When America lost Shirley Temple last week, it lost an icon. Had she died 50 years ago, the country would have stopped. It would have been a national day or mourning.
When I caught the news of Temple’s death, I groaned. I braced myself to tell my two young daughters. They’ve watched Shirley Temple movies for years. To them, she’s a contemporary, another innocent little girl. When I informed my 11-year-old daughter, she frowned and said, “Oh, that’s terrible.”
I cannot do justice to Shirley Temple’s storied movie career here, but indulge me as I share one of my favorites.
In the 1934 classic, Bright Eyes, Shirley played a five-year-old who lost her father in an airplane crash and then lost her mother. She is comforted by loving people who would do anything for her, including her godfather, who is identified as just that. The godfather behaves like a true godfather. The movie includes constant, natural references to faith, never shying from words like God, Heaven, and even Jesus.
Today’s sneering secular audiences would reflexively dismiss the film as Norman Rockwell-ish. To the contrary, the movie is hardly sugar-coated. Just when your heart is broken from the death of sweet Shirley’s dad, her mom is killed by a car while carrying a cake for Shirley on Christmas day.
That doesn’t remind me of any Norman Rockwell portrait I’ve seen.
What such cynics really mean is that the film isn’t sufficiently depraved for modern tastes. Shirley doesn’t pole dance or “twerk.” She doesn’t do a darling little strip tease for the boys while singing “Good Ship, Lollipop.”
Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t a movie for modern audiences!
For 80 years, Shirley Temple’s bright eyes brightened the big screen. They reflected what was good and decent in this country. She embodied what made America great, and she brightened our lives in the process.