Shirley Temple doll stirs childhood memories

3/16/2014
BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST
Mary Alice Powell.
Mary Alice Powell.

Since the death of Shirley Temple Black, the doll in the small wicker rocker in the corner of my bedroom has become even more special than it has for, goodness, how many years?

This Shirley Temple doll is showing her age, but she remains a source of memories and joy.
This Shirley Temple doll is showing her age, but she remains a source of memories and joy.

I truly don’t remember which Christmas the beautiful Shirley was under the tree, but I do have a clear recollection of how my heart pounded when I picked her up, held her close, and kissed her on the cheek.

She instantly became my best friend, and to this day I admire the woman she represents.

Younger people who have been caught up in Barbie, Cabbage Patch, and American Girl dolls may not have experienced the deep happiness that Shirley gave little girls back in the Great Depression during the ’30s. She was pure joy, generating hope and optimism, and having a Shirley doll was a status symbol among peers.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt explained Shirley Temple’s impact on a depressed nation.

“It is a splendid thing that for 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

The pretty little girl with bouncing blonde curls and adorable clothes sang happy songs with words we could mimic and her tap dancing prompted more than one admirer to beg to take lessons.

My mother finally gave in and paid for a few dance lessons that resulted in one recital when I was scared to death. I did not ask to take more lessons.

In a weird sense Shirley Temple’s contemporaries believed she was a friend and one of us, so we sang her songs and danced in our own way. Those of us who were lucky enough to have a doll in her image kept it close by for every pretend performance.

My admiration for the child star remained steadfast through the years. I admired her when she gave up the Hollywood stage and was excited when she entered politics to serve as the first female American Chief of Protocol, and was appointed ambassador to Ghana and later Czechoslovakia. She simply took off her tap shoes and proved she also had spunk and talent on the world stage and a deep love of country.

I was disappointed that her diplomatic work was not acknowledged by the White House after her death. A friend suggested that we wear black arm bands, but I went one better.

As cold and as windy as it was in mid-February, I put out the flag in her honor and of course Shirley, the doll, is ever present and ever will be.

But, she, like her owner, is showing definite signs of the years.

It’s like my doll and I are right together on the aging thing. Her hair is a mess in definite need of a style. Color would also help. The cracklings, which I define as wrinkles, on her cheeks and legs are quite visible and her hands show signs of deterioration.

Shirley’s original dress was red dotted Swiss from the movie Stand Up and Cheer.

But to cover up the aging arms, she now wears a hand knit pink skirt and sweater set and a matching beret. You know how we girls like to cover the blemishes.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com