(Photo: Public Domain)
Shirley Temple Black (1928 - 2014)
"As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."
--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Yesterday, I mentioned to my Aunt, 94, that we mourn as a nation for the little girl so often described as "spunky and optimistic", who tap danced, sang, laughed and played dramatic roles to the heart of America during the depths of The Great Depression. From the ages of 7 to 11, Shirley Temple was more popular than any adult screen actor in Hollywood. In fact, she was larger than life, with merchandise bearing her image appearing everywhere. In a day and age when we regularly witness the tragic results of pressure and fame involving child stars, Shirley Temple's story, thankfully, had a different outcome. She had appeared in 40 motion pictures by the age of 21, and she managed to reconcile her departure from Hollywood into private life as a wife and mother. Later, she answered a calling to public service as Representative to the 24th United Nations General Assembly, and later, as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Just the same, my Aunt observed with a smile, "She'll always be our little girl, though".
In 1972, Shirley Temple Black became one of the first public personalities to announce her diagnosis with breast cancer, which she battled successfully. She raised public awareness of the need for women to be proactive with early detection and treatment. In 2006, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild, and personified class and humility during her acceptance speech.
Sid Caesar was a giant, maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade. And I was privileged to be one of his writers and one of his friends."
In 1950, Sid Caesar burst onto the world stage when he teamed up with Imogene Coca to create one of television's earliest successes, "Your Show of Shows". Over it's four-year run, Caesar's talents as a mime and mimic were unmatched--and remain so to this day. Behind his enormous talent, was a team of writers similarly difficult to match, including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Their comedy sketches are as funny to watch on film today as they were when they originally debuted.
Around 2007, I discovered a guest appearance of Sid Caesar on the popular television show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" His astonishing ability to mimic the French, German, Italian and Japanese languages in what he termed "double talk"--on cue--brought the house down. His career transcended television to include films such as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Airport 1975 and the 1978 musical Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia-Newton-John. Caesar also played the hilarious caveman in Mel Brooks' 1981 comedy History of the World: Part I. On the Broadway stage, Caesar received a Tony Award nomination in 1963 for Neil Simon's Little Me. He authored his autobiography in 1983, "Where Have I Been?" and in 2003, the book "Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter", co-written with Eddy Friedfeld. He was inducted into The Television Hall of Fame and remained active in television with appearances through 2012. When asked by the TV Academy how he wanted to remembered, Caesar's response was: "I brought laughter to the world."
I suspect that many Americans wept over the loss of these two pioneers. They were part of my grandparents and parents generations. The tears are shed in appreciation and respect. They're an acknowledgement of the dignity many of us see less of--even for those of us who were born many decades later. No one can live in the past. But I am in awe of this generation that is passing, and I'm reminded by human behavior I see and experience daily, that people were--generally speaking--kinder in the past than they seem today. In an age of instant news reporting that is often shocking and discouraging, there will always be good and decent people to inspire hope. Shirley Temple Black and Sid Caesar were beacons of hope. Their memories will also encourage us that kindness and laughter will live forever, no matter how complicated the world becomes. So, for any of you who shed even as much as a private tear, as I did, be grateful for those who were born ahead of us, who had the heart to make us care. They really are "The Greatest Generation".