in order for a nation to be effective in its public and foreign policy endeavors, smart power – a balance of both hard and soft power – is indispensable.

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