Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood

Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood

Kristen Hatch
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287mtk
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood
    Book Description:

    In the 1930s, Shirley Temple was heralded as "America's sweetheart," and she remains the icon of wholesome American girlhood, but Temple's films strike many modern viewers as perverse.Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhoodexamines her early career in the context of the history of girlhood and considers how Temple's star image emerged out of the Victorian cult of the child.

    Beginning her career in "Baby Burlesks," short films where she played vamps and harlots, her biggest hits were marketed as romances between Temple and her adult male costars. Kristen Hatch helps modern audiences make sense of the erotic undercurrents that seem to run through these movies. Placing Temple's films in their historical context and reading them alongside earlier representations of girlhood in Victorian theater and silent film, Hatch shows how Shirley Temple emerged at the very moment that long standing beliefs about childhood innocence and sexuality were starting to change. Where we might now see a wholesome child in danger of adult corruption, earlier audiences saw Temple's films as demonstrations of the purifying power of childhood innocence.

    Hatch examines the cultural history of the time to view Temple's performances in terms of sexuality, but in relation to changing views about gender, class, and race. Filled with new archival research,Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhoodenables us to appreciate the "simpler times" of Temple's stardom in all its thorny complexity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6327-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: SEX AND SHIRLEY TEMPLE
    (pp. 1-24)

    For four years during the Depression, from 1935 through 1938, Shirley Temple was celebrated as Hollywood’s most profitable star. According toTimemagazine, at the height of her fame she sold more sheet music than Bing Crosby and was more photographed than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.¹ Congress reportedly declared her “the most beloved individual in the world,” and Roosevelt is said to have celebrated her as a universal antidote to the nation’s malaise: “When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an...

  5. CHAPTER 1 AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS: MARY PICKFORD, SHIRLEY TEMPLE, AND THE “DECLINE OF SENTIMENT”
    (pp. 25-54)

    Before Shirley Temple became a star in 1934, the most popular icon of American girlhood was not a girl at all but an adult woman, Mary Pickford. Pickford was one of the first stars to emerge out of the fledgling film industry, having made her screen debut in 1909 at the age of seventeen. Throughout the teens and 1920s, Pickford was consistently identified as the most popular performer in the world, her name synonymous with movie stardom. She did not play children exclusively; indeed she enacted adult roles in the majority of her films. However, following the First World War,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “A TERRIBLE AMOUR”: CHILD LOVING IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
    (pp. 55-76)

    Contemporary audiences are often struck by what Molly Haskell has described as Shirley Temple’s “flirtatiousness with her daddy figures.”¹ InBright Eyes, she sings her signature tune, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” to a chorus of adoring men who shower her with candy. InPoor Little Rich Girl, she sits upon her father’s knee and croons a love song, begging him to “Marry me and let me be your wife.” And inDimplesshe caresses her grandfather’s neck and tearfully sings, “There’d be no me without you, no you without me.”Curly Topseems particularly egregious in this regard. In...

  7. CHAPTER 3 IMMACULATE AMALGAMATION: BILL ROBINSON AND SHIRLEY TEMPLE
    (pp. 77-106)

    One man was particularly prominent in Temple’s star discourse. The legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was featured in four of Temple’s films (The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, andJust Around the Corner) and played a significant behind-the-scenes role as her choreographer in a fifth (Dimples). Off screen, publicity described the black man as a “devoted slave” to the white girl; he was said to have nicknamed her “Little Darlin’,” while she referred to him as “Uncle Billy.” The press reported that Robinson had gifts made especially for his young friend: a pair of handmade...

  8. CHAPTER 4 BABY BURLESKS AND KIDDIE KABARETS: CHILDREN’S EROTIC IMPERSONATIONS
    (pp. 107-130)

    Shirley Temple began her career at the age of four, when she appeared in a series of short films released as the Baby Burlesks. Unlike the other child-centered comedy shorts of the period—Our Gang, the Mickey McGuire series, Snookums, Buster Brown, Big Boy, and others—the Burlesks did not imagine their cast of children to be typical or place them in what was conceived to be the child’s natural habitat, among the neighborhood gang of kids or within the family home. Rather, the Burlesks were innuendo-filled spoofs of popular genre films in which diaper-clad children impersonated Hollywood stars.¹

    In...

  9. CHAPTER 5 ECONOMIC INNOCENCE: THE PARADOX OF THE PERFORMING CHILD
    (pp. 131-148)

    In 1934, when the Production Code Administration began to receive complaints about children’s impersonations of eroticized women, the Code administrators were somewhat at a loss to explain to the studios what it was that audiences found objectionable in these performances. Whereas religious groups and women’s club members may have understood that the child who performed a fan dance or a hula represented a challenge to the ideal of childhood innocence, this challenge was not readily apparent to Joseph Breen and the Hollywood studios.

    As I discuss in the previous chapter, Breen and his colleagues clung to the well-established view that...

  10. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 149-152)

    In 1944,Timemagazine published a review ofNational Velvetthat reflects a markedly different paradigm of innocence than the one that shaped Shirley Temple’s career. The magazine described the film as “an interesting psychological study of hysterical obsession, conversion mania, pre-adolescent sexuality. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor . . . is probably the only person in Hollywood who could bring this curious role its unusual combination of earthiness and ecstasy.”¹ Writing inThe Nation, James Agee likewise identifies a sexual undertow to Taylor’s performance. He begins his review with the sort of declaration of helpless love for the child that was...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 153-170)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 171-174)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-176)