In Glad Rags to Riches, Shirley Temple plays La Belle Diaperina. Diaperina is a showgirl in a night club that is stuck in a life she despises. The club owner wants Temple for himself, forcing her to perform until she marries him. She refuses and wishes that her sweetheart would save her. Her sweetheart, Elmer, just so happens to stumble into the poster for her act and realizes that he may have finally found his love. They find each other in the club during a very can-can like dance number, upsetting her boss. He kicks Elmer out of the club, but only until he comes crashing back in with police to arrest the horrible club owner. Diaperina and Elmer share a celebratory smooch and leave hand in hand to the Wedding March.
There are so many different things that toe the line “between innocence and flirtatiousness.” Temples character is burlesque dancer, in the first scene she is wearing a top hat and shiny black top/diaper. Immediately after her performance it pans to a boy clapping enthusiastically. Her boss is creepy, especially since he is played by a child, and in the final scenes is shown trying to force a kiss on Temple as she tries to get away.
I understand completely the idea behind the Baby Burlesks, it is funny to see kids imitate adults. This was something I still love in appropriate settings such as Little Rascalls. But Riches crosses the line, these are four year olds! Even if the child “goes through the motions of adult characters without…comprehending anything”(Kasson, 197), what does it say about the adults watching? Just because they don’t understand, we do.