Graham Greene’s take down of Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple is dead. Amidst the usual fawning celebrity obituaries was this gem from The Guardian:
‘Graham Greene, infamously, reviewing Wee Willie Winkie [1937 Fox film] in the London weekly Night and Day, wrote: “Infancy with her is a disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult … her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry … watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep … “‘
As usual, Greene nailed it perfectly. After reading that, watch the most famous clip from Temple’s childhood oeuvre:
There’s barely disguised lust in the way they film the little girl singing to a group of grown men that enhances the double entendre of the lyrics.
This sort of slavering male gaze is all over the adaption of Kipling (where the lead was a boy) that got Greene into so much trouble:
Of course speaking truth to power and pointing out the filth behind the innocence is never easy. People cling assiduously to their veneers of moral superiority and celluloid dreams of little blonde girls.
The Guardian notes that ‘Fox sued and the case was settled in Temple’s favour with the judge (a fan) deeming the libel “a gross outrage”. Greene fled to Mexico, and the magazine was fined £3,500. The settlement remained in trust for Temple in a British bank until she turned 21, when it was donated to charity.’
Hopefully the Shirley Temple’s in Mexico had rum in them.