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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Good Ship Lollipop and the Titanic

Another Angle, the occasional musings of a Kentucky Pastor: Good Ship Lollipop and the Titanic first printed 6 November 2005 in the Hart County Herald
The next earlier Another Angle: Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Of Spooks and Saints

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

The Good Ship Lollipop and the steamer Titanic don't usually appear together in popular thought, but recent history shows that the pairing was a super combination, perhaps unlikely, but still super. Toward the end of the summer I read about the death of California businessman Charles Black. Black, 86, had led a fascinating life. Receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees in business from Stanford University, he had also studied at Harvard. During World War II he had completed over 100 PT-boat missions, had done work as a scout behind Japanese lines in Indonesia, and he had received several decorations for valor, including the Silver Star.

After the war "Charlie" stayed in the Pacific. In 1950, while he was working in Hawaii, he met a young woman who was on vacation. She was getting over her divorce after an ill-advised marriage to actor John Agar when she had been 17. Then in her 20's, she had been in the movies, but Charlie had to confess to her that he had never seen any of them. She had been a fabulously successful child star and had introduced some of the most popular film songs of the 1930's, including the one about a ship named Lollipop. She had kept her own name: Shirley Temple.

A marriage with staying power

The two developed a deep relationship, and they were married later in the year. This marriage had staying power, and Shirley Temple Black remained married to Charles Black until his 2005 death, about 55 years. Entering the Navy again during the Korean War, Charles had come out of the service and into a career that included aquaculture and oceanographic research. He was a pioneer in cultivating and increasing harvests from sea life. He was active with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and was associated with Robert Ballard and the team that had discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

Shirley Temple Black had also thrived in her own way during the long marriage. Interested in world affairs, she had served for a time on the U. S. diplomatic staff at the United Nations. In the early 1970's she had been U. S. ambassador to Ghana, coming back in 1976 to fill the position of Chief of Protocol at the State Department. She was the first woman to hold that position; in that job she supervised visits from foreign dignitaries, gifts to and from international leaders, state dinners, and observances at U. S. embassies around the world during the year of the U. S. bicentennial.

In all that she did, Shirley Temple Black worked hard, avoided embarrassing diplomatic snafus, took care of details, and represented the United States with dignity and good taste. She served honorably. Later, in the 1980's, she served as U. S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and she represented you and me in Prague as the Iron Curtain fell and the Velvet Revolution brought democracy to the Czech and Slovak peoples.

First celebrity to publicize breast removal

Though Charlie Black had been decorated for his bravery, Shirley also earned her own recognition for personal courage. In late 1972 she had noticed a breast lump, but she held off doing anything about it until the conclusion of some diplomatic travel. Subsequent tests revealed a malignancy, and she had a mastectomy. This was in a day, over 30 years ago, when information about breast cancer was seldom on the news and few women spoke of a breast removal publicly.

Though she had great reticence even in raising the issue of the surgery with her husband, Shirley Temple Black became the first celebrity to publicize her breast removal (well before Betty Ford or Happy Rockefeller did likewise), and she invited the press into her hospital room, allowing herself to be photographed in bed. This was no glamour shot, but the news created a public stir as thousands of women responded by requesting mammograms and instructions for self examinations. By opening the door to her hospital room that one day, she had accomplished more good for more women than many people do in a whole lifetime.

Robbed of childhood but accomplished a lot of good

Charles Black and Shirley Temple Black shared an extraordinary life of diligent work for decades. Shirley, beginning as a child star, had worked hard all of her life. In some ways she had been robbed of a childhood. She is quoted as saying that she stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of six: her mother took her to see a department store Santa, and he asked for Shirley's autograph.

Despite the pressures of fame at an early age, despite Charlie's brushes with danger during the war, they had persevered and found one another. They were good for each other. And, more than that, they accomplished a lot of good for many, many others.

A clueless radio host

A few years back I heard a radio host mention Shirley Temple and wonder on the air what good she had ever done after her childhood career. Obviously, he was clueless. I hope that on some occasion someone educated him about the rest of Shirley Temple Black's story up to that point.

It has been a heck of a story, and the final chapter is yet to be written, for she is still alive and thriving in Woodside, California. I wonder if that commentator had done during his adulthood even a tiny fraction of the good that Shirley or Charlie accomplished. As I was writing this column, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced that she would be receiving the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization's annual televised presentations this coming January. Few people have been honored in this way. The members of SAG have done themselves proud by this gesture.

The Good Ship Lollipop and the Titanic were an unlikely duo, but they were quite a wonderful combination after all. I, for one, am grateful for Shirley Temple Black and the long life she has lived so well. Bravo!


This story was posted on 2011-11-06 04:17:14
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