If you’re ever looking for a counterexample to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous claim that “there are no second acts in American lives,” look no further than Shirley Temple. The beloved child star, who was Hollywood’s No. 1 box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, announced her retirement from film at the age of 22 in 1950. It was anyone’s guess what Temple would do next, but it’s unlikely that many predicted her eventual diplomatic career. After she ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 1967, President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the 24th United Nations General Assembly in 1969, and President Ford named her the ambassador to Ghana in 1974.
Temple’s foreign service didn’t end there. In 1989, just before the Velvet Revolution, President George H.W. Bush made her ambassador to the former Czechoslovakia, a post she held until 1992, as the country became a parliamentary democracy. According to Norman Eisen, who held the same role from 2011 to 2014, the “sunny confidence and optimism” that made Temple a movie star also helped her “really infuse the United States’ role — as our representative here, in the Velvet Revolution — with that good cheer and that hope.”
From 1935 to 1961, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sometimes bestowed the Academy Juvenile Award on performers under the age of 18 in recognition of their “outstanding contribution[s] to screen entertainment.” The first honoree was none other than Shirley Temple, who was just six years old at the time. To this day, she remains the youngest person to win an Oscar. Her award was specifically for her work in 1934, including the films Stand Up and Cheer!, Bright Eyes, Baby Take a Bow, and Little Miss Marker. Overall, the Juvenile Award was given to 12 performers, including a 16-year-old Judy Garland in 1939 — the year she starred in The Wizard of Oz.