Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We'll Miss You, Shirley Temple Black

The news of Shirley Temple's death was everywhere this morning. And half the people I've seen talking about it on social media have also felt the need to mention that they thought she was already dead.

I'm guessing a large part of that is because, despite her political career in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, most people think of her as the eternal tot. The little lisping girl with cubby cheeks, a head full of curls, and a lot of moxie. The epitome of adorable in the 20th century. The girl that every other little girl actor would be compared to for the rest of time.

I also grew up watching Shirley Temple films. Because my mother grew up watching them in the 50s and 60s, when Miss Temple was already retired from film but still a big deal on television with Shirley Temple's Storybook.

Most people think of her younger work- Little Miss Marker-ear. But we tended to watch her later work, especially if it was based on a book, like Heidi and The Little Princess. She was actually acting in those, rather than just being the adorable little girl. They're dramatic as hell (for Shirley Temple) and Heidi especially would make me cry every time.

I remember watching The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer in my tweens and being so excited to see a teenaged Shirley Temple movie. And then being really disturbed by the plot of a 17-year-old girl falls in love with random adult, played by Cary Grant, and her family convinced him to LEAD HER ON. Even though he doesn't want anything to do with her! Crazy, I swear. Old movies have some bonkers plots, folks. Especially if Cary Grant was involved. It doesn't help that the film was written by the man that would go on to create I Dream of Jeannie.

It was weird to see her looking so much older, yet still so much like that tiny little girl. She resembled Debbie Reynolds at the time, actually. Reynolds wouldn't even make her first movie until the year after The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and wouldn't even become known until Temple was out of the game in the 50s. Almost makes you wonder if there was only room for Reynolds once Temple had stepped down.

Anyway, what I really remember Shirley Temple for is the Shirley Temple doll my mother had. My mother was not the type to hang onto childhood toys. Mostly due to the fact that she had six younger siblings, four of them girls, and her old toys would make their way through the family until they, presumably, just turned to dust in the youngest sister's hands.

But the Shirley Temple doll survived.

She did not, however, survive unscathed. I remember my mother showing me the doll when I was about five and I was mystified by the thought that it was supposed to resemble the cute little girl from the black and white movies. The face and arms were marred with dark streaks and the hair looked like something between a pointy anime hair style and an afro. Too long and too snarled in odd shapes.

There was also the fact that she had no clothing. That didn't help my imagination with trying to see Shirley Temple in the doll. I was convinced my mother had been duped and no one had the heart to tell her that she just had some old doll.

Many years later, she found someone to restore the doll. She found a dress to fit the doll and shoes and socks that fit it as well. And when the doll was returned to our house, it was clear of black marks and the hair had been painstakingly restored to shiny sausage curls, somehow. It is now lovingly displayed on the piano in my parents' house. In a tiny doll chair, next to pictures of family members. Another family keepsake.

It still does not, however, look like Shirley Temple to me.

Rest in peace, Shirley Temple Black. You've been a legend for 60 years and will continue to be so.

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