Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Goodbye, Shirley Temple

shirley-temple-photo-3I was saddened today to hear about the death of Shirley Temple Black. As a dimpled, winsome child star in the 1930s, she cheered up millions of moviegoers during the dark days of the Great Depression. (In my current novel-in-progress, I’ve even named a girl character “Shirley” in her honor.)

Shirley worked hard, making some forty or fifty films over her lifetime, yet by most accounts emerged from stardom relatively stable and unscathed, unlike so many child actors. In adulthood she went into political life, eventually serving as U. S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and as the Chief of Protocol of the United States during the 1970s.

When I was a child, Shirley’s old movies often ran on Saturday-morning television. Even then, my peers were declaring her “corny,” but I loved to watch her sing and dance. To me she optimized childhood innocence, optimism, and even femininity (all those petticoats! all those ringlets!)–qualities that were quickly fading out of style even back then. Changing social values made a laughable anachronism of her golly-gee demeanor.

Today’s smart-n-sassy young ladies have traded in their fluffy dresses for cleats and helmets, their tap-dancing for twerking. Today, Honey Boo-Boo sets the standard of modern girlhood. Because “progress,” dontcha know.

You could not get much less hip or cool than Shirley Temple. Her movies were saccharine and melodramatic and unrealistic.

And if you ask me, the world could use a little more Shirley.

My favorite Shirley Temple movie is A Little Princess. What’s yours?

2 Responses to Goodbye, Shirley Temple

  • Karen Gates says:

    I’m with you 100%!!! I loved her unrealistic, melodramatic, saccharine-soaked movies (my favorite was Heidi) and the way she enunciated every syllable ever uttered from her sweet, expressive little mouth. More than anything, I loved the plucky resilience of every character I remember her playing. She had all the right stuff and I love that, in spite of her grown up realistic, gracious, diplomatic contributions, she will be remembered by so many as a perpetual child with dimples, ringlets, petticoats and tap shoes and the ability to purse her lips and still speak clearly — to be America’s darling and not end up messed up like today’s child icons. Rest in peace, Shirley…and thanks for leaving the legacy that helped a nation of hurting people feel better for even a little while. What a gift!

  • Kiersti says:

    I loved Shirley Temple movies when I was little, and then we got to introduce them to my little sister. My favorite might have been A Little Princess too…I also liked Heidi, though some parts scared me when I was very little. 🙂 Curly Top is a cute one too, and certainly the name fits her! Thanks for this sweet tribute, Jenny. Shirley Temple will be missed! But at least we can always pull her out and watch her again. 🙂

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