We spent New Year’s Eve with our friends Deborah and Gary doing what all the cool kids were doing as 2004 came to a close—watching a Shirley Temple movie! No, not one of the classics she made when she was the most famous five-year-old on the planet tap dancing up staircases with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, this was one of her films as a young adult under contract with David O. Selznick. I have a Belgian poster for “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer” hanging in our bathroom and I always thought this was one of the best films of that era. I still love it, how can you go wrong with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and Shirley at her most fetching? But I guess our societal values have changed enough over the past decades that my new reaction to the storyline of Cary Grant’s Richard Nugent (age 43) pretending that he’s in love with Shirley Temple’s Susan Turner (age 17) was more “Ewwww” than “Isn’t that a hoot!” The really creepy part is that it’s Temple’s elderly uncle who persuades Shirley’s older sister Myrna Loy (who hates the Grant character at first and has good reason to believe he’s a dangerous womanizer) to make Cary woo Shirley until she gets over her schoolgirl crush which she doesn’t, of course, until the end of the film when she’s convinced by her uncle that her sister Myrna Loy (age 42) is SO over the hill that Shirley needs to “give” Cary Grant to her because it’s probably her sister’s last chance to snag a mate. Oy! Can you imagine this pedophile-evoking storyline in a movie today?
Another shock for me was watching Shirley’s acting. I have always vigorously defended Shirley Temple’s acting chops in her post-moppet period, especially as they were displayed in three of my favorite post-war films: “Since You Went Away,” “I’ll be Seeing You,” and “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer.” I continued my defense on New Year’s Eve as our hosts ganged up on poor Shirley, decrying after each scene, “this girl just can’t act!” “But that’s her character,” I replied, “she’s supposed to be like that,” while secretly thinking to myself, “hmm, Scarlett Johannson she ain’t!” Oh well, say what you like, at least Shirley Temple had the good sense to get cast in prestigious A-list movies and surround herself with incredibly talented folks like Grant, Loy, Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, etc. Sidney Sheldon won an Oscar for writing “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer” and the dialogue is great, including this weird word play between Grant and Temple:
Grant: You remind me of a man.
Temple: What man?
Grant: A man with a power?
Temple: What power?
Grant: The power of hoodoo.
Temple: Who do?!
Grant: You do!
Temple: Do what?
Grant: Remind me of a man…
My friend Helena named her special effects company WhoDoo EFX because of this scene! I love the beginning of “The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer” but it’s based on the conceit that we will all be flabbergasted when the “Judge Turner” their maid keeps calling is actually Myrna Loy. OH MY GOD, A WOMAN IS A JUDGE? BUT HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Yikes. When she puts on her judge’s robes for the first time, her uncle remarks, “In walks a woman, out walks a judge.” Oh well, at least they SHOWED a smart female judge in 1947, they never made Myrna give up her job even when she ended up with Cary Grant! (Unlike Katharine Hepburn’s Tess Harding in “Woman of the Year” who convinced herself that in order to be a good wife to Spencer Tracy she better give up her career as an internationally recognized journalist and learn how to make waffles.)
If you want to evaluate post-adolescent Shirley for yourself, I strongly suggest taking a look at the very odd “I’ll Be Seeing You” from 1945 in which glamorous Ginger Rogers plays a convict who is released from the state penitentiary (!) for a Christmas leave and on the train home meets Joseph Cotten who has just been released from a mental hospital. Both try to keep their big Secrets from each other while Shirley, as Ginger’s cousin, becomes more and more suspicious. When all is said and done, I am still a Shirley Temple fan—even if she did end up a staunch Republican!
And this, my friends, is the real saving grace of having a blog—by going on and on about Shirley Temple in here instead of to my family or friends, I can perhaps retain a bit of dignity and social skill and avoid seeing the glazed-over eyes of people trying to inch out of the room!