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Shirley Temple — a hard act to follow

FILE - FEBRUARY 11: Hollywood Actress Shirley Temple Has died At The Age Of 85 Shirley Temple (1928 - )

FILE - FEBRUARY 11: Hollywood Actress Shirley Temple Has died At The Age Of 85 Shirley Temple (1928 - ) the American child star started performing in films at three years. She entered politics in the 60's and took on several ambassador positions representing her country. Pictured enjoying a soft drink with an impish grin on her face. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 104494073

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Updated: March 14, 2014 8:39AM

Shirley Temple, how you made us smile. You were the Beatles of your day.

Fifty years ago, just seven weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, we were feeling pretty low. Then the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan show and, man, all that joy was infectious.

But you, Shirley, lifted our spirits for an entire decade during the worst depression in American history.

Most of us, of course, were very young or not yet born in the 1930s, but we’ve seen the photographs of unemployment lines and bread lines, and we remember the stories our grandparents told us about grown men who sat on porches all up and down the block on Tuesday mornings because nobody had a job. What does that do to a person?

And we remember the stories about how people would go to the movies to forget their troubles and sometimes see this adorable child up on the big screen — you, Shirley — singing and dancing and mugging it up. Coming out of the movie, our grandparents said, they felt good.

Thank you for that, Shirley. You were a tonic for hard times. And thank you for what came next, the way you grew into adulthood with grace, evolving into a dignified and productive woman.

“Oh my goodness,” the actress Virginia Madsen tweeted Tuesday when she learned you had died. “A child star who grew into a representative for all women.”

For women, yes. And men, too.

When the movie roles stopped coming because your cuteness quotient had dipped, Shirley, you did not fall apart.

No scandals. No drugs. No diva drama.

You reinvented yourself as a wife, a mother and a public servant. You served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1969. You served as an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. You served as President Gerald Ford’s chief of protocol.

You were a wonderful American, Shirley Temple, and a hard act to follow, even for the Beatles.

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