Goodbye, Shirley Temple
I 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?