Some of my earliest movie memories are of watching Shirley Temple movies on the little black-and-white TV in my cousins’ basement den. Channel 56. I would not be who I am today if Channel 56 hadn’t existed. We didn’t watch them as quaint archives, or remnants of a simpler time. We didn’t watch them ironically. We watched them as entertainment. They still work as sheer entertainment. We adored her. She was so engaging, so adorable (and I was about her age when I first watched those movies), and when she cried, we’d all fall silent. Because when she cried, shit got real. They weren’t the porcelain perfect tears of a well-trained prodigy. Her sadness, when it came up, seemed to emerge from a deep well of the reality of the fictional situation. You couldn’t distance yourself from it. At least I couldn’t. She was a phenomenal performer. It is impossible, still, to watch her movies and not get sucked into who she is being, what she is bringing to the screen. She carried the weight of the industry on her wee shoulders and it didn’t appear to be a burden. It’s just that she was so damn GOOD at this show-biz thing. It came naturally.
My old friend and vaudevillian expert Trav SD has a wonderful tribute up on his site.
Shirley Temple’s movies are woven into the fabric of my childhood. Thank you for all the joy you have given to your audiences. It still exists. How many performers could say that 80 years after their heyday?
Rest in peace.