Cultural Diplomacy, public diplomacy

A Tribute to Shirley Temple Black, the Ultimate Public Diplomat

Editor’s note: Shirley Temple, famed former child actress, died this past Monday.

I met Shirley Temple when she was Ambassador to Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s at the embassy in Prague. She was charming, warm, and engaging—the perfect public diplomat. I was there on a delegation of women journalists and we stood in awe of the Ambassador’s grace and sparkle. She was the perfect host.

In this October 1990 image, U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Shirley Temple Black speaks with Maj. Carolyn May. (Source: SSgt. David Nolan/dodmedia.osd.mil/)

In this October 1990 image, U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Shirley Temple Black speaks with Maj. Carolyn May. (Source: SSgt. David Nolan/dodmedia.osd.mil/)

Shirley Temple Black’s career speaks to the inherent power of cultural diplomacy to move people in positive ways. As perhaps the biggest child movie star in history, she made magic with her dance and voice—and her talent echoed around the world as did her powerful films which made America look vibrant and culturally robust. In many ways she made America into the great “fairy tale” it could be—a nation beckoning others with its openness and warmth.

The innate connection of film and politics grew closer as Hollywood’s Ronald Reagan, who appeared with Shirley Temple in the 1947 film, “That Hagen Girl” became president and later Shirley Temple Black would become an Ambassador.

Shirley Temple Black will be missed. Her 8 ½ decades of successes live on.

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About Tara Sonenshine

Tara Sonenshine is a distinguished fellow at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as Executive Vice President of the U.S. Institute for Peace.

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