Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shirley Memories

In the 1930s, Shirley Temple was probably the most famous person in the world.  Depression or not, whenever a new Shirley Temple picture opened – and they’d have her making two or three per year -- my mother took me and my little sister in to Town on the Elevated.  ( Boston, built on a swamp, didn’t fool around with subways.)
     Shirley Temple pictures were shown at The Metropolitan, a huge midtown movie palace full of lofty halls, archways, wide impressive staircases, and lots of gilding and red velvet.  In the various rooms and corridors, as we made our way to the auditorium, I once counted five grand pianos. The show, which always started with a newsreel, included a stage show –  dancers down there doing boring formations on the brightly-lit stage.
    But the movies!  Never, as I remember, was there any double feature with Shirley Temple, no additional B movie needed to bring us in.  She was a fine actress, and they started mining standard children’s books for stories.  I was only two years older than she was, completely spellbound by the plots, which like most good children’s classics more or less eliminated the parents.  There was often a gruff old curmudgeon, the child’s grandfather or a wealthy neighbor, to be won over by adorable little girl --which she was -- in time for the happy ending.
By the time I was 10, though, I began to resent the way screenwriters mangled the classics. “Heidi” wasn’t all that bad, but Kipling’s “Wee Willie Winkie” was supposed to be a BOY, for Pete’s sake.   And how did that tap-dancing, and the wheelchair-bound Queen Victoria, get into “The Little Princess”?  And where was the original title, “Sara Crewe”?
I remember only a single birthday party during the 1930s.  My folks had other things to worry about, and I had little chance to make friends:  I went to kindergarten in Lowell, first grade in Buffalo, skipped (they did that in those days) second grade, third grade in Lynn, fourth grade in Malden, eighth grade in Everett, ninth grade in Penn Yan, tenth grade in Rochester, don’t ask!

That party was in Malden, for my tenth birthday,
and the gifts were just what I’d hoped for -- a  box of Pick-Up Sticks (they cost 10 cents) and not one but two books of Shirley Temple paper dolls!  It took days to cut out the dolls and the dresses with those tricky little folding tabs.
I still remember one dress with a wide full skirt because I had a copy of that dress and so did my little sister – the only time we ever wore sister dresses.
My cousin in Maine had a blue glass Shirley Temple mug, which came as a premium inside a box of Wheaties.  Only the one rich cousin in Buffalo, though, ever had a Shirley Temple doll.
The 30’s were a great time for little girls – we had not only Shirley Temple to obsess about, but also the Little Princesses in England, and in Canada, the Dionne Quintuplets.  Without any resort to Google, I can still tell you their names – the strong ones were Yvonne and Annette, who were identical;  Cecile was sort of in the middle; Marie and Emilie were the frailer ones (and, years later, the first to die.)
My friend Dottie’s family drove, one summer during the 1930s, up to Callendar, Ontario.  The Province had taken the quints away from their French Canadian family and set up a playground hedge through which tourists could view the tots at play 
Dottie said they were really cute.


  1. Yet again, I'm struck by how much you and my mother had in common (and how much I think you would have enjoyed each other). Mom and her mother and stepfather worked their way around from Florida to Texas to Tennessee, and even after they settled in Chattanooga Mom attended several different elementary schools, because Moma and Walter were moving around so often in quest of cheaper rent.

    And, yes, Mom was both a Shirley Temple and a Dionne Quints fan (as a college student, she too traveled up to Canada to see the Dionnes). Moma, for her part, was the family royalist; she always prided herself on a certain resemblance to the Queen Mum, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a few royal commemoratives among her effects after she died.

  2. I predicted that you would put together a post on this!