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Shirley Smiles

The Baby Burlesk short films of the 1930’s starred America’s favorite child actor, Shirley Temple.  Released in 1933, Polly Tix in Washington features Shirley Temple as a “strumpet bent on seducing a senator”; she is essentially a call girl (131).  The short film includes adult themes such as political corruption, seduction, and bribery, played out by children of a very young age.

Screen Shot. Shirley Temple starred in "Polly Tix in Washington," released June 4, 1933.

In John F. Kasson’s piece, “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile:  Children, Emotional Labor, and the Great Depression,” he states that these “children literally go through the motions of adult characters without, presumably, comprehending anything about the drama they are enacting” (131).  While viewing a few of the Baby Burlesks, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the scenes being played out.  Even the way Shirley Temple struts across the stage suggests a level of flirtatiousness that seems highly inappropriate; not to mention her seductive walk is always directed toward her boy counterpart in the films.  The Polly Tix short displays Shirley Temple in a black lace skimpy outfit, dripping in jewels, and using her body and flirtation skills to sway the opinion of the new senator.  She also brings along a decadent cake to aid in her persuasion.  One scene shows Shirley feeding a piece of cake to the young senator; she literally had him in the palm of her hands.  Actions such as these play into the innocent act of young children enthusiastically shoveling delicious desserts into their mouths using only their hands, but on the other hand, exudes a level of maturity/intimacy usually reserved for adult interactions (similar to the bride and groom hand-feeding each other their first piece of wedding cake; it’s a somewhat sensual event).  Although it’s humorous to watch Shirley win over the senator with cake and her sultry antics, the underlying message endorses seduction as an acceptable way of obtaining what you want.

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