In the midst of all the mania surrounding all the hoopla over the historic and catastrophic ice storm of the past week, you might have overlooked the passing of a true American icon. Shirley Temple — America’s Sweetheart — passed away at the age of 85. A little piece of all of us is gone.
You probably know all the fun facts about the person who was the epitome of the term “child star.” You know that she was awarded an honorary Oscar at age 6 and that she was, by far, the most popular figure in Hollywood during the dark days of the Great Depression, and you probably served your children the drink named in her honor so they could pretend they were having a cocktail just like you were.
All of these things have been brought out on the news this week — when we were allowed to see the news this week.
I remember all of that about her, too.
When I was a very small child I used to love to cuddle up on the couch with my mama and watch Shirley Temple movies. Heidi was my all-time favorite. It used to be shown around Christmas time every year — I suppose because it had that poignant scene where little Heidi was given a snow globe for Christmas that reminded her of the grandfather’s house, up on the mountain, where she longed to be again — with Goat Peter and all the others, drinking warm goat’s milk and enjoying bread and cheese for dinner.
It’s amazing what we remember from long ago, isn’t it?
My daddy read me the novel, “Heidi,” by Johanna Spyri. I have wanted to visit the Swiss Alps ever since. In my mind I saw Shirley Temple on every page and I have always refused to watch any of the remakes of Heidi that featured other actors in the title role.
I loved all her other movies, too. “Captain January” was a favorite. It was my first introduction to Buddy Ebsen. My second was when he played Georgie Russell, sidekick to Davy Crockett, but as soon as I saw the first episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” I am said to have told my mama, “That’s the guy who used to dance with Shirley Temple.”
My mama loved the movie “Bright Eyes” and “The Good Ship Lollipop” was one of her favorite songs. Mine, too. I aim to take a trip on that ship one of these days. Maybe I will sail to the Swiss Alps.
“Susannah of the Mounties” was another good one. And how could a good old Southern boy like me not fall in love with “The Little Colonel.” Shirley Temple sang “Dixie” in that movie. She also tap danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and this week, upon her death, the media has made a huge fuss over the fact that she, as a little girl, was filmed holding hands with a black man.
Goodness gracious sakes alive. Little Southern girls have held hands with old black men since 1620. Do we have to make everything about race in this country?
You can’t help but compare Shirley Temple with some of today’s stars. I think the comparisons say a lot about where we are as a nation. The greatest generation idolized Shirley Temple. Now we have Honey Boo Boo. ‘Nuff said.
As great as she was as an actress, singer and dancer, Shirley Temple Black was an even greater person and gave years of herself to the service of our country and many charitable causes. She survived breast cancer, back when not so many people did, and became an outspoken proponent for proactive treatment of that awful disease, and she chaired committees and served foreign ambassadorships for presidents on both sides of the political aisle.
But to me, even though she was a larger than life figure, when we lost Shirley Temple Black this week, we lost a person who was even greater than the sum of her celebrated parts. She was a part of Americana — a reminder of time when America wasn’t ashamed to claim her rightful place among the nations of the world as a nation, under God, providentially inspired to aspire to a higher station on earth — an America that Ronald Reagan would call a “shining city on a hill.”
Shirley Temple, whether as a performer or a public servant, shone a little bit brighter than most, at a time when America did, too. Now one more hero of that Golden Age is gone.
God rest her soul, and thanks, so many thanks, for all the memories.