Paul  Kengor

Bill Clark always fondly recalled that moment, captured in a photo that he kept framed and that we put in his biography. He would later have pictures with the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, but here was one photo he kept close to heart.

Fifty years later, Clark and Temple served together again, this time in the State Department, where Clark alas held the higher rank: he, as second in command; she, as foreign affairs officer. Temple’s old Hollywood friend, fellow Republican, and political ally, Ronald Reagan, had appointed her. She became an ambassador.

But Shirley Temple was, of course, known for film rather than politics. I cannot do justice to that storied career here, but indulge me as I share one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies.

In the 1934 classic, Bright Eyes, Shirley played a five-year-old who lost her father in an airplane crash and then lost her mother. She is comforted by loving people who would do anything for her, including her godfather, who is identified as just that. The godfather behaves like a true godfather. The movie includes constant, natural references to faith, never shying from words like God, Heaven, and even Jesus—verboten in Hollywood today.

Today’s sneering secular audiences would reflexively dismiss the film as Norman Rockwell-ish. To the contrary, the movie is hardly sugar-coated. Just when your heart is broken from the death of sweet Shirley’s dad, her mom is killed by a car while carrying a cake for Shirley on Christmas day.

That doesn’t remind me of any Norman Rockwell portrait I’ve seen.

What such cynics really mean is that the film isn’t sufficiently depraved for modern tastes. Shirley doesn’t pole dance or “twerk.” She doesn’t do a darling little strip tease for the boys while singing “Good Ship, Lollipop.” The references to God are not in vain or in the form of enlightening blasphemy. And the movie has a happy, not miserable, ending.

Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t a movie for modern audiences!

For 80 years, Shirley Temple’s bright eyes brightened the big screen. They reflected what was good and decent in this country. She embodied what made America great, and she brightened our lives in the process.