Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A part of the childhood memories of my generation sadly faded recently with the death of Shirley Temple Black at the age of 85. Her little curly-headed personae lifted the spirits of all Americans as we faced the bleakest of times during the Great Depression.
I suppose she was every young male’s first secret sweetheart. She was certainly mine even though she was older. This was not limited to just my age group. She was the sweetheart of all of America. If my young pubescent identity had to be associated with any (ugh!) “girl”, it was sure to be Shirley. Young boy’s attitudes about the opposite sex, of course, changed dramatically as we reached our teen years. But at the time, we were all secretly in love with Shirley.
But beyond my generation, Shirley Temple showed us that child-stars don’t have to be relegated to drug rehab or lives of degradation. Can you say, “Lindsay Lohan” or “Justin Bieber?”
After reigning as the most popular movie star — beating out the likes of Clark Gable and Bing Crosby four years in a row in the early 1930s — she retired from the movie industry at the age of 20 and went on to lead a very fruitful adult life.
She married at age 22 which changed her name to Shirley Temple Black. She served as a US representative as special attaché to the United Nations and as the ambassador to two countries.
But during her early years she belonged to an enthralled America.
Her bright, perky, talented self was the reigning sweetheart of America. She was one of the first movie stars to have product lines named after her. What little girl didn’t have at least one Shirley Temple baby doll? While stars today demand multi-millions for their movies, Shirley was paid $50,000 a movie during her silver screen reign. And, Americans were certain that she deserved every penny of it for the bright spotlight of hope she cast on a suffering nation.
Shirley’s sprightly personality appeals to much of the public today. Her movies remain best sellers on the VHS, DVD and cable television markets.
During the dismal days of the Depression, for a dime, the public could go into a darkened movie house and escape for an hour or two from the daily drudgery of the throes of deep depression gloom. It helped alleviate suffering and Shirley became an icon of showbiz personalities.
Just about every mother tried their best to fashion their little daughter’s hair into tight curls like Shirley’s, My Mom was no exception and my little sister endured many hours at the mercy of a hot hair curler. Actually my little sister bore an uncanny resemblance to the child star. It seemed that everywhere my family went, folks would comment, ”Why she looks just like Shirley Temple!” It became so common that my little sister took to coyly replying, “I know it.” Our Mom had to sit her down for a short lecture on humility.
I wasn’t jealous in the least at the attention my sister attracted. In fact, if a stranger failed to notice the resemblance, I would point out, ”Doesn’t she look just like Shirley Temple?”
Most folks don’t realize it but in early films, Shirley would sing and dance on the big screen with black stars like Bill (Bojangles) Robinson and the reigning traditions of Jim Crow didn’t crumble.
Even in death, Shirley will remain a constant reminder that fame doesn’t have to end in a sordid lifestyle. And that there is a future after public attention fades. It would be a powerful lesson for many athletes, singers, movie/television and other stars to learn.
So as the “Good Ship Lollipop” sails into unknown waters transporting the soul of a bright star, many a heart is still blessed by the warmness Shirley Temple brought to the cold days of America’s Great Depression.
Rest in peace, Shirley. You brought joy to our hearts.
America remembers you fondly!
John Brock is a retired professor and newspaper editor/publisher who lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be found at www.SouthernObserver.com