Search This Blog

Friday, March 4, 2011

My First Issue of Chronicles Magazine: I'm Hooked!

A friend has been encouraging me to read Chronicles for several years. It's her favorite magazine and, after reading the March issue, I understand why. Published by the Rockford Institute, Chronicles bills itself as a "magazine of American culture" and it certainly meets that description with a wide array of articles and reviews on what's happening now. Several articles in the current issue regarding the exploitation and sexualization of children particularly caught my attention: Going Down With the Good Ship Lollipop by Jack Trotter and Growing up Too Fast by Christopher Sandford.

Trotter opines that the sexualization of little girls isn't a recent phenomenon connected to the '60's sexual revolution, but goes back much further. "Long before Barbie and Britney...there was America's Sweetheart, Shirley Temple." Trotter recognizes the shocked reaction of the reader. "Surely not Shirley, that polka-dotted paragon of girlish American innocence?" but goes on to make a convincing case. As a Shirley Temple film junkie, I could nod my head as I remembered the scenes he described and recognize that perhaps the studio was using that dimpled flirt with a wink and a smile at the dirty old men in the audience.

Catholic novelist Graham Greene was among the first to suggest that Shirley was popular because of "a cocquetry [sic] quite as mature as Miss [Claudette] Colbert's." He described Captain January as " a little depraved." Trotter goes on to say that "In short, Greene was implicitly accusing Fox of pimping its biggest child star." Fox reacted by suing the magazine which folded. But was he right? Trotter is casting no aspersions on Black, by the way, and neither was Graham Greene. Greene was more concerned over the exploitation by the studio which, by the way, banished the little girl to a "black box" (at age 4!) if she misbehaved on the set. Time is money after all. (See the Temple biography linked below.)

When you consider that Temple was wearing clothing not typical for children of the day (dresses were actually knee length with long bloomers underneath while Shirley's barely covered her bum) Greene's accusations seem pretty on target. Shirley was the 1930's Brooke Shields. And, in fact, her first film experience was in Baby Burlesks, a series where children mimicked well-known adult stars. In War Babies Shirley (age 3) played Dolores del Rio, a silent screen sex siren.

Trotter also mentions the lyrics sung in Poor Little Rich Girl when Shirley says to her film Daddy, "I love to hug you and kiss you. Marry me and let me be your wife! In every dream I caress you..." Selling the sexuality of little girls, it seems, is not a new phenomenon.

Sandford, in a related article, examines the sad tale of Hollywood's child stars growing up in a "moral vacuum" who pay the price in devastated lives. It;'s an interesting coincedence that this issue should come out amidst the Charlie Sheen feeding frenzy. While Sheen isn't mentioned in the article (perhaps because his acting career took off as an adult), he exhibits all the ill effects Sandford describes for those growing up in the Hollywood hot house. It's a sad story of parental neglect, child exploitation, and wasted lives. What I found saddest was the description of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal:
Tatum O'Neal's parents had divorced in 1967....Success came in the popular smash of Paper Moon, for which she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, but longer-term personal and professional fulfillment proved elusive....She was to remark that she had suffered "constant physical and emotional abuse" from her father during her adolescence--which he denies-- much of which she attributed to his drug use...Meanwhile, Ryan told Vanity Fair, "I had just put the casket [of long time lover Farrah Fawcett] in the hearse...when a beautiful blonde woman comes up and embraces me...I said to her, 'You have a drink on you? You have a car?' She said, 'Daddy, it's me--Tatum!'" "I'm a hopeless father," Rayan O'Neal was later to concede...Speaking of Tatum whom he characterizes as "a bitch," he added, "I was in touch with [her] for years, and I was a wreck. I'm not in touch now, and I've never been happier."
What a sad testimony to the impact of hedonism, the killer of love. No wonder those who embrace it kill their children in utero. Better to enjoy yourself with no complications to come back and haunt you with your own irresponsibility and selfishness.

I wondered as I read these article whether there are any success stories among the glitteratti and the one child star who immediately came to mind was James MacArthur, the adopted son of Helen Hayes, a Catholic although estranged from the Church for many years because of her marriage to Charlie MacArthur. James grew up surrounded by famous stars (Lillian Gish was his godmother) but his early career was on the stage, most of his life was spent in New York, not Hollywood, and his parents apparently loved each other very much. His mother was also a conservative, Republican, a rarity in the acting world. While apparently navigating the world of childhood fame well, MacArthur still exhibited the habit among stars of serial marriage, having three wives over the course of his life.

At any rate, Chronicles looks to be a fascinating microscope for evaluating and understanding the culture and I look forward to more. Think I'll write a letter to tell them so.

Related articles:

Shirley Temple Sues

Shirley Temple Biography

1 comment:

Restore-DC-Catholicism said...

The decline of culture didn't start in the 1960s, but long before then. Popular fascination with celebrity (particularly the entertainers) has always been a symptom of such decline in my opinion.