February 11, 2014

Goodbye to Shirley Temple.

Here's the NYT obituary, with some of the details of the life of the greatest child star of all time and perhaps the most loved actress of all time. My mother taught me to love her in the 1950s when I was a child — my mother, who had loved going to the movies when she was a child during The Depression, when Shirley Temple movies were coming out and making people happy.

I watched so many Shirley Temple movies on our big black-and-white TV. They were on all the time — "Captain January," "The Littlest Rebel," "Curly Top," "The Little Princess." So many of the movies I saw as a child were Shirley Temple movies on TV. I was never taken to a movie theater with my parents, so I didn't see a movie in a theater until I was old enough to go without an adult. Movies were part of television, and there was Shirley in her childhood prime. She had a TV show — "Shirley Temple's Storybook" — where we saw her as a lovely adult woman, introducing a filmed fairy tale each week.

I've written many blog posts about Shirley Temple over the years, and I'm going to extend this post with some links to them.

January 29, 2014, blogging about the State of the Union:
"Shirley Temple is there," I said, spotting Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and being unfair to Shirley Temple, whose ringlets — as I do an image search this morning — look artlessly subtle and not at all like Debbie's headful of boing-y springs. Incredible what women can do to themselves and still be taken seriously.
June 20, 2013, blogging about Paula Deen's getting into trouble for the notion of a slave-themed wedding with "a bunch of little n-----s..."  like "in the Shirley Temple days," where "they used to tap dance around":
[O]bviously, there were all sorts of problems with the way black people were depicted in old Hollywood movies, let's at least get it clear in our minds what the movie reference is. There was a 1935 Shirley Temple movie called "The Littlest Rebel," and here's what it looked like when Bill Bojangles Robinson (playing the slave "Uncle Billy") danced. He's not tap dancing "around" — as if slaves dance around while working — he's giving a performance at an elegant affair — as a soloist, not in "a bunch." And he's not in shorts and shirt-sleeves. He's wearing long pants and a vest and a jacket. So Deen's mental image of what went on in the bad old days of Hollywood is itself an embarrassing distortion.
February 6, 2013, "My duck does a wonderful trick. My duck can lay an egg!" A sweet clip of Shirley, presented a propos of the "'Signs that people are tired of thinking about politics,' which highlighted the Washington Post article about the amazing fact that a bird laid an egg. And who better than Shirley Temple to epitomize the desire for distraction from politics?"

August 27, 2012, the topic was the desire for a movie that "helps me be a nicer person, not a sharper arguer":
I'm wracking my brain trying to come up with a movie that oriented me toward greater niceness. I can think of movies that might help you become a better person, but it's usually in the sense of becoming bolder, more independent, more resolutely opposed to evil and oppression. But nicer? Can you think of a movie in which the central character, someone you identify with, is especially polite and the politeness isn't basically something he must overcome in order to succeed.

A-ha! The answer: Every Shirley Temple movie.
April 28, 2012, somehow the top of Obama's gaffe about "clinging to guns and religion" led to Shirley, after some lady reminded somebody of Jane Withers, as Withers' appeared as an adult in the 1960s in ads for Comet scouring powder, and I said:
When my mother saw those Comet ads, she's always exclaim about how mean Jane Withers was to Shirley Temple. She was the child actress who was most emphatically not Shirley Temple....
Withers played the role of a girl who was mean to the most lovable child who ever lived, and therefore she became — in my mothers mind — the mean girl, indelibly, no matter how many sinks she scrubbed clean.

April 29, 2009, a controversy over a photographic presentation of teenaged Miley Cyrus looking overly sexualized led me to show you this clip of Shirley Temple as a toddler playing a seductress. It's simply astounding by today's standards:



April 9, 2007, I have "A profound movie experience... watching one of the first movies I ever saw... Perhaps the second movie I ever saw in my life -- the first was 'The Little Fugitive" -- was the Shirley Temple movie 'Captain January.'"
And speaking of influences, I can see how much this influenced me. Shirley is angrily defiant as she stands up to the prissy female truant officer who doesn't like the feisty attitude she's learning from the men. The truant officer wants to put her in an institution, away from Captain January, the kindly lighthouse keeper who found her after a shipwreck.
You should be taken home and spanked! What kind of man is this Captain January to allow you to run around?
This is some heavy dialogue for a young child to hear. (Shirley has just been looking at a picture she thinks is her dead mother and has tried to sing the song "Asleep in the Deep.")
Helen: How can anyone sleep in the deep?
Capt. January: That's the long last sleep, Star.
Helen: Does everyone have to die?
Capt. January: Yes, everyone does.
Helen: Even you and me?
Capt. January: Yes, when the time comes.
Helen: Do you think we'll make it till Christmas?
Capt. January: Yes, I wouldn't be surprised if we did.
Yes, Shirley reminds you of death, then tries to cheer you back up with Christmas and short term hopes.
April 23, 2004, I write my first (and best) Shirley Temple post, telling the story of "The Hagen Girl" — the movie she made with Ronald Reagan — complete with shot-from-the-TV-screen stills:
It's bad, but awesome. Ronald Reagan comes to town, hears people gossiping about him, and doesn't like it..... The gossip is all about how Mary Hagen, played by Shirley Temple, is an illegitimate child and the father is Reagan. Shirley was the most adorable child ever, but here she is as a gorgeous teenager:


