The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

May 2, 2014

Would a Shirley Temple help?

Thursday, May 1, 2014 — What President Obama needed was a Shirley Temple.

Not the popular non-alcoholic drink named for the childhood star.

What he needed as he faced the nation’s worst economic situation since the Great Depression was the kind of help President Franklin D. Roosevelt got from a bright, cheerful, optimistic child actor who lifted the spirits of almost every American during the dark times of the 1930s.

Even after her recent death at age 85, people still remember, indeed worship, her. She rivaled FDR as the most photographed person in the world. From 1934 until 1940, she made 22 feature films and was the most popular star at the box office. How do we explain this little girl’s appeal and what role does she play in America’s cultural history? UNC-Chapel Hill professor John Kasson tackles these questions in his new book, “The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America.”

Kasson asserts, “The circulation of a new emotional currency during the Depression formed a little-under-stood but essential part of the nation’s recovery, a sort of deficit spending with immense effects. In a time of great financial hardship, spending on amusements actually increased — eloquent testimony to its emotional necessity. Satisfying the craving of many deep in need of emotional loans and replenishments challenged political leaders and entertainers alike. The politician who succeeded most effectively was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The entertainer who did so most spectacularly was a little girl, Shirley Temple.”

In 1934, soon after the new president took office, Temple’s breakthrough film, “Stand Up and Cheer!,” unapologetically “linked arms with FDR in celebrating national recovery.”

“Amid the deprivation and despair of the Great Depression,” Kasson explains, “Shirley Temple radiated optimism and plucky good cheer that lifted the spirits of millions and shaped their collective character for generations to come.”

Kasson explains, “By placing Shirley Temple and her fans within the context of FDR and his constituents, we can see how popular entertainment as well as New Deal politics helped Americans to surmount the Great Depression.”

Like FDR, our current president tried to lift the country’s spirits during the recent dark times. From time to time he even flashed an FDR smile. But nothing and  nobody lifted our spirits like Shirley Temple lifted those of our grandparents 80 years ago.

Would the help of somebody like Shirley Temple have made a difference for Obama’s efforts to turn the nation’s economy around?

Recently, Kasson told me that he does not like to speculate on such “what-if” questions. However, he pointed out a couple of factors that would have made it difficult for anybody to have duplicated the Shirley Temple-FDR cheerleading success.

First, compared to Obama, FDR had more support from Congress at the beginning of his presidency. While FDR also faced partisan division and factionalism, what Obama faced was much more entrenched.

Secondly, Shirley Temple may have been a one-of-a-kind figure. “What distinguished Shirley Temple from every other Hollywood star of the period – and everyone since – was how brilliantly she shone.”

Kasson’s book is much more than an account of Temple’s Depression-fighting partnership with FDR, as is well explained by Ty Burr, author of “Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame.” Burr wrote,  “Kasson skillfully uses Shirley Temple as a prism to cast light on a vast range of subjects: The rise of FDR, optimism as Depression-era propaganda, the double existence of African-American stars, innocence as a consumer commodity, the fickleness of star adoration and the dangers of the mob, the meaning of childhood in a changing culture, and Hollywood’s exploitation of its human profit centers, no matter how small. Connecting them all is Temple herself, serene, self-composed, and indestructible – the one movie star who wasn’t putting on an act.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 12 p.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • D.G. Martin Read others’ views to be better informed, decide for yourself

    “I don’t read The Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.”

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon This isn’t medical marijuana

    As state legislators debated allowing the use of an extract from marijuana plants to treat seizure disorders over the past couple of weeks, it was evident that social conservatives – there are many of them in the General Assembly – felt a tinge of unease about it, even as almost every one of them voted yes.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Friends and contentment

    Last week I made my annual trip up the mountain to Sparta. My friends have a secluded home near a babbling brook. Their home and property are a haven for peace. It’s a two-plus hour ride to their home that doesn’t feel that long because I look so forward to my time with this great couple. When I arrive, the conversation seems to pick up right where we left it the last time we saw each other.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thanks for the honest deed

    I would like to thank the person that found my wallet in the parking lot of Harris Teeter on July 23 and turned it in to the Albemarle Police.

    July 29, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • We need your help

    Hurray for the Albemarle City Council. Council plans to battle N.C. Department of Transportation’s ranking of all 13 projects in Stanly County to the bottom of their priority list. Council is setting up petitions in various city buildings for citizens to sign.

    July 28, 2014

  • Council asks veterans to seek office

    The terms of office for the leaders of the Stanly County Veterans Council ended June 30. A call is being sent to veterans council members requesting candidates for the four elective offices of the council. A meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the DAV building. All council members are urged to attend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Mike Walden The gains and gaps in our economy

    Twice a year, I pull out my cloudy crystal ball and attempt to make some predictions about the direction and pace of the North Carolina economy. I just finished my latest effort and, as usual, the results are a combination of pluses and minuses.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd Yellow journalism takes on new form, people are dumber for it

    Time to get on the soapbox for a few minutes.
    Let me clear my throat. Eh ... hem!
    People are dumb.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content