FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lollipop Politics

From the time she was able to dance and gyrate, Shirley Temple was a figure to use. Hollywood, as it still remains, was better at using people than most. Graham Greene, much to his cost and the review he worked for, wrote about her as a manipulated sexualised symbol, the tarted up product of a fetish mad establishment. 20th Century Fox sued him for his biting review of Wee Willie Winkie, featuring her with that “well-shaped and desirable little body” admired by “middle-aged men and clergy”. He fled to Mexico and made to fork out 500 pounds. The magazine Night and Day folded.

It did not stop there. Shirley Temple was a creature of politics, either by design or by use. Not necessarily one of the big guns, but certainly a gun of some importance. After marrying pro-Republican businessman Charles Black, she found a home in the GOP.

Much ink has been spent over the political connections between Hollywood and various political machines. Temple was no different, though what was unusual was her coopting when a tender 5 into a campaign against Upton Sinclair when he ran for the governorship of California. In 1934, Sinclair had been barnstorming his way through Democratic ranks, earning plaudits for his EPIC (End Poverty in California) campaign. His populist appeal, as George Mitchell in The Nation (Feb 11) noted, produced an unusual alliance, one linking Democrats, conservative elements of the GOP, Hollywood’s moguls and business leaders. EPIC had to fail.

Temple, in so far as any 5-year-old can be convinced about anything, was treated as a hard bitten veteran of public service who had openly endorsed the incumbent, Frank Merriam. The studio bosses saw to that. Mitchell cites a news service wire from the time: “It may hearten the cause of conservatism to know that Shirley Temple has decided, after grave deliberation, that she disapproves of the Sinclair EPIC philosophy and is backing her opposition with a day’s salary, even if she cannot with a vote.”

The roles were reversed five years later. J. B. Matthews, former chairman of the American League for Peace and Democracy, told the famed and hysterical House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that “communistic organs were using famous people as decoys” (Milwaukee Journal, Dec 24, 1939). Shirley Temple was one of them. It seemed that everyone wanted their pound of flesh of the child actress, be it as child candy, political weapon or political decoy.

Shirley Temple – now Temple Black – continued to be a political accessory and participant. California tended to be better than most with sending actors to Washington, and Temple Black was hardly going to buck the trend.

In 1967, when Temple Black decided to move into politics on her own accord, the prison of the acting world followed her. So did campaign managers Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, two figures instrumental in the campaign against Upton Sinclair. They faced a conceptual, if ridiculous challenge, in selling their candidate. Who was actually running? Child figure? Grown woman? A child in a woman’s body? “Little Shirley Temple is not running,” explained Temple Black, but that did not stop The Good Ship Lollipop from sinking to the bottom of the volatile sea.

Her campaign coordinator, Forden Athearn, further elaborated on the problem. “Everybody knows who she is. The problem is to make them realize that she has grown up.” Reality can be a terrible thing, and a challenged electorate might have, in Athearn’s view, not known who they were voting for.

Reality also railroaded the Temple Black campaign. Her own politics by that time proved unduly hawkish. She misread sentiments over the Vietnam conflict. The anti-war law professor Paul McCloskey romped in the GOP primary for the 11th congressional district, his reading of the electoral pulse a tad better than his counterpart. Republicans, urged the New York Times, “would do well to study the reasons for Shirley Temple’s striking defeat.”

Having not made it into office via the ballot, other means for serving government were offered. Richard Nixon engineered an appointment to the UN. Appointing Temple Black as US ambassador to Ghana in 1974 demonstrated the intellectual inclinations of the Ford administration, though it seemed harmless enough. There she was, happily dressed up in “traditional” garb and working with her “sisters” in some faux anthropological setting. “Most of the people in Ghana wouldn’t know me as an actress. They’d know me for my work at the UN.”

When Ronald Reagan talked his way into the White House, Presidential politics affirmed itself as the world’s grandest theme park. One actor looked with sympathy upon another – both had, after all, worked together in That Hagan Girl, a vapid enterprise that compelled one reviewer to call it “the silliest job of [Reagan’s] career.” The critique of Shirley was more brutal, with her acting resembling “the mopish dejection of a school child who has just been robbed of a two-scoop ice cream cone” (Washington Post, Feb 11).

Reagan proved unruffled. If you can act, you must have something – at least that was the wisdom of the GOP and large swathes of American opinion at the time. Temple Black was deemed qualified enough to serve as State Department trainer and honorary Foreign Service officer. By the time George H.W. Bush took over the reins of power, she found herself in another ambassadorial position – this time to a Czechoslovakia creeping out of the Cold War gloom.

The remit when in Prague was made to sound momentous, packed with history moving gravitas. It involved human rights – “trying to keep people like future President Vaclav Havel out of jail.” Then, focus shifted. “Almost overnight, my concern became economics.” But, as ever, the shadow of the cinema, and perpetual childhood stardom, followed. A Shirley Temple fan “klub” greeted her on her arrival as ambassador. She was surprised that they were not sporting communist party cards. Instead, they had pictures of her. She felt entirely at ease.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail