Following the news of her death on Wednesday at age 85, Shirley Temple Black was mourned throughout the United States and the world as a beloved child film star in the Great Depression who went on to be a much-respected diplomat.
But there was another part of Black's amazing life story that received only scant attention in most of the reports of her death: her lone race for elective office, as a conservative Republican candidate for Congress in 1967.
When veteran Republican Rep. J. Arthur Younger of California died in June 1967, a special election was called for November. Twelve candidates entered the race, six Republicans. Only one of them, however, attracted feature stories in Look Magazine and on national news networks.
Because of the former Shirley Temple's fame as a child actress, her candidacy in California's 11th Congressional District in Northern California as a 39-year-old mother of three was followed by the press nationwide.
"Shirley" was all that her bumper stickers needed to say. Bands played "On the Good Ship Lollipop," which the one-time child star immortalized on screen, when Black was introduced at Republican events.
Her Hillsborough neighbors Bing and Kathryn Crosby served on the finance committee for Shirley Temple Black — which she changed her name to on voter registration rolls from "Shirley J. Black" upon becoming a candidate.
During her campaign, she denounced President Lyndon Johnson's big-spending Great Society, and told audiences, "Why not tighten our belts and cut down wasteful spending?"
Black also hit hard at pornography and liberal judges, declaring that "the courts seem to protect criminal elements more than they do the innocent."
In what would become the most-debated issue in the race, Black called for a military solution in what she called the "off-limits, part-time conflict of Vietnam."
America needs, she said, "inspirational leadership at the top to get the war over quickly and honorably."
It was Vietnam that separated her most from her leading rival, 40-year-old liberal Republican and Palo Alto attorney Pete McCloskey. As a U.S. Marine Corps second lieutenant in the Korean War, McCloskey had earned the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism."
As a candidate, however, McCloskey was one of the first Republicans anywhere to support a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, immediate negotiations with Communist North Vietnam and reunification of North and South Vietnam under the 1954 Geneva accords. Long active in Northern California GOP politics, he was a leader of Young Lawyers for Nixon-Lodge in 1960.
Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a former Younger staffer, recalled to Newsmax: "Mr. Younger was a conservative and very much disliked McCloskey. He would have preferred a dozen other Republicans as a successor and would never have supported McCloskey."
Younger's sudden death denied him the opportunity to choose a favored successor. Under California election law at the time, all candidates in special elections appeared on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation and the top vote-getters from each party would meet in a run-off.
McCloskey topped the field with 34.4 percent of the vote to 22.4 percent for Black, who came in second. McCloskey then easily defeated Roy Archibald, who came in fourth in the primary but was elevated to the run-off as the leading Democrat on the ballot.
Black's undoing came in the form of two fellow Republicans who ran to McCloskey's right: venture capitalist William H. Draper, later president of the Import-Export Bank under President Ronald Reagan, who drew 12.7 percent of the vote, and San Mateo County Sheriff Earl Whitemore with 8 percent. Had Draper and Whitemore not competed for conservative GOP votes, there is a strong possibility that the 11th District would have elected Black instead of McCloskey.
McCloskey would go on to be a major anti-war Republican in Congress and challenged President Richard Nixon in the 1972 primaries. He fought off conservative challenges for renomination and in 1982 lost a primary bid for U.S. senator. Now 86, McCloskey recently became a Democrat.
Shirley Temple Black went on to bigger things after her defeat in 1967.
Black served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations under President Richard Nixon, was ambassador to Ghana under President Gerald Ford and ambassador to Czechoslovakia under President Reagan.
Veteran California GOP fundraiser Kristen Heuter, who knew the former ambassador well, may have said it best about her twilight years:
"Shirley was always there for us, even as she led a very private life in her later years. She would occasionally attend major Republican events — without fanfare — sharing a kind smile and modest wave as the crowd would give her a rousing, standing ovation. She never sought recognition. She just wanted to be of help to her Grand Old Party. We will miss her wit and devilish charm very, very much."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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