The Fantasy

Child Myth

Subversive Fantasy


Sexualized Children

sex and shirley temple

    While the 1990's may have brought America "Sex and the City", the 1930's brought "Sex and Shirley Temple" in a less overt fashion. From the earliest days of Hollywood, film makers dallied not just in female sexuality but in the construction of child female sexuality. With the advent of film, children and sexual innuendo appeared almost immediately in the form of the Baby Burlesks Films. Children are provided to us as totsies, the film industry argues, because the culture demanded it in the 30's as it demands it today. The Lolita-like portrayals of Shirley Temple, Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver continue to appear. The "constant sexualizing of children and our quick denials of that activity" (Kincaid, 307) reflects a culture of conflicting beliefs and of unconscious desire. Humans may be visual creators, but when the sexual precociousness of Shirley Temple was noticed in print, a public outcry ensued. The novelist, Graham Greene, in reviewing the Shirley Temple vehicle, Wee Willie Winkey, exposed the supposed sexual movements of little Miss Temple. The infamous comments ignited a flurry of criticism and a lawsuit by Twentieth Century-Fox. Graham stated in London's highbrow entertainment weekly Night and Day that "infancy with her is a disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult...her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tape dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry" (Wood,32). He labeled her portrayal in Wee Willie Winkie as nothing more than a complete totsy wearing short kilts. The case was settled in Temple's favor and the judge deemed the libel "a gross outrage" (Wood, 32).

   When examining films of Temple's, such as Kid in Africa and War Babies (see clips below), Graham seems to have a point. The wanton situations Temple was placed in "would rival those of her elder counterparts decades later" (Wood, 32). These two Baby Burlesks' series the films contain a degree of sexual tease. Kid in Africa places Shirley, as Madam Craddlebait, in the heat of the jungle waiting for Tarzan to rescue her from the cannibalistic natives. Her wearing of hot pants and toting a phallic gun is not the usual garb of an the African missionary she is supposed to be portraying. War Babies places a French bar maid Shirley under the watchful gaze of soldiers. She is two-timing her boyfriend while making as much candy as she
Click to see Shirley in Kid in Africa,
hanging out with the natives in her short shorts and thigh high boots.
Her stance is suggestive and the swinging of her hips flirtatious.
Shirley as a bar maid in War Babies
plays one soldier off of another and has her first on-screen kiss.
This clip shows Shirley kissing one boy while hugging the other.
She speaks French and is aggressive with the boys in uniform.
can. In the Bright Eyes, "Good Ship Lollipop" number, Shirley prances down the aisle of the bus under the lustful looks of adult men. Temple plays a professional prostitute in Polly Tix in Washington with Polly even stating at one point, "I'm expensive" (Wood, 33). The complicit Mama Temple sewed the black lace lingerie Shirley wore in one scene. Kid'in' Hollywood gives us Shirley as a Dietrich look alike, a smoky femme fatale.

   Shirley took over the role of the sexual coquette in the Code-era movie time. Graham Greene described her admirers as "middle-aged men and clergymen" (Wood, 34). Her sultry rendition of a torch song in Little Miss Markerand her Curly Top scene in which the seven-year-old becomes an all too-pleasing visual for a wealthy single man show that this notion of sexual teasing is not reserved for the Baby Burlesks alone. Most of her later films include Shirley attempting to win a handsome man and receiving adoption. Poor Little Rich Girl, contains Shirley lovingly singing to a handsome adult male and speaking of her desire to marry him while she caresses him. She coos in song, "I love to hug and kiss you / Marry me and let me be your wife! / In every dream I caress you." Because Shirley usually plays orphans, no familial taboos exist and the audience can accept these blatant flirtations. To some, this voyeurism is sexually gratifying visually and in her "cuteness is a realm of erotic regulation (the containment of child sexuality) and protection from exploitation" (Merish). Even though Shirley Temple may be the most obvious example, the idea of adoptive father figures viewing children and as love objects was not reserved for her movies alone. One of the most loved radio serials, Bachelor's Children, which aired from 1936 to 1946, told the story of Dr. Bob Graham and the twin girls he promised to raise. Dr. Graham eventually married of the girls. One of these cute little girls became the object of his desire. The union of the adoptive father marrying his adoptive chid was accepted by audiences and the series even won awards for realism. Dr Graham's sexual attraction to one of his adoptive daughters was not considered taboo.

    Some scholars have even read an underlying sexual tension in unsuspecting orphan Annie. Mrs. Warbucks, the initial mother figure in the comic strip, does not like Annie and constantly tries to get rid of her when Mr. Warbucks is on business trips. But Mrs. Warbucks is the one who is gotten rid of, along with a later second wife. This leaves Daddy Warbucks and Annie to make "an interesting couple" (Walkerdine, 89). This little girl and father figure could possibly reflect the earlier mentioned Temple films. Dressed as an adult with adult movements and adult language, the lolita imagery of Shirley Temple and other girls in the 30's falls in line of the Lolita Tradition. The sexualized film child during the Great Depression may have been another way to lift the spirits of the culture.

The Reality

The Facts

Reform Law

Letters and Stories

Works Cited