'Girl' looks at Shirley Temple, ambassador of cheer
If ever a performer came along at just the right time, it was Shirley Temple. The cherubic face and unbreakable spirit she displayed in her cinematic confections of the 1930s were the perfect spoonfuls of sugar to help the bitter medicine of the Depression go down easier for millions of Americans.
The timing also couldn't be better for John F. Kasson's “The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression,” which arrives just two months after Shirley's death at age 85. The book is a wonderful epilogue to Shirley's career — which was steered by her mother, Gertrude, who had Shirley taking dance lessons before she was 3 — and an enlightening examination of the curly topped moppet's impact on Hollywood, the economy and the mood of a troubled nation.
Kasson takes a two-pronged approach in his study of 1930s America. He details events that led to the Depression, starting with Herbert Hoover's presidency through the FDR years. He also links Shirley to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, both masters at rallying a nation through their use of media and their million-dollar smiles.
Equally well presented is his detailing of Shirley's career from her humble show-biz beginnings at age 3 in the low-budget “Baby Burlesk” shorts, which had an all-toddler cast spoofing popular movies of the time, through her glory years as Hollywood's most bankable star. Her films at home studio 20th Century-Fox all followed a similar formula, often with Shirley as an orphan thrust into a custody battle. But there were no adversities she couldn't overcome with a song (with titles like “You Gotta S-M-I-L-E') or a dance (Kasson also devotes ample space to her partnership with African-American hoofer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson).
After she sang “On the Good Ship Lollipop” in the 1934 film “Bright Eyes,” not only was a star born, so was a phenomenon. Shirley topped the box office from 1935 to 1938 and became a marketing machine who got the economy moving again as Americans shelled out precious dollars on merchandise including dolls, dresses, coloring books, pitchers and tons more. By 1940, Kasson writes, Americans had spent an estimated $45 million on Shirley Temple dolls.
In her post-show biz years, Shirley Temple Black had a rewarding career serving as ambassador to Ghana and later Czechoslovakia. But none of her later accomplishments could surpass her previous role as the U.S. ambassador of cheer and goodwill during the Depression, a part she played with an indomitable spirit and a smile as sunny as the beaches of Peppermint Bay.
“I went to work every day,” she recalled years later about growing up on a soundstage. “I thought every child went to work, because I was born into it.”
Daniel Bubbeo is a staff writer for Newsday.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Review: ‘The Comedians’ taps details, voices to chart history of American comedy
- Review: Stephen King’s short stories in ‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’ still have bite
- Review: Therapy camp turns into hostage crisis in ‘The Masked Truth’
- Review: Jon Land’s ‘Strong Light of Day’ is wildly entertaining
- A la carte: Books make appetizing holiday gifts