How the smile and fortitude of a child actress revived a nation.
Her image appeared in periodicals and advertisements roughly twenty times daily; she rivaled FDR and Edward VIII as the most photographed person in the world. Her portrait brightened the homes of countless admirers: From a black laborer’s cabin in South Carolina and young Andy Warhol’s house in Pittsburgh to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s recreation room in Washington, DC, and gangster “Bumpy” Johnson’s Harlem apartment. A few years later her smile cheered the secret bedchamber of Anne Frank in Amsterdam as young Anne hid from the Nazis.
For four consecutive years Shirley Temple was the world’s box-office champion, a record never equaled. By early 1935 her mail was reported as four thousand letters a week, and hers was the second-most popular girl’s name in the country.
What distinguished Shirley Temple from every other Hollywood star of the period - and everyone since - was how brilliantly she shone. Amid the deprivation and despair of the Great Depression, Shirley Temple radiated optimism and plucky good cheer that lifted the spirits of millions and shaped their collective character for generations to come. Distinguished cultural historian John F. Kasson shows how the most famous, adored, imitated, and commodified child in the world astonished movie goers, created a new international culture of celebrity, and revolutionized the role of children as consumers.
Tap-dancing across racial boundaries with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, foiling villains, and mending the hearts and troubles of the deserving, Shirley Temple personified the hopes and dreams of Americans. To do so, she worked virtually every day of her childhood, transforming her own family as well as the lives of her fans.
©2014 John F. Kasson (P)2014 Audible Inc.
During the Depression, people wanted escapist fare at the movies. The Shirley Temple pictures all were carefully crafted to deliver this. Director Zanuck did not want to change the formula for Shirley, the "fad." For the audience to accept her and the films, however, they had to believe that off-screen, young Shirley was not being exploited, and that she was as sweet as America's darling was on-screen. Kasson, an academic, is nevertheless entertaining in showing justvhow genuine and yet cynical this phenomena was, and what it said about America in the 30s. Godwin's narration was clear and well-inflected and emoted. Worth the listen.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of depression era history, Hollywood lore and the story of Shirley Temple's meteoric rise - and fall - during the same period. The narrator has a pleasant delivery; the author's narrative is easy to follow. This is worth the listen if you enjoy history, gossip about early Hollywood and are old enough to remember watching Shirley Temple's movies.
I have studied Shirley Temple for years and so going into this book (released so soon after her death) I was cautious. But it is very well detailed and captures everything very well across several decades, I was glad to have the chapters at the end mention her private life, finances and later career which are not so detailed in her autobiography. The book is neutral in tone, which I think is important with focus on celebrity culture, it also meant that you were given new stories and research that make Shirley seem much more realistic as a person. You will certainly see far beyond her screen persona.
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