The Great Depression’s biggest movie star this (then) little girl cheered moviegoers of the lower classes with her unfettered optimism while assuring the upper ones her Sunny Dosposih would keep the natives from getting restless.
While she had a number of adult co-stars her most famous was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson — for reasons that this clip makes obvious
However her most powerful partner, albeit unwitting, was an off-screen one.
“In 1938, 20th Century Fox was awarded 3500 pounds in a lawsuit it brought against British novelist Graham Greene, who in his review of Wee Willie Winkie for the magazine Night and Day
“The owners of a child star are like leaseholders — their property diminishes in value every year. Time’s chariot is at their backs: before them acres of anonymity. What is Jackie Coogan now but a matrimonial squabble? Miss Shirley Temple’s case, though, has peculiar interest: infancy with her is a disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece — real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry.”
“Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is a complete totsy.”
“Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant’s palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep.”
Pretty intense, no? Here comes the coup de grace.
“It is clever but it cannot last. Her admirers — middle aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.”
Translation: “The jig is up, pervs!”
Though it’s scarcely over.
“Why are you making my Mummy cry?” – what could be purer than that? And the scene when dressed in a white nightdress she begs grandpa to take Mummy to a dance – what could be more virginal? On those lines in her new picture, made by John Ford, who directed The Informer, is horrifyingly competent. It isn’t hard to stay to the last prattle and the last sob. The story — about an Afghan robber converted by Wee Willie Winkie to the British Raj — is a long way after Kipling. But we needn’t be sour about that. Both stories are awful, but on the whole Hollywood’s is the better.”
Slow curtain, The End? Not quite.
“In the passage above, Greene complains about the “adult emotions” on Temple’s face, and ignores the fact that Temple’s ability to show deep feeling was neither inconsistent with childhood, nor evidence of corruption; it was simply what made her a great screen actress. Especially now that she’s re-watched Wee Willie Winkie, the Siren sees the review as more bitchy than subversive, the moan of a highly intellectual man who cannot believe he just had to sit through that, that tripe. Never mind the millions of kids who adored Temple as much as did any adult. If she’s popular, it must be because she wiggles her ass.”
Well that’s one reason.
“Sure, you can read Shirley Temple movies Greene’s way if such is your kinky wont; but there’s a few that lend themselves to it far more readily than the Ford. Little Miss Marker comes to mind, mostly because Adolphe Menjou is so much creepier than Victor McLaglen. In fact, you can read a lot of child vehicles of that or any other era as sublimated sex, and sometimes you’ll be right. But it’s an astonishingly reductive view to take of a film as good as Wee Willie Winkie, and it diminishes the good points something like The Little Princess or The Littlest Rebel still possess.
So if you want an analysis of the incestuous/pedophilic qualities of Wee Willie Winkie, that’s as much as you’re going to get from the Siren. She doesn’t think the movie, or indeed Temple’s performance, deserved that review.”
I beg to differ. One cannot imagine what may have been going on in Shirley Temple’s little mind but it’s clear what passed though John Fords, and those of her less dinstinguished directors. And it wasn’t the time of day.
Greene of course ha a less than copasetic view of humanity — as made clear from this famous scene in his most famous film
“No taxes” inevitably evokes today’s Harry Lime.
He doesn’t have an “Anna” however.
At least none that have come to light as yet (though one may yet emerge from GOProud)
And as he’s avoided prison — unlike his chief collaborator.
He’s not in line for the brush-off.
Or to put it another way
Sing us out Shirley!