"My main job (initially) was human rights, trying to keep people like future President Vaclav Havel out of jail," she said in a 1999 Associated Press interview. Within months, she was accompanying Havel, the former dissident playwright, when he came to Washington as his country's new president.
She considered her background in entertainment an asset to her political career.
"Politicians are actors too, don't you think?" she once said. "Usually if you like people and you're outgoing, not a shy little thing, you can do pretty well in politics."
Born in Santa Monica to an accountant and his wife, Temple was little more than 3 years old when she made her film debut in 1932 in the Baby Burlesks, a series of short films in which tiny performers parodied grown-up movies, sometimes with risque results.
Among the shorts were "War Babies," a parody of "What Price Glory," and "Polly Tix in Washington," with Shirley in the title role.
Her young life was free of the scandals that plagued so many other child stars — parental feuds, drug and alcohol addiction — but Temple at times hinted at a childhood she may have missed out on.
She stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 6, she once said, when "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."
After her years at the top, maintaining that level of stardom proved difficult for her and her producers. The proposal to have her play Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" didn't pan out. (20th Century Fox chief Darryl Zanuck refused to lend out his greatest asset.) And "The Little Princess" in 1939 and "The Blue Bird" in 1940 didn't draw big crowds, prompting Fox to let Temple go.