Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shirley Temple Black

It's very rare for me to read an obituary in the New York Times and find it lacking. But today's recap of Shirley Temple is rather bland. Perhaps this is what happens when someone's movie career is purposely ended in 1950 and they go onto a life of public service and long-term marriage that takes them to the age of 85. They've outlived anyone who can really add anything that is already known.

The obituary lacks mention of Shirley's father. She certainly had one, but what was he? A shoe salesman, a chemist, an alcoholic? We don't even learn his name. We know the mother to be Gertrude, apparently a stage mother who was loved, but who was dad?

We get an anecdote from Adolphe Menjou that basically gives the lesson that being upstaged is to be expected when you appear opposite kids and animal acts.

We do get mention of what was considered being very bold when white Shirley holds black Bill Robinson's hand while they dance in the 1935 movie 'The Little Colonel.' But it wasn't done for a social statement, it was done so that they could transmit hand signals to each other as they danced, when to turn, stop, etc. I must have gotten that from commentator Robert Osborne on Turner Classics.

I'll add a story that I though might appear in the obit, but didn't. When the famous Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was taking photos for a 1960s story on Ms. Black she was posed behind a chair, holding its back. I remember the photo. Apparently, as Shirley stood ready to have the shot taken she had a cigarette in one of her hands. Mr. Eisenstaedt came out from behind the camera and removed the cigarette, telling Shirley, "I don't think the American public will like to see you with a cigarette in your hand." He was right.

I do remember going to lunch with my parents and as they ordered Manhattans the waiter asked me if I wanted a 'Shirley Temple,' the non-alcoholic concoction that apparently the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant invented. I don't know if New York's Stage Deli ever named a sandwich after her. I never heard that they did. and I can't imagine what combination of pickles, pastrami, corned beef and lox would evoke a dancing little girl. No matter. When asked what I wanted to drink I replied a 'ginger ale.' I drank mine straight.

Ms. Temple has been out of the public eye so long I'm sure there are those who thought she had already left us. Even though I knew she hadn't already passed away, I usually only came up with the Doris Day when I thought who might be at the top tier in age from Hollywood who might still be with us.

So, consistent with what I do when I hear of someone's demise and they had a few popular songs, I go to iTunes to add them to my iPod. Thus, for 99 cents each I'll add, 'On the Good Ship Lollipop', 'Animal Crackers in My Soup' and 'Polly Wolly Doodle.'

I already have a Doris Day CD, so when the time comes, she can join my musical iPod graveyard at no further expense.

There's no hurry.

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