America lost two legends of the film world last week in Shirley Temple Black, the most famous child star of the 1930s and Ralph Waite, who played the beloved father figure on the CBS series, The Waltons, from 1972-81.

The wholesome entertainment they provided inspired Americans during difficult times in our history. Both were Californians when they died at age 85, which made them children during the Great Depression and members of The Greatest Generation.

Both also had military connections. Black was just 15 when she met John Agar, an Army Air Corps sergeant and a physical training instructor. That marriage lasted just five years and in 1950, Temple met Charles Alden Black, a WW II United States Navy intelligence officer and Silver Star recipient.

Often cast as an orphan, Shirley's Annie-type character trumpeted goodness over evil and wealth over poverty. She made Americans feel hopeful during the Depression years of the 1930s.

Ralph Waite, who served in the Marine for three years after graduating from Bucknell University in 1952, will be forever known for his role as the patriarch of a struggling American family in the The Waltons.

Waite provided a quiet strength and dignity as John Walton Sr. that Americans needed to see. If the Walton family could survive The Great Depression, then there was hope for us as a nation facing the real-world challenges of Vietnam, a presidential scandal that led to Richard Nixon's resignation, and a depressed economy marked by high interest rates and oil shortages that led to long gas lines.

During a 1977 interview, Waite, who struggled with alcoholism before turning his life around and becoming an ordained minister, said everyone has failings, including Pop Walton.

"I have vanity and greed enough for one person," he admitted. "But at the same time I feel in my bones you lose a lot of life's value if you don't see yourself as a member of the family of man. The beauty of life is in people who feel some obligation to enhance life. Without that, we're only half alive."

The kind of American spirit Shirley Temple and Ralph Waite showed us transcended their work in entertainment. They made us feel better about ourselves and our nation.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com