Read the whole story at the link. I'll just tell you that Ronald Reagan rescues the suicidal Shirley from drowning — complete with pictures of Reagan diving into the raging river and Shirley looking "modern and fabulous" while wet — and in the end he tells her — so Reaganesquely — "It's what you are, and where you're going that really matters."


April 24, 2004, the day after that big Shirley-and-Reagan post, I posited a question for which you'll see no answers at the link, because I didn't have the comments on back then. You might find this a particularly interesting question today, what with all the recent talk of Woody Allen's depredations and travails:
So if a teenage girl goes for a year believing an older man is her biological father, but then finds out it was just rumor, is it okay to marry him? I mean in a conventional family-oriented movie. That's what happened in "That Hagen Girl" (discussed... with pictures, yesterday). Ronald Reagan was none too happy with the role of the father figure and begged for a rewrite in which he doesn't end up marrying Shirley Temple.
Reagan's misgivings about the script were borne out when the film had its first preview screening. After he rescues Temple from her suicide attempt, he admits that he loves her. But when he said the words on screen, the preview audience screamed "Oh no!" almost in unison.
So they recut it, so people wouldn't scream in horror! But that only made it an inexplicably sexless marriage.

46 comments:

rhhardin said...

Those were movies I always tuned away from.

WC fields had the right approach to adorable children.

Did they share any movies?

rhhardin said...

W.C. Fields — 'Ah, the patter of little feet around the house. There's nothing like having a midget for a butler. '

MarkW said...

A few years back we caught 'The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer' on TV (probably on TCM). It's not a bad lightweight old movie and actually is worth it for the unintentionally hilarious late-40s high-school basketball scene. Looks like it's on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1Hv87a1yF8

A mostly grown up Shirley Temple is in it (along with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy). Shirley Temple does a fine job as a teenage comic actress -- it's a bit of a puzzle why her film career petered out so completely not long after that.

MisterBuddwing said...

Ever see That Hagen Girl (1947)? It was one of Shirley Temple's unsuccessful attempts at continuing her movie career as a young woman, and co-starred a handsome actor named Ronald Reagan, who had little good to say about it in later years.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Did Shirley Temple's niceness bring down communism? In August 1989, GHWB dispatched her to Czechoslovakia and the rest is history.

EDH said...

I've always loved that scene where she tap dances with Samuel L. Jackson!

Penelope Bonnar said...

Well, I also grew up on Shirley Temple movies. And loved them. My favorite, "Heidi," is rarely mentioned. I introduced my granddaughter to it a couple of years ago and it's now one of her favorites, too. Can't help but compare her well-lived life to the tragic wrecks so many other young actors (yesterday's and today's) have made of theirs. Much to admire about Shirley Temple Black. She made people smile. It may be sappy, but I still smile when I hear her name.

MisterBuddwing said...

I've always loved that scene where she tap dances with Samuel L. Jackson!

Wasn't that Laurence Fishburne?

Ann Althouse said...

"A mostly grown up Shirley Temple is in it (along with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy). Shirley Temple does a fine job as a teenage comic actress -- it's a bit of a puzzle why her film career petered out so completely not long after that."

I have seen that, and I think the puzzle is that people did not want to see their beautiful little girl in sexual situations.

In that movie, Cary Grant isn't going after her. He has an adult love interest and she's a teenager with a comically girlish crush on him.

Cary never does a turnabout — like Reagan in "The Hagen Girl" — where he starts seeing her as his love interest. But that makes "The Hagen Girl" more enjoyable today. It's badness is a lot of fun. Also Shirley is so beautiful in that. I believe that Marilyn Monroe stole her look from the older Shirley (and we just couldn't take it straight from Shirley.)

Also, that movie has Ronald Reagan.

