News broke this morning that Shirley Temple Black, diplomat and most beloved child star, died at age 85. Therefore it seems only appropriate that today’s new lesson be in honor of the woman whom President Franklin Roosevelt once dubbed “Little Miss Miracle,” for the manner in which her films raised the spirits and moral of the American people during the Great Depression.
Reading the stories today about Mrs. Temple Black, it occurred to me that I’ve never actually seen one of her movies in its entirety. I’ve seen the most famous clips — “The Good Ship Lollipop,” “Animal Crackers,” tap dancing with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson — but not a whole Temple film, or even her earliest screen work in “Baby Burlesks,” a series of satirical shorts featuring toddlers in adult roles. This was the precursor to “Bugsy Malone,” I suppose.
So I’ll end my day by rectifying that, watching “War Babies.” You know, sometimes I feel like I’m very culturally educated, and then I’m reminded that I have so much yet to learn and experience. When’s the last time you were reminded of this fact in your life?
Bonus new thing I learned: Who knew that the Shirley Temple drink was originally made with orange juice? I had no idea.
Updated with a review of “War Babies.”
Adorable, yet disturbing. The scene is a bar, where soldiers get drunk, watch a sultry dancing girl, and two compete for her affections. Oh, and did we mention that the drink is milk and entire cast is made up of toddlers?
Seeing a three-year-old Temple vamp in a slightly off-the-shoulder top and a diaper with a flower in her hair, collecting lollipops like quarters, is at once very funny and yet quite wrong. That basically describes the entire nine minutes: Very funny and yet quite wrong.
Some of the dialogue is a bit ribald, considering who’s delivering it, but toddlers are not easy to understand anyway, so that might be for the better. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have wanted to be a parent explaining to my child what “you dames are expensive” means.
Contemporary reviews have called the series being on “this side of kiddie porn.” That’s certainly a modern perspective. While today’s society produces dreck like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and manufactures thongs for 10-year-olds, we’re also more sensitive to those sorts of things, too. For these kids, “War Babies” might have been as amusingly innocent as playing house.
As an adult, Shirley Temple Black reportedly labeled the “Baby Burlesk” series as “a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence.” Still the larger question can be asked: Does having children mimic adult situations demonstrate the sometimes ridiculous and childish ways in which adults behave, or does it exploit the children? The answer is probably both.
Frankly, this nine-minute reel could inspire many more minutes of dialogue and debate, particularly when watched through our contemporary, politically correct eyes, so rather than muse on it more by myself, let’s talk. Hit me up in the comments.