Shirley Temple is dead.
Many Wheatstone students might not know her name (or only know it as a drink without alcohol), but Shirley Temple was the greatest of the early child movie stars. Then she defied the fate that tabloid editors wish for such performers, and instead served her nation as an ambassador.
Temple was major at the box office, starring in a series of frothy, successful films during the Great Depression. Yet she never transitioned to adult roles. American audiences could not accept even as wholesome a man as Ronald Reagan giving their Shirley chaste kisses on screen. She was never seen as a “grown up.”
It was a very different time from that of Miley.
Of course it was not an “innocent” time, as the racism in some of her films demonstrates. Hitler and Stalin were menaces across the water and almost one-third of Americans were out of work. Temple made films that gave anyone who could find a nickel - including my grandparents - a relief that wasn’t financial. America had her vices, as she does today, but they were different versions of the same old sins peddled by the world, the flesh, and the devil. As a result, watching a Temple film is comforting: evils pass, the good remains, innocence endures.
Temple’s luminous, cheery charm overcomes everything because innocence never grows dated. My Nana and I loved to watch her films together. Heidi especially was perfectly comforting. Watching the best of the Temple films was like being hugged. We would always comment on how good a person she had grown up to be. We were thankful for her service and, most refreshing, for her innocence. Whatever vices were around her, she was joyous without a touch of irony, sarcasm, or crudity.
Temple lived a full life and outlived many, if not most, of the Americans who made her a star of the “moving pictures.” She is less famous than she was: her time passed and now she has passed with the time.
Fame is fleeting and wealth is vain when death comes. A good life is no defense against time. Bilbo and Gollum were right when they riddled in the dark: time destroys everything that is subject to it.
Shirley Temple is dead, but her soul lives. Where has it gone? What will be the eternal fate of one who lived such a full life? This we know: wealth will not matter, fame will not count, and God the Judge will not be impressed with all her awards. Knowing Walt Disney won't impress a Maker who formed and sustained every human being who ever lived.
Live for the values of today, and today will simply pass: up-to-date is forever dated. The more 1930’s a Temple film is, the more its values are unique to that period, and the more shameful they turn out to be. Pop culture, even the best of pop culture of any period, slips out of memory of all but the historian of the time. Innocence endures and virtue is eternal, but every product of humanity is tainted with the foibles of time. Those foibles will be consumed like a flame in the light of God, but what is good, true, and beautiful in them will endure, as sub-creations of the image of God.
Live for eternity, and God will never forget. God did not love Shirley Temple more when she was famous, and he was there when nobody else could be at the moment of her death. God knows her.
Nana and Shirley Temple are both gone and I will follow them sooner than later. I can no longer watch a movie with Nana while remarking about how wonderful Temple turned out.
I trust, I hope, I believe that someday we will all of us glory in the purified works of creation: human and divine. Until that day, when the outcomes of all lives are revealed, we can only pray that the soul of Shirley Temple Black rests in peace.