Our Lady of Lourdes
First of all, Shirley Temple is dead, and that makes me sad. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. I think my favorite movie is Little Miss Marker, about a child whose father leaves her with a bookie as his security on a gambling debt. He never comes back again (he commits suicide when he cannot raise the $20 to redeem her), and the bookie and his group of assorted gangsters and ruffians adopt her as their own. Although little “Markie” starts out idealistic and innocently starry eyed, the cynical outlook of her new group starts to rub off on her, and they have to band together to help restore her belief in goodness, and even save her life.
Sound sappy? Oh, yeah! It’s Shirley Temple! But it’s also adapted from a story by Damon Runyon, so you know there’s plenty of snark and grit. It also features Charles Bickford as the Big Bad who ends up experiencing a little conversion in time to save the day. This is a surreal casting choice for me, since I will always, always remember him as the gruff but deeply good parish priest in Song of Bernadette. It also has probably the saddest lullaby I have ever heard in my life. The Hooker With A Heart of Gold character sings the little girl to sleep, and here’s a sampling of the lyrics:
Go to sleep, you gorgeous little rascal.
Thank your lucky stars you’ve got a bed.
You better get your shut-eye while the gettin’ is good,
You’ve got some tough times ahead.
You’ll grow up and find it’s all a racket.
Cards are stacked against you from the start.
Us gals have got to take it from the time that we’re born,
Because we’re born with a heart.
You’re only a doll – some man will [not sure of the rest of the line]
‘Cuz after all – you can’t even trust the man in the moon.
It’s so gorgeously depressing, and so not what you think of when you think of Shirley Temple. I love it.
Another reason why I love Shirley Temple is because her life didn’t end when she started to outgrow her acting career. She made a couple of movies as a teenager (including The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, which gave birth to the immortal “You remind me of a man – what man? – the man with the power! – what power? – The power of hoo-doo! – Who do? – You do! – Do what? – Remind me of a man!” routine), but eventually married and stayed married for 54 years until her husband died in 2005. She forged a life for herself, and a long, successful career in international politics (US Representative to the UN, US Ambassador to Ghana, US Chief of Protocol, and US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia). She also fought breast cancer, and after she won, became one of the first US women to speak publicly about her fight. She was herself, a full human being. She didn’t try to avoid or deny the enormous impact of her first decade, but she was so much more.
There’s a lesson to be learned there. Sometimes the past can feel like such a huge inescapable weight, like all our past choices are unbreakable links in chains binding us so that we can’t be free. But that’s not true. You can be yourself here, now, in the present, no matter what you did ten or twenty or thirty years ago. You are more than the sum of all your past choices, more than what others think you are, more than what others expect you to be. You are yourself, and you deserve a life full of goodness. When I think about that, I also remember a quote from John Paul II: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” Our past is real, and it impacts our present and our future, but we are not enslaved to it. I think Shirley Temple’s life is a good example of what that can look like lived out in our own time.
So rest in peace, Shirley, and may you be greeted by all the angels in heaven. We’ll miss you.