Life Among The Heffalumps - Kathi Wolfe Scene4 Magazine

March 2014

Ringlets, Movies, Animal Crackers and Grenadine: Remembering Shirley Temple Black

Recently, my niece turned 32.  "What would you like for your birthday," I asked her.  "The DVD of 'Bright Eyes,' where Shirley sings 'The Good Ship Lollipop'" she told me, "I love Shirley Temple movies!  I used to watch them with Mom-Mom {her grandmother}."

I thought of this when I heard that Shirley Temple Black, who was the most popular and maybe, the most talented Hollywood child star, died at her home, surrounded by her family, on February 11 at age 85.  People – celebs and ordinary Joes and Janes – die all the time, and, perhaps, inevitably, we've all become a bit desensitized to the Grim Reaper's never-ending conquests.  After all, most of us don't personally know celebrities and death's a part of the cycle of life.  Yet, on hearing that Black passed away, I, like so many across the generations, felt as if not only a movie star had left this earth, but as if an iconic beacon of hope had exited our lives.  It's hard, as I write this, to call her Black when I think of her as Shirley.  (Temple married Charles Alden Black in 1950.)

Hope for Emily Dickinson was the "thing with feathers."  During the Depression, hope danced, sang, laughed and smiled through Black, the little girl with 56 blond ringlets who made 23 movies. Through her sparkling rendition of catchy tunes such as "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup," and irrepressible screen presence, Black helped to make unbearable poverty, fear and suffering bearable.  Not even FDR provided such an infusion of optimism.  "People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog, Rin Tin Tin, and a little girl {herself}," Black  said in numerous interviews.

Today, in the Age of Snark where nothing is real if it isn't ironic, I suspect that many critics and literati wouldn't embrace Shirley Temple.  To them, she would lack gravitas and irony. Her sensibility would seem too conventional – not risky enough – too out of touch with the problems of the times. Never mind, that when Black danced on screen with renown African-American entertainer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, she was believed to be the first white actress to hold hands with a black performer on the Silver Screen.  (Southern cinemas normally would not show movies with white and black actors holding hands.  Because Black was such a money-maker, they didn't pull the films with her and Robinson.)

Even in her own time, there was some grousing about Black.  According to Adolphe Menjou, her "Little Miss Marker" co-star, Black was "an Ethel Barrymore at 6" who made a "stooge" of him.

When I was in high school and college, in the pot-smoking, anti-war, don't trust your parents generation 1960s and 1970s, it was fashionable to make fun of Shirley Temple movies.  Yet, even stoners, singing spaced-out renditions of "The Good Ship Lollipop," couldn't help feeling affection for Shirley Temple.  After all, we'd grown up watching her movies with our mothers and our grandparents.  Black, who became a respected diplomat (she served as the government's chief of protocol) was beloved throughout the world.  "I had a cousin who married a rich man," my neighbor Graciella who came to the United States from Guatemala told me, "she made her daughter's bedroom an exact replica of Shirley Temple's room in the movies."

Though Black recognized the value of optimism, she wasn't a naive, pie-eyed optimist.  When she retired from Hollywood at age 22, Black said that she'd "had enough of pretend." During her career as a public servant, she displayed discipline, intelligence and wit.  "We teach them how to get used to being called Ambassador and having Marines saluting," Black said of training envoys in the mysteries of diplomacy, "Then, on Day 3, we tell them what to do if they're taken hostage."

Black displayed guts and dignity in her personal life.  In an industry where divorce is as frequent as the common cold, Black and her husband were married for nearly 55 years.  In 1972, when few talked openly of cancer, she held a press conference so that women who'd found lumps in their breasts would "not sit home and be afraid."

Growing up, I, like so many young girls, felt as if we were sophisticated adults on-the-town, when dining out with our parents, we drank a Shirley Temple (non-alcoholic) cocktail (of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry).  Shirley, though you loathed this libation, I'm sipping a Shirley Temple now in your memory.  R.I.P.

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Scene4 Magazine - Kathi Wolfe |
Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and
Columnist for Scene4. Her reviews and commentary have
also appeared in an array of publications. Her most recent
Book of Poems, The Green Light, has just been published
by Finishing Line Press.
For more of her commentary, articles and poetry,
Check the

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©2014 Kathi Wolfe
©2014 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 - International Magazine of Arts and Culture

March 2014

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