How Shirley Temple Saved Our National Optimism

“It is a splendid thing,” remarked President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, “that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.” The baby Roosevelt was referring to, a curly-haired, dimple-cheeked blonde who captured the heart of the nation during one of its most frightening times, was 7-year-old Shirley Temple.

Today, the world is mourning her. Temple, who ultimately grew out of her Hollywood career and began a second life as prominent politician and diplomat Shirley Temple Black, died today at the age of 85. She leaves a legacy of films that have immortalized her not only in the eyes of children of the Depression, but in the eyes of their children and their children’s children, for whom she represents a bygone era of gentle, innocent sweetness.

In the midst of the worst economic disaster our country has ever faced, people turned to the movies for solace and comfort. The world outside was grim–with breadlines on every corner, shantytowns dotting urban landscapes, and families and businesses on the brink of financial ruin, it would seem that there was little left to live for. But in the darkness of a movie theater, all the problems of the outside world were suspended. Lavish musical numbers delighted us. Beautiful costumes entranced us. And a young child reminded us that an innocent life, free of cares, was still possible amid the squalor of Depression-era existence. In short, Shirley Temple gave us hope.

And it was that simple reminder to look toward happier days that kept alive the spirit of survival in many families. It is no case of luck that Shirley Temple was the biggest star of the 1930s–she represented the dogged childlike spirit that looked toward better times, regardless of the odds. That spirit, so deficient during all trying times, remains intact today. While Shirley Temple herself has died, she lives on through her film legacy, a representation of childhood innocence that gives us hope and optimism in times when we feel we cannot go on.

And in that, she will never leave us.




11 responses to “How Shirley Temple Saved Our National Optimism

  1. I was at work when I found out that she had passed away. I can’t believe it. She’s such a classic actress, and a part of every childhood of every generation. You have written a lovely tribute 🙂

  2. Thank you. It’s hard for me to believe, too. I never really thought about the possibility of her dying.

  3. The BEST of This Country was embodied in the guise of this one Radiant Spirit! I cherish her memory,…She was what all little girls longed to grow up to be and she served her country honorably and well! GOD BLESS a BEAUTIFUL LADY!

  4. Susan Reynolds

    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to Shirley Temple. It is an eloquent reminder of her unbelievable importance to her nation in their time of need.

  5. Same. But she is one of those actresses who will be remembered forever. I’ve known of Shirley Temple for years, way before I had ever seen any of her films.

  6. An insightful and touching tribute to a Hollywood and national icon. She was in person every bit the spirit, at once lovely and fierce, that personified her era.

  7. Really wonderful post! You are a wonderful writer and I’d like to think Shirely would have been pleased.

  8. Aww, thank you! I hope so 🙂

  9. It has been a sad time for so many losses in the entertainment world. Your tribute to Shirley Temple Black was perfect. Thank you for posting it.

  10. Thank you, it was my pleasure. This has been a tough couple of months.

  11. I loved watching Shirley Temple movies on TV when I was a kid, because she was always this intrepid little girl on an adventure. Then, as an adult, she devoted her life to public service. She was a class act. I recommend her autobiography (if you haven’t already read it!); she truly was brilliant and had a fascinating life. RIP Shirley.

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