Shirley Temple, Action Hero

You might not think of that adorable little girl with the smiling face and cute dimples as an action hero, but, for many of us who grew up in the mid-40’s and early 50’s, she was. I lost my mother before I was nine and could easily relate to the many movies where Shirley was an orphan or had been separated from her parent(s) and had to fend for herself. Shirley didn’t whine. She cried, but that never lasted long. She picked herself us, figured out what needed to be done, and did it.

Much has been written about what an inspiration Shirley Temple movies were during the Depression. This little girl had grit. She had a can-do attitude. If she could get back on her feet, so could the country. Perhaps less is written about Shirley Temple as an inspiration to young girls who were feeling lost or desperate. In contrast to fairy tale princesses, Shirley never waited to be rescued. She went out and did something. She sang and danced to raise money. She cheered people up. She went out and searched for – and found – her father. Her determination stuck with me. If Shirley Temple could be cheerful, could pick herself up and carry on, could find a way out of the worst circumstances, well then, so could I. She was a great role model.

I inherited a set of books that had been my mother’s when she was growing up. Written by Jane Abbott, they all featured a young girl who had lost or was separated from her parents. Like Shirley Temple, these girls went out and solved problems, coped with vanished income, and reunited families. Like Shirley Temple movies, the books all had happy endings – created by a strong female character. They aren’t all that well written, but I imagine they helped my mother through the loss of her mother, who died before my mother was nine, and helped her become a strong women.

In real life, Shirley outgrew her early roles, married and moved on. For decades, her movies still were around Saturday mornings, until, finally, a wide range of strong little girls began to appear in cartoon form. That charming personality served Shirley well as she went on to serve in the US Diplomatic Corps.

So, I’m proud to say that Shirley Temple is one of my heroes. And an influence on my attitude towards life. Who influenced you? Who are your heroes?


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