Daily Archives: February 11, 2014

GG

On the occasion of the passing of Shirley Temple let us pause to remember article The World’s Worst Newspaper mischaracterizes in its obit of the former moppet:

Not everyone was a Shirley Temple fan. The novelist Graham Greene, who was also a film critic, was sued by 20th Century Fox for his review of “Wee Willie Winkie” in the magazine Night and Day, which he edited. In the review, he questioned whether she was a midget and wrote of her “well-shaped and desirable little body” being served up to middle-aged male admirers.

As you can see below the term “midget” was never utilized by Greene

Night and Day, October 28, 1937 The Films by Graham Greene

Wee Willie Winkie

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.

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. “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.

For writing these obvious truths Green and the magazine Night and Day were sued. The damages they were required to pay brought this publication to an end. Greene, needless to say survived as a writer — but not, alas, as a film critic.

The obit notes:

For many years the Black family lived in the San Francisco area, where she was active in civic and community affairs. She worked particularly hard for the development of the San Francisco International Film Festival, but she resigned from the festival’s executive committee in 1966 in protest against a decision to show the Swedish film “Night Games,” which she called “pornography for profit.”

In his review of the film NYT critic Bosley Crowther notes

it is the picture that so offended Shirley Temple that she refused to serve as a director and program chairman of the later San Francisco Festival, to signify her protest at its being shown there.

And so here in all its “pornographic” glory is Mai Zetterling’s film — which I strongly suspect Graham Greene might have liked.