Shirley Temple and the Great Depression

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Growing up in America, alongside the innovative and successful people such as; Pedro Flores, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Louis A. Shaw, was Shirley Temple. An economical decline affected countries world-wide, with America facing majority of the impact and leading them to the era of ‘The Great Depression’. Occurring between 1929 and 1939, ‘The Great Depression’ was the most cutting and unfortunate experience Americans’ had ever endured since the Civil War times in 1861. While many were without jobs and the nation weakening at a rapid pace for about a decade, one of America’s greatest artists were able to assist in keeping it alight by the expanding knowledge and social impact on generations she created and shared. Temple, alongside the many other key features of this era, impacted the world greatly. Temple with her film, music and political influence, Earhart breaking a record and many other social changes shed light to the nation in a fragile time. The nations’ well-being and value systems were impacted positively world-wide and Temple’s involvement in adolescent health issues and politics, was significant. This was easily the age of talent and growth.

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Temple shared her birth year of 1928 with the United States’ Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company opening, by Pedro Flores as well as the birth of world famous ‘Mickey Mouse’. November 18th, Walt Disney starred their first appearance of Micky in their short-film ‘Steamboat Willie’. The box office draw from 1935 to 1938, saw Temple as Hollywood’s number one. Passing in 1945, was America’s thirty-second president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt served four terms during the Great Depression and lead America through the second World War. Roosevelt showed through his brave actions that his only concern was helping the nation reinvent itself, and that is exactly what he achieved. “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”. (Roosevelt, 1933) American’s then found an escape through a ‘Radio Priest’ by the name of Charles Coughlin. Coughlin’s weekly broadcast averaged to around 30-45 million listeners, giving a distraction and drawing in a light on a dark moment of history. A short while after, Coughlin established the ‘National Union for Social Justice’. In the same year of Coughlin’s fame, was the proposing of ‘pension plans’, which still exists in the 21st century. Amongst all this, Shirley Temple was only just at the beginning of her world-changing career. 1949, Temple made the last of her totalled fifty films and moved into politics… the career in which she made the largest difference opposed to the positive escape she created during the Great Depression.

During such a tense era, music was a very effective form of comfort and relaxation. With Big Band and Swing music being the popular choice in the thirties, it provided an upbeat vibe which continued through-out World War Two. Temple performed in films and musicals to be part of that get-away prior to moving to politics with the intention of impacting more than just a small targeted audience. 1969 appointed her diplomatic post as U.S delegate to the United Nations, leading onto ambassador of Ghana and later- on, ambassador of Czechoslovakia. 1976 to 1977, she broke the record and became the first U.S. chief of protocol at the State Department. Spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt well prior to her growing up, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right. When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.” (1998) Temple made a brave decision to publicly speak about her mastectomy that occurred in 1972, which stimulated a discussion involving all, about the early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Receiving over fifty-thousand “Thank-you” letters, Temple made such a sensitive matter feel more acceptable and less fearsome to talk about and seek the appropriate medical attention.

Building on Temple’s iconic image, she represented America’s value and culture to people of all societies. “If one looks at the United States from one ocean to the other in July and August, he will see millions of people at play—people of every social and financial gradation; for few are so poor as not to take at least a short vacation.” (The People at Play, 1902) The twentieth century’s entertainment industry provided vaudeville, dance halls and motion pictures which became increasingly popular. During the earlier years of the century, the industry’s decline became quite severe. The Great Depression leaving many without jobs, didn’t leave much of an industry. Radio station’s and television shows being the only main source of entertainment running, is what helped to create Temple. The nineteen-hundreds showed great advancement in the technology of film and motion picture, Temple being the experiment and success. New creative territory was explored and one of the earliest and most famous movies was created in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter, called “The Great Train Robbery”. According to Benjamin Hale (2014) the most noteworthy companies were the ‘Warner Brothers Pictures’, ‘Paramount’, and ‘20th Century Fox’, the last being a company that assisted in growing Temple into what she became. The famous role of the director and the star were on the rise of developed career in the movie industry during this time. Director gaining more recognition and the star receiving greater fame, arose due to publicity increases and the trend to value faces on the show screen. 1946 was the high point of theatre attendance and profits after bouncing back from World War Two with propaganda, documentaries and educational pictures. “The 1960’s saw a great push for social change. Movies during this time focused on fun, fashion, rock n’ roll, societal shifts like the civil rights movements, and transitions in cultural values.” (Benjamin Hale, 2014)

Moving the world into the twenty-first century, such technological and social changes have been made and that is all due to Shirley Temple and the key features she grew with. Social forces such as music genres, world wars, films and political decisions, made history and influenced the future. While the industry may have been on a steeping decline, the twenty-first century would not have learnt and advanced to what it became, without the rapid declines of history. In the wise words of Benjamin Hale (2014), “History should be fun. History should be exciting. History should be enjoyable. And most importantly, history should be known´ and with Shirley Temple impacting the world in the positive and bold ways she did, she became one of the greatest influences history created.

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