FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bright Eyes, Good Brain

by CLANCY SIGAL

It’s said that Shirley Temple is responsible for one of Graham Greene’s least good but most Catholic novels, The Power & The Glory.  In the late 1930s an impoverished Greene, scrounging for rent money, became the film critic of a small London-based cineaste magazine Night and Day.  He was a pretty good reviewer.  He was also brave and careless with language in an England where even today it’s almost impossible for a defendant in a libel action to win.  (Which is why the Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh’s son Auberon called the English libel law a “crooks’ charter” where  accusers don’t even pay tax on their winnings.)

Poor Graham went to see Shirley Temple in Wee Winnie Winkle and wrote a review with his cock not his brain.   “Miss Shirley Temple’s …infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult… 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 completely totsy. Watch…the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity….”  Oh yes, dimpled depravity.

Actually, it’s a great review pointing to the fetishization of little girls to feed the lascivious appetites of “middleaged men and clergymen” drooling over this “fancy little piece”.   Considering what today’s music videos, fashion industry, TV and movies do to prepubescent girl children, you might see Greene’s review as prophetic.

That’s not how the Lord Chief Justice saw it in the inevitable libel trial when 20th Century Fox and Shirley’s folks sued Greene and Night and Day.  Of course he lost, liable for damages, and the Little Cinema Magazine That Could promptly folded.   Fleeing the scandal and unable to fork over, Greene embarked on his lifelong habit of world travels, ending in Mexico which gave him the raw material for a novel about a whiskey priest who acquires holiness under torture by a socialist Mexican policeman.   Greene, himself highly (and flagrantly) sexualized and a leftwing only-half-believing Catholic, would never again write so badly, but you can’t blame Shirley for that.

As a movie addicted balcony-bug kid I joined my gang when we ran to the toilets every time a Shirley Temple movie showed on the screen.  Yuk, how embarrassing.  Even then I suspect that we pre-adolescents somehow sensed not was all kosher with how the studio smacked its lips over darling little Shirley.

A pity, because now that I have a chance to see her films again on Turner Classics I can appreciate what a superb tap dancer she was, wiggling her fanny and all; and how overpowering was her infectious good cheer at a time when, God knows, our folks needed it.

Somehow, unlike other child stars, she survived her parents, a racist-sexist studio system and the pressure of being “America’s Darling” to become a remarkable, dignified grownup, mature and level-headed, commonsensical and courageous in medical adversity.  Yes she was also a hawkish Republican married for 55 years to the same ultra-Republican guy.  She went into public life with subdued panache and seriousness of purpose, and was a terrific ambassador in Ghana, whose revolutionary leaders at first rejected her, and to Vaclev Havel’s Czech velvet revolution where she played it cool and constructively.

Her domineering and money-grubbing mother used to command on the movie set, “Sparkle, Shirley!”  And she sparkled all the way through to her very last days.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail