On The Edge

February 14

Shirley Temple is gone, but her doll lives on

People of a certain age remember how the real Shirley lifted their spirits during the Great Depression, and her doll is still stashed in attics and closets across America.

It was up there in the attic over the garage for a long time. The tiny clothes had long ago disappeared.

She, who had had it since she was a child, doesn’t know what happened to them. It was kind of spooky to look at, the eyes were blank, unmoving. She said they moved once. They moved up and down and had lashes. I guess 70 or more years in various attics, being moved in a box with piles of other items of suspicious worth, can do that to you. I know I had lashes once, and my eyes, at certain times of the evening, often don’t move up and down, and she has never condemned me to the attic of any house we’ve ever lived in.

She’s threatened, but when she does, I move my eyes up and down and she says: “That’s what my Shirley Temple doll used to do,” and relents.

Yes, it was her Shirley Temple doll, and I thought of it when the news came that the captain of the “Good Ship Lollipop” had left the ship just before it sank.

Shirley Temple Black was THE star of my childhood. I feel compelled and honored to write this piece about Shirley, because I’m probably the only one still alive who remembers seeing her movies when they opened, and not years later on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday morning. I suppose I was still being carried around, but for years later I could sing every word in “Good Ship Lollipop.”

The nursing homes and the back booths of some old saloons in Boston are full of folks who remember Shirley, and how she lifted their spirits during the Great Depression. The Shirley Temple dolls flooded the markets, filled the shelves in every department store toy department, and found a resting place in the bedrooms of little girls, and big ones, all over the world.

My little sister wanted one for Christmas, because the girl next door had one. My mother gave one of my brothers money to go downtown and buy one for her. He did, but it turned out to be a Sonja Henie doll, the famous skating star of the Depression era. I remember that it came with tiny skates.

Though Temple’s name stayed in the news for years as an adult, as she moved into conservative Republican politics, her childhood image persisted. Those dolls kept popping up. I dated an actress in New York who owned three of them, and kept them propped up against the pillows on her bed. You can find that on page six of the Greatest Turnoffs of All Times.

The biggest rage in the late ‘30s was all about those curls and that famous dimple. Hollywood was flooded in the ‘30s with Shirley Temple doubles. Studio offices were jammed with stage mothers dragging their little girls into casting calls. It’s a Hollywood legend that mothers, desperate for a shot at that kind of fame, would peroxide their babies’ hair and paint little dimples on their cheeks. On a personal note, she, who is full of surprises, reminds me that her late father, Judge Cyril Joly, while visiting Hollywood in the late ‘30s, had his picture taken with a look alike, Ms. Sandra Richards, “expected to be second Shirley Temple” sitting on his lap.

All over America, there were Shirley Temple look-alike contests. I don’t know who came up with that idea in St. Louis, but someone threw a contest at an American Legion hall on the north side.

Mary Lister, who, by the way gave me my first Valentine, which I still have, really looked a lot like her. She had the same curls. But Mrs. Lister I guess had the good sense not to enter her.

I’m going to go back up in the garage attic and see if that thing is still there. I remember it kind of looked like a doll version of Bette Davis in “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?”

I’m thinking that even without her clothes, it might still have market value. It worked for Miley Cyrus.

J.P Devine is a Waterville writer.

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