A WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY TRIBUTE TO SHIRLEY TEMPLE BLACK (APRIL 23, 1928-FEBRUARY 10, 2014)

I awoke this morning to the news that he most famous “child star” of the 1930s passed away last evening at the age of 85. Having frequently taught a course titled America & Movies for the History Department at Florida International University covering the depression era, I have viewed more than the average share of films starring the curly-haired, dimpled song-and-dance wunderkind, Shirley Temple.

I am always looking for films referencing the New Deal projects of the Roosevelt Administration. Gabriel Over the White House, a rather dark piece of political propaganda financed by William Randolph Hearst to sway voters during the 1932 presidential election, is a personal favorite as several speeches made by the revivified president on the screen foreshadow some of the emergency relief programs soon after implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I was equally thrilled to find Stand Up and Cheer, a movie released in 1934 which also anticipated the creation of the Federal Theatre Project, officially established on August 27, 1935.

XM2000.124.27.002

MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOAN

XC2010.09.7.195.1.000

XC2010.09.7.193.000

XC2010.09.7.196.001

GIFTS OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

The plot of the film revolves around the character of Lawrence Cromwell, Broadway’s most famous theatrical producer, who has been asked by the president to do his part in bringing peoples’ spirits “out of the red.” As the president explains early on in the film—in a conscious echo of FDR’s famous “Only thing we have to fear” speech:

“Any people blessed with a sense of humor can achieve success and victory. We are endeavoring to pilot the ship past the most treacherous of all rocks: fear. The government now proposes to dissolve that destructive rock in a gale of laughter. To that end, it has created a new cabinet office, that of Secretary of Amusement, whose duty it shall be to amuse and entertain the people—to make them forget their troubles. Mr. Cromwell, we are drafting you and your splendid talents into public service.”

XC1991.790.001

MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR COLLECTION

While the central character juggles the responsibility of organizing a nation-wide blitz of circuses, troupes of “Mammy” singers, theatrical performers, and Vaudevillians and struggles against conservative politicians determined to see his project fail, it is the entertainment and entertainers the Secretary of Amusement hires who ultimately steal the show.

86_4_106

MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR COLLECTION

XM2000.107.3_312b

MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LONG-TERM LOAN

XC2010.09.7.196.018

GIFT OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

Numbers in the film include such catchy tunes as “I’m Laughing,” vaudeville acts starring Frank Mitchell and Jack Durant as the tumbling sparring senators Danforth and Short, but also include painful-to-watch stereotypes in scenes that include Tess Gardella as a black-faced Aunt Jemima minstrel singer, and the humiliating antics of “Stepin Fetchit.”

But it was young Shirley Temple and her song and dance number, “Baby, Take a Bow” that really stole the show and won her name recognition and notice.

While Miss Temple had earlier appeared in a few feature films and shorts, it was in Stand Up and Cheer that provided her with her break out role. The young girl was introduced into the plot when her stage father, entertainer James Dunn, tries to force an appointment with the woman in charge of the Children’s Division, fearing that child labor law would prevent him from continuing to include her in his song and dance routines.

XM2000.124.27.009

Soon after winning the heart of the film’s love interest, she tap-danced her way into the hearts of millions of Americans looking for some escape from the depression blues. Miss Temple became an overnight sensation and starred in some forty feature films—most of them made before she reached her teens. She retired from the screen at the age of twenty-one, and unlike so many of the troubled lives of “child stars” of the post-war generation, she followed up her Hollywood career by putting her “splendid talents into public service” after being named to the U.S. delegation to United Nations, and later as a U.S. diplomat and ambassador to Ghana and Prague.

But for myself, I will always remember her as the precocious, tap-dancing wonder who drew financially and spiritually depressed Americans to the silver screen for an hour and a half-respite from their cares and troubles.

~ by "The Chief" on February 11, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: