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 Black Sunset

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail