This Day In History: February 27

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At the seventh Academy Awards ceremony, on February 27, 1935, 6-year-old ascendant Hollywood star Shirley Temple receives the first-ever kid-sized, "juvenile" Oscar. The trophy measured roughly half the height of a full-sized Oscar.

Temple's Hollywood career had shot into the stratosphere in 1934, when the tot appeared in no fewer than six films, including Stand Up and Cheer!, Little Miss Marker, Curly Top and Bright Eyes. (The latter featured one of her most famous songs, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”). Her bouncy ringlets and irrepressibly sunny personality offered American moviegoers something wholesome and hopeful during the depths of the Great Depression. And her films provided a cheery alternate universe for audiences suffering the effects of widespread unemployment and general economic hardship.

In its earliest years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences didn't single out children for a separate award. After the first child actor nominated for an Oscar, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper, lost out in the overall Best Actor category in 1931 to Lionel Barrymore, the Academy established a special award for actors below the age of 18. Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland were among the dozen or so subsequent recipients of the juvenile Oscar. The last actor to receive the award before it was discontinued was 13-year-old Hayley Mills in 1960, for her starring role in the movie Pollyanna.

Temple was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California, and started appearing in a series of short films spoofing current movies, called Baby Burlesks, at the age of four. At six, she attracted attention with her complex song-and-dance number “Baby Take a Bow,” performed with James Dunn, in the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer! Based on the film’s success, 20th Century Fox signed little Shirley to a seven-year contract. 

Knowing they had a cash cow on their hands, 20th Century Fox revised the terms of Temple’s contract in 1936, paying her the unprecedented sum of $50,000 per picture. They also famously altered the year on her birth certificate, making it appear that she was a year younger in order to prolong her adorable child-star status.

By 1938, Temple was the No. 1 box-office draw in America. The public loved her, and she routinely upstaged her adult counterparts on the big screen. Over the course of the 1930s, the box-office success of her more than 40 films, including Poor Little Rich Girl, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, went a long way towards helping Fox weather the Depression.

Temple’s career began to peter out in her teenage years, however, and her later films met with less and less success with audiences. In 1950, she retired from movies, though she narrated the television series Shirley Temple’s Storybook from 1957 to 1959. Also in 1950, she married naval officer Charles Black, changing her name to Shirley Temple Black. (She had been previously married to Jack Agar; they wed when she was 17 and divorced after having one child, Linda.) With Black, she had two more children, Charles Jr. and Lori.

Some 20 years after retiring from Hollywood, Temple Black launched a political career, running as the Republican candidate for a congressional seat in San Mateo, California, in 1967 and coming in second of 14 candidates. The following year, President Richard Nixon appointed her as an ambassador to the United Nations; she worked for the State Department in the United States and overseas for more than two decades. She was the first woman to ever serve as chief of protocol, a post she held for 11 years under President Gerald R. Ford, and President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989; by the end of her term in 1993, it had become the Czech Republic.

Temple Black published her autobiography, Child Star, in 1988. She served on the Institute of International Studies. The former child star also became a spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness after she discovered a malignant lump in her breast in 1972 and underwent a simple mastectomy. In 1999, at an event hosted by then-President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, Temple Black received a medal from the Kennedy Center for lifetime achievement to the United States and the world.

On February 10, 2014, Temple died at her Woodside, California, home at 85.