It's the most awesome movie ever, if we limit the category to movies that are unquestionably objectively bad.

Ron said...

She's also good in "I'll Be Seeing You" with Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton.

broomhandle said...

EDH,
First laugh of the day. Thank you.

betamax3000 said...

'The Hagen Girl' Would Be Remade Today With Harrison Ford and Miley Cyrus. Twerk, Hagen Girl, Twerk.

betamax3000 said...

There are No Authentic Nude Photos of Shirley Temple on the Internet. Different Times.

Hagar said...

Shirley Temple carried 20th Century Fox through the Great Depression. Not bad for a 5-6 year old kid.

Will Cate said...

Seeing her old films on TV in the early 60s is one of my earliest childhood memories (that, and seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan).

rhhardin said...

Shorpy does Shirley Temple.

I wonder what fraction of men thought to themselves, as they do today, who the hell reads this crap.

mccullough said...

My 6-year-old daughter and I just watched Wee Willie Winkie (a 1937 Shirley Temple flick directed by the great John Ford). Cesar Romero played Koda Khan, leader of this Al-Qaeda type group of insurgents in 19th century British India. Shirley helps bring the peace between Cesar Romero's band of jihadists and her the British military lead by her stern grandpa after they kidnap her and killed her best friend (an adult sergeant in her grandpa's regiment).

The jihadists and her imperial grandfather are no match for Shirley's spirit, charm, and common sense.

T J Sawyer said...

My spouse's name is Linda Susan, one of many who received that name in 1949. NYT misses that aspect of the legacy.

SarcastiCarrie said...

Why did her career really peter out? I don't think she wanted to go on acting. She married a man (Black) who had never seen one of her films, and she found it utterly refreshing.

David said...

The Althouse curse.

Let me be the first to predict that Bob Dylan will die within two weeks of being mentioned on Althouse.

Seeing Red said...

During the 75th academy Awards they brought out as many Oscar winners as they could get. Shirley was there. I will never forget Robin Williams stopping so he could shake her hand.

Gracious lady, gracious diplomat.

MarkW said...

I have seen that, and I think the puzzle is that people did not want to see their beautiful little girl in sexual situations.

Maybe. But other child stars of the era (Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Natalie Wood) did make the transition successfully. Of course, they weren't nearly the iconic mega-stars in childhood that Shirley Temple was.

I suppose another possibility is that she gave it up because there was really no way she could have matched her childhood success as an adult.

chickenlittle said...

My mother taught me to love her in the 1950s when I was a child — my mother, who had loved going to the movies when she was a child during The Depression, when Shirley Temple movies were coming out and making people happy.

My mother loved Shirley Temple too and lit up whenever she appeared on TV. But I am indifferent towards Temple, so the intergenerational teaching thing must be female-to-female.

I do see something similar happening in my home, but not centered around Shirley Temple.

Anyways, she lived a good life. R.I.P.

James Graham said...

Shirley stamped BALONEY! on the idea that great success as a child actress leads to adult psychological problems.

chickenlittle said...

I suppose another possibility is that she gave it up because there was really no way she could have matched her childhood success as an adult.

The storyline of "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" juxtaposed with Shirley Temple's actual grace in later life sort of undoes MarkW's cynicism.

Titus said...

I never saw any of her movies but I used to sing I Am A Good Ship lollipop (in a very femmy way) to my parents when I was like 3.

MarkW said...

The storyline of "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" juxtaposed with Shirley Temple's actual grace in later life sort of undoes MarkW's cynicism.

Huh? Almost nobody in Hollywood -- child or adult -- is as big a star as Shirley Temple was as a child. Even a moderately successful career as an adult would have paled in comparison. Given that, maybe going off to do other things looked more attractive -- I'm not sure why that's a cynical.

Roughcoat said...

Greatest child actress ever. Her dance scenes with Bill Robinson are extraordinary. She looked like she was having great fun--and it turns out that this was indeed the case. She was a true natural.

The "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" is (very) arguably her best movie and one of the funniest movies of all time. Her interplay with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy is matchless, hilarious. Especially in the restaurant scene, when the band keeps breaking into "Happy Birthday." They don't make 'em like that anymore.

And they don't make 'em like Shirley Temple anymore either. She very sensibly left the entertainment industry to pursue a diplomatic career. Served her country well and honorably for her entire adult life.

God be with you. She's in heaven now, "ever so happy" to be there. I'm sure she's dancing up a storm with Bill Robinson again, to God's great enjoyment.

William said...

