Shirley Temple’s America

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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.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • Gary Hart

    She represented all that was good in this world. That’s why the left hated her so much.

  • JMC

    Most movies up until the late 1950s were like that (with the notable exception of the film noir which became popular in the fifties). That’s because the whole country was like that, until the hippies started their garbage in the mid-60s. Hollywood does not so much *make* popular culture, as it does *reflect* it. As the hippies came of age and gained positions of influence and/or power, that’s when this country started going down the tubes. They belittled movies like Shirley’s because they were pure “escapism,” and they believed escapism was a bad thing, while the rest of society sought it because it relieved the stress of everyday life. It’s come to the point that screenwriters no longer really know how to write a movie in that genre. I can watch a Shirley Temple movie, or, in truth, any movie from that era and still enjoy them immensely (I have a particular fondness for Ruby Keeler and Danny Kaye movies); however, a modern movie that tries to imitate that style comes across entirely too sappy even for my tastes. I suspect that’s because it’s how the modern leftist sees those old movies.
    No, life wasn’t a bowl of cherries back then. There was much that was wrong that actually has changed for the better. But did it have to come at the price of our souls?

  • Lee

    She was a sweet, cute little girl that everyone couldn’t help but love.It is so nice that we can still enjoy her movies.