When Child Stars Made Us Smile

1940s girl 3

Shirley Temple died. It’s hard to think of her and not picture that tap dancing 6-year old with the dimples and the curls.

But she died after living a full life and “child star”, a label she may never have escaped, was merely one of the many things she did in her lifetime. She was one of the lucky ones.

It would be easy to write about the inevitable downfall of overworked and over-indulged child stars–Hollywood gives us so much material–but anything I could write would just be a rehash of the same old story: a little bit of fairytale mixed with a whole lot of Grimm.

These days child stars are supposed to crash and burn, in public if possible. It’s part of their unwritten job description. We even have an entire industry salivating at the chance to film the child star’s fall from adorable grace, the more scandalous and lascivious the fall the better. We forget these young stars are just boys and girls who, even with the best of parents at their sides, very often have little time to be children.

These young performers are made into brands so fast and without their true understanding of what it means to be an icon and an idol that they often lose sight of the other possibilities that could await them. Very few make it out of show business emotionally intact. Some don’t even make it out alive.

And then there is Shirley Temple. Sweet, sweet Shirley with her Good Ship Lollipop and infectious delight in the simple joys.

Little Shirley Temple was America’s little girl. She reminded a nation of good times and innocence in an era when this country needed an emotional lift. Every mother hoped her daughter would be just like Shirley, not for fame and fortune, but for a chance to touch happiness. To smile. To laugh. To imagine there was good just around the corner.

Not even my mother could escape the Shirley Temple trend.

1940s girl 1

All things being equal, I think encouraging children to emulate the optimism of Shirley Temple was worth a few nights sleeping in pin curls, though I can’t say if my mother feels the same.

Shirley Temple was an icon and a brand long before we even understood what that meant. She made money for a great many people who very likely did not have her best interest at heart, but she survived. It was a different time and escape into real life was not outside her grasp.

The woman, Shirley Temple Black, left Hollywood behind to live a different kind of life. A life of service. A life of family. A life of her own.  She could see there was, indeed, something good just around the corner.

She will be missed–dimples, curls, and all.

K.M. (Kelly) O’Sullivan, the Slightly Askew Woman, is a writer, blogger, and unapologetic feminist mother living in the Midwest with her husband, their three boys, and the cats. Kelly writes about parenting, politics, feminism, body image, equality, sexism, and more. Read more from Kelly at www.kmosullivan.com and connect with her on Facebook (www.fb.com/SlightlyAskewWoman) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KellyMOSullivan).

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