I read an article about her in Vanity Fair. She and Bill Robinson really liked each other. There was no sexual or racial tension in their relationship. Not exactly an inspiring story, but I was glad to read it.

traditionalguy said...

It is interesting how the pre-pubescent Shirley was so emotionally seductive on screen that men fell in love with her without feeling guilty but after she was a teen she lost that easy attraction.

She had a God given talent like Eve in the Garden of Eden before the fall. She wowed men.



David said...

She just had it, whatever it is.

The reputation is that she was a total pro as an actress, even from a very young age. Easy to work with, consistent, generous to her (lesser) co workers.

It must have been quite a thing to be such a star at such a young age. Especially in an era where people could not, as they can now, just declare themselves stars and get away with it for a while.

She was not flawless of course. Marrying John Agar when she was 17 was a bad career move and a bad personal decision. This had to have complicated her transition to adult roles, which did not go very well. She had a child in 1948 (age 20) and divorced. She was still only 22 when she married Charles Black but that marriage lasted 54 years until his death. She had found something more substantial than fame.

jr565 said...

"So if a teenage girl goes for a year believing an older man is her biological father, but then finds out it was just rumor, is it okay to marry him? I mean in a conventional family-oriented movie."
Yes. In a conventional family oriented movie maybe not. Though, how old is the girl and how young is the man who she thought was her father?

sunsong said...

Rest in Peace Shirley Temple. I adored your movies.

jr565 said...

Roughcoat wrote:
And they don't make 'em like Shirley Temple anymore either. She very sensibly left the entertainment industry to pursue a diplomatic career. Served her country well and honorably for her entire adult life.

Thank god we never saw the equivalent for her day of the drunken Shirley Temple or the drug addict shirley temple. But then again, even back then not all the child stars were jewels.

Lydia said...

For the file containing all the "recent talk of Woody Allen's depredations and travails" -- the novelist Graham Greene's take on the popularity of Temple's movies:

The owners of a child star are like leaseholders—their property diminishes in value every year. Time's chariot is at their back; before them acres of anonymity. Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has a peculiar interest: infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.

Oh, my. Does that tell us more than we need to know about Greene, or was he on to something there?

CStanley said...

Her characters were precocious but sweet. Today, the child roles mimic the precociousness but leave out the sweetness.

I don't know if I knew this before, or if even accurate, but one bio I just read stated that her agent turned down the Dorothy role in Wizard of Oz. Oops!

Though, judging by life outcomes, perhaps Judy Garland got the short end of that stick.

chickenlittle said...

Though, judging by life outcomes, perhaps Judy Garland got the short end of that stick.

Garland may indeed have gotten the short end of a stick but it was long enough to perpetuate his and her genes into the next.

Scott said...

"My mother taught me to love her in the 1950s when I was a child..."

Just like Mia Farrow taught her daughter Dylan to hate Woody Allen. And now it's come to this.

chickenlittle said...

I'm not sure why that's a cynical.

I'm simply saying that "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" provides a template for what could have happened but didn't. Shirley Temple Black went on to fill her life even more fully.

BTW, why all the dropping of her last name?

Did she legally drop it?

Is it a feminist insult?

Alex said...

RIP Shirley Temple. You were a true American original. Keep tap-dancing in the sky.

The Godfather said...

I haven't seen That Hagen Girl, but there were a lot of movies in the '40's and '50's that had young women falling in love with older men (men old enough to be their fathers). I think the most famous is Love in the Afternoon (Gary Cooper, 56 and Audrey Hepburn, 28). But Susan Slept Here really got to me because Dick Powell (age 50) ended up marrying Debbie Reynolds who (although actually 22) was supposed to be 17. I think that's kind of creepy.

rcommal said...

Struck by Shirley's engaging personality, Educational signed her to a two-year contract for 26 short films, at $50 a week. Eight of these were part of a series entitled Baby Burlesks, which Shirley would later describe as "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence," that "occasionally were racist or sexist."

The regime at Educational Studios was infantile slave labour. Rehearsals would mean two weeks without pay. Each film was then shot at lightning speed in two days. For playing the lead, Shirley received just $10 a day.

For any child who misbehaved, there was the sinister black "punishment box," containing only a large block of ice, in which the obstreperous infant would be forcibly confined to "cool off."

Shirley was put into this box several times, was once forced to work the day after undergoing an operation to pierce her ear-drum and on another occasion to dance on a badly injured foot.


Food for thought.

rcommal said...

What I am struck by is: "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence."

rcommal said...

That covers, however gently it rebukes, whole worlds of ground. Think you not?

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