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Richard Hoover: 'Good Lord, it really is Shirley Temple!'

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Richard Hoover


By Richard Hoover

In early '82, we met for lunch in the State Department's painting-lined Executive Dining Room. I was officer in charge of Berlin. Ambassador Shirley Temple Black was going there and wanted a briefing.

In '76, our paths had remotely crossed in Tunis; striking up a conversation with her deputy from American Embassy Accra, I asked: "So, what's it like working for Shirley Temple?" Senior in age and grade, the fellow didn't appreciate my flippancy. But he said this: "Sometimes, when I'm in the ambassador's office, and we are talking, I see the dimples and think: Good Lord, it really is Shirley Temple."

I found a smiling and petite brunette. Two and half hours later, we closed the dining room!

So, I briefed her on Berlin -- on the state of the American, British and French garrisons, on problems transiting East Germany to get there, about sensitive information in the Berlin Document Center (that great repository of SS personnel records) and on how we were keeping an eye on Spandau prison and its sole inmate -- Rudolf Hess, the fuehrer's dirst deputy and he last holdover from the Nuremberg Trials.

I explained that I had just finished rewriting the contingency plan for Hess's death, and detailed the potentially nasty Cold War outcomes which, even today, I do not feel comfortable relating! I joked that Berlin officers in charge had a guiding principle regarding Hess's death: "Not on my watch!" (As it turned out, Hess lasted until 1987 when, thank heavens, I was safely at Embassy Rabat!).

The ambassador asked detailed questions and smiled a lot. I saw the dimples: "Good Lord," I said to myself, "it really is Shirley Temple!"

She asked about my family, and I about hers. In the most affectionate terms she mentioned husband Charles, adding in mock disdain that he was an old stay-at-home!

The ambassador continued that she was working on the "little girl's" biography, an exercise in frustration and futility; it had already gone on for 800 pages and the "little girl" had not even turned 8! The publisher ordered it cut down, declaring he wouldn't dream of reading such a long manuscript!

A little flummoxed, I ventured: "Ambassador Black, what 'little girl' are you talking about?"

"Why, Shirley," she replied. "You see, that little girl was not really me. For some reason I cannot fathom, God created her; I had nothing to do with it."

"Speaking of Berlin, I just finished writing the account of Shirley's return to her dressing room one morning to find the German consul general of Los Angeles and his whole staff. With fanfare, Shirley received a scroll of appreciation signed by Hitler."

In a flash, I thought of all the books I had read about Hitler, especially the autobiography of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and munitions chief. I had also read some of the "Psychopathic God" by Robert Waite, a study of Hitler's severe personality disorders.

The fuehrer was an insomniac who, before the war, spent all-nighters in the company of his little circle of note-taking, but no-doubt yawning associates, high on the Ober-Salzburg in southern Germany. When Hitler was not droning on about his life's early struggles, or expressing views on every conceivable subject, the lights might darken and one of Hitler's favorite pastimes began: watching Shirley Temple movies.

"Good Lord," I said to myself for the second time, "the woman sitting right across from me was Hitler's favorite actress!"

Then she asked: "Tell me about our embassy in East Berlin."

I explained that, even as Iron Curtain embassies went, Berlin was pretty grim -- real Cold War!

"And the Marine security detachment?"

I reiterated that East Berlin was a particularly severe environment, and our Marines were healthy and single.

The ambassador: "Do you think they would like a visit from Shirley? I promise," she added, putting her forefinger to her cheek, "that Shirley won't do anything outlandish -- no singing and no dancing."

I told the ambassador that was a no-brainer!

Later, she wrote me a note that all had gone well in Berlin and that she had met Marines. But I heard from inside the embassy: after greeting each Marine on duty, Shirley marched right into their dormitory to take them all -- even the sleepers -- by surprise!

With the dining room closing, I said: "Ambassador, we have four hard-working secretaries in the Office of Central European Affairs; they would just die if you were to walk in."

"Let's go," she said.

Elevatoring to the third floor, we walked into Central European Affairs.

"Ladies," I said, "here is Ambassador Shirley Temple Black!"

They leapt up from behind desks, clasped their hands in excitement and cheered!

Richard Hoover is a retired Foreign Service officer (1969-95) who resides in southern Warren County.



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