The Magazine

America’s Sweetheart

In the 1930s, there really was one.

Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By RICHARD STRINER
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Was it worth it? Kasson argues that while the typecasting “confined Shirley to a relatively narrow series of roles .  .  . it might equally well be argued that it gave her special talents extraordinary prominence.” And she did have extraordinary talents: Beyond her capable singing and dancing, she had an amazing camera presence, which adult costars admired—but also envied and feared. As Adolphe Menjou, who starred with her in Little Miss Marker (1934), wrote, “She’s making a stooge out of me. .  .  . She knows all the tricks. .  .  . If she were forty years old she wouldn’t have had time to learn all she knows about acting.”

One can surely do worse than to be an iconic figure for a time and then relax and lead a sensible life thereafter, as Shirley Temple did. For this and other reasons, she remains a remarkable figure. The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression, though a scholarly production, is aimed at a general audience. And its appearance so soon after Shirley Temple’s death on February 10 is a stunning coincidence.

Richard Striner, professor of history at Washington College, is the author of the forthcoming Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear.