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.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:
A-ha! The answer: Every Shirley Temple movie.
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.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:
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?Yes, Shirley reminds you of death, then tries to cheer you back up with Christmas and short term hopes.
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.
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.