We’ve got nothing bad to say about Shirley Temple, who died today. She was awesome.
But since it has been 80 years since she was America’s leading boxoffice attraction, her appeal may require some explanation to the kids. Think of it this way: Shirley Temple had the exact same effect as a cat video, back in the day when people had to go to the theater and pay a nickel to LOL.
(Back then it was just “L.” The out loud was a given.)
Shirley Temple went viral at age 5. As with cat videos, people saw her and chuckled and told their friends. It was Temple’s cute dimples and gosh-darn-look-on-the-sunny-side attitude that made Americans smile in 1935. And during the Great Depression, that was saying something.
Who could resist her? She and Bojangles Robinson were a great pair, as long as we can (for this moment) overlook the alarming racial angles from Hollywood in those days. If it took Shirley Temple to get Robinson’s tap-dancing on the screen, it was worth it. And she was a quick study.
No less an authority than President Franklin Roosevelt said, “During this Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing 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.”
She was America’s top boxoffice draw from 1935-38, and the cash she generated is said to have saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy. Who knows: cat videos may do the same again someday.