Shirley Temple, who was a bigger movie star in the mid 1930s than Clark Gable or Gary Cooper, died Monday night at the age of 85.

The moppet brought music and laughter to Americans during the nation's most somber time, the height of the Great Depression.

Whether she was skipping through an airplane as a stowaway, singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop," as an orphan singing "Animal Crackers," or teaming with the great black dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and doing a tap dance routine, she was adorable.

She starred in the films when she was just 7, 8, and 9 years old and displayed the versatility of a veteran, playing a child suffering from tough times in "Heidi" and "Captain January," enduring the patience of war in "The Little Colonel," and sharing an apple with President Lincoln in "The Littlest Rebel."

Her films were adored by boys and girls alike, as well as both adults and children. So much was she admired that President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."

Temple was credited with helping save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy with films such as "Curly Top" and "The Littlest Rebel." She even had a drink named after her, an appropriately sweet and innocent cocktail of ginger ale and grenadine, topped with a maraschino cherry.

She was a nationwide sensation. Mothers dressed their little girls like her, and a line of dolls was launched that are now highly sought-after collectables.

Through the generations, her films have endured, representing a simpler and more innocent time. She represented an era when movies just cost a few cents, people didn't lock their doors, when letting children outside on their own wasn't so frightening, and when the good always prevailed over the bad.

Shirley Temple had talent. Unfortunately, her roles when she became an adult just weren't good enough to keep her in the limelight, so she turned to politics.

She served as an ambassador to several countries under several presidents.

Her young life was free of the scandals that plagued so many other child stars – parental feuds, drug and alcohol addiction. It reflected in her later life. Despite her prominence in the movies and her importance in her real adult life, her ideals remained special.

In 1972, she underwent successful surgery for breast cancer. She served as an inspiration, urging other women to get checked by their doctors and vowed, "I have much more to accomplish before I am through."

In 2006, when she was given a "Lifetime Achievement Award," she said that her greatest roles were as wife, mother and grandmother. "There's nothing like real love. Nothing." Her husband of more than 50 years, Charles Black, had died just a few months earlier.

Shirley Temple was genuine. They'll never be another like her.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com