The Kid Stays in the Picture

updated 02/06/2006 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/2006 01:00AM

In the living room of her Spanish-style Woodside, Calif., home, Shirley Temple Black peruses a rack of glitzy gowns flown in prior to the Screen Actors Guild Awards Jan. 29, where she'll receive a Life Achievement Award. At 77, she still boasts the button nose and lollipop-sweet smile that helped make her a star at 3, but she's not feeling much like celebrating. "I can't wear a party dress," she explains. "I'm a widow, you know."

It's been six months since her husband of 55 years, oceanographer Charles Black, died at 86 from bone marrow disease. Since then, she's found comfort in her three children, her bulldog Scout and work on a second autobiography. Expect it to span the globe: After striking it rich in childhood, the two-time Oscar honoree and lifelong Republican ran for Congress (she lost) and served as ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Reflecting on everything from tangling with Cary Grant to finding true love, she has no regrets. "It has been," she says, "a very good life."

LOOKING BACK

ON HER FAMOUS PARTNERSHIP
Temple Black and Bill Robinson broke racial barriers in the 1935 film The Little Colonel. "He came to visit me [a few years later] at the Desert Inn. I said, 'Where are you staying?' And he said, 'In the chauffeur quarters over the garage.' I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'That's okay, darlin', don't you worry about it.' . . . A dear man."

GARY COOPER "He called me Wiggle Britches. We had to sit down to talk . . . because he was so tall and I was so little. He was very dear to me. And I beat him at checkers."

CARY GRANT On the set of 1947's The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Grant caught his costar doing an impersonation of him. "He was not amused," she says. "[The producer] said, 'He wants you fired.' I had to apologize in writing."

JIMMY STEWART "We weren't [dating]. But I admired him as an actor and I guess he liked my work. It looks like we had shrimp cocktail."

A DIPLOMAT'S LIFE While serving as ambassador to Ghana, "they made me a chief," Black recalls. "The ambassadors from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were furious."

ON FAMILY "I would sing to my children [Susan, Lori and Charlie Jr., with husband Black] when they went to bed. 'Goodnight My Love,' is one that I remember well. This is the piano that I had at the studio and I brought with me."

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