Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shirley Temple: April 23, 1928-February 10, 2014

Shirley Temple was five when she hit the screens. She could sing, tap dance, and memorize scripts-all before she could read. But that wasn't impressive enough. Her entourage decided she'd be cuter if she could sing, dance, and act-all at the age of four. So they aged her down. It wasn't until her 'twelfth' birthday that they told her she was actually thirteen.
Temple is known for her innocent image. The cheery little face that helped America through the 30's. Roosevelt once said, "When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles." 

Why do you think they named the drink after her? It's sweet, and when the soda pop industry was in its infancy, one of the only popular drinks that didn't contain alcohol.
But if you look at her movies-especially the earlier ones-little Shirley is disturbingly sexualized.
I won't even get started on the war paint.
Here's Temple as Madam Cradlebait, getting taken prisoner by cannibals while on a mission to civilize Africa. I don't know what to make of the safety pin. Is that supposed to be some kind of wilderness adventure diaper? Her name bothers me. Sounds too much like jailbait. 
You can watch the eight minute movie, called Kid In Africa, here. The director set up a tripwire so the kids would fall down when "shot". There were no stunt doubles, so Diaperzan's actually riding an elephant. 
In the short movie War Babies, Temple gets her diaper on again, this time paired with with silky off the shoulder blouse. She dances seductively for leering child soldiers and gets her first on screen kiss. She also tugs on a boy's diaper after he lures her over to the bar with the promise of  a lollipop. The film ends with one of her lovers showing the other a rose she gave him as proof of their romance-only for the other boy to pull out her diaper pin.
So here we have a four year old girl who's actually five playing an adult role while dressed as a baby. It doesn't stop with her, either. A boy who looks to be kindergarten age crawls around the floor in search of milk while a boy just like him clomps around in man sized boots. In a weird paradox, they're aged down while being aged up.
Both films were part of a series called Baby Burlesks. In her autobiography, Temple called them "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence." No wonder.
The sexualization continues today. In the rare instances when a teenager is actually played by a teenager, or a preteen by a preteen, they're dressed up so they don't look remotely their age. Disney and Nickelodeon target their shows at the 8-12 demographic though their actors are mostly in their late teens. There's only so much they can do about that, of course. Actors age and there's no way to stop it. And when they've aged enough that they can't be called minors anymore, when child protection laws no longer apply, all the stops are pulled out.
Demi Lovato (left) and Selena Gomez (right) got their start in third grade in the same episode of Barney.
Here they are today. And now, because you're waiting for it, Miley. This picture's from one the earliest episodes when she played a middle schooler.

What wrong with being a teenager? Why are these girls pressured to drop their good girl image once they hit the age of majority? It's not just the girls, either, look how Justin Bieber has caved into the pressures of Hollywood. He used to be just another youtube kid with a guitar. Now he collects ink and women. 
Shirley Temple at sixteen. I think she looks just fine. 
Her acting career had pretty much fizzled out by 1944. It started in 1938 when Judy Garland was chosen to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz instead of her. Temple was ten and she was sixteen. Garland had her breasts taped down to maintain her youthful image. But Temple's still a celebrity, and she's using her fame to help raise money for war bonds in Ottowa, where the picture was taken.
At seventeen she married a boy named John Agar. Her autobiography said she felt pressured into it. She wanted to be the first girl in her class to wear a wedding ring. They moved into her two story playhouse, replacing her carousel with living room furniture. Then they divorced four years later. Divorce, in 1949. That takes guts. She went on to get remarried and become an ambassador to Ghana and Czechslovakia. In the 70's she was diagnosed with breast cancer and did lots of activist work. On Monday this week she died. 
On her website, Temple's advice to the youth of today is, "Be brave and clear. Follow your heart and don't be overly influenced by outside factors. Be true to yourself."  I can't think of any better advice for young people trying to make it in a world where it's not acceptable to be a child. 

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