I've been getting a ton of hits on my sitemeter lately on a particular post about my Shirley Temple. Are Shirleys back in vogue? Maybe. So, gentle readers, by popular demand, this is a re-post of Flying Shirley, originally posted in February of 2009.
When I was a little girl, I adored throwing my dolls in the air. The most fun, was tossing the baby Jesus from my grandmother's nativity set, complete with permanent plastic swaddling clothes, as near the ceiling as possible. To Grandma, this little fetish was entirely disrespectful. Like Queen Victoria, she was not amused, and promptly ordered me to stop, which I did, until she was safely out of the room.
I often dreamed of flying, myself, running fast as I possibly could in the grass, until my feet miraculously left the ground. It was exhilarating, drifting, wind in my face, arms out like Peter Pan, with an aerial view of my house and yard. I've heard it said to dream of flying is a sign of creativity, or maybe it was simply my childish craving for autonomy.
One Michigan summer day, a five year old me was doing my favorite Shirley Temple doll a favor, by sharing with her the thrill of flight. Higher and higher she flew, until she landed with a thud on the roof. I was mortified. Shirley, up there on the blazing asphalt, was more than I could bear. I begged my parents to rescue her, but to no avail. Fall came, and by November she was covered with a heavy blanket of snow. All winter, I imagined my Shirley, cold and abandoned on the roof.
With the arrival of spring, my father, anxious to see a ball game, climbed on the roof to adjust the TV antenna. He descended with a treasure, my beloved Shirley. Her ringlets were frizzled, one of her eyelids hung partially shut, and she had lost that curious, intoxicating scent of new plastic. I had never seen anything so lovely. I never again dreamed of flying.
Head of a Doll by Charles Simic
|my flying Shirley|
Whose demon are you,
Whose god? I asked
Of the painted mouth
Half buried in the sand.
A brooding gull
Made a brief assessment,
And tiptoed away
Nodding to himself.
At dusk a firefly or two
Dowsed its eye pits.
And later, toward midnight,
I even heard mice.
In the 1930s, the lovable little Shirley Temple became a symbol of happiness and hope in the midst of the Great Depression. A wave of merchandising followed, including a series of high quality Shirley Temple composition dolls (composition is a sawdust-based wood pulp, which can crack easily, so many did not survive). Later, in the 1950s, Shirley Temple dolls were made of vinyl and are therefore more common. Celebrity dolls have been in production for a long time. In the 1840s, several famous ballerinas were featured as paper dolls. Also in the 1800s, various military heroes were portrayed as dolls/figures. John Bunny, the silent film star, was one of the first dolls produced in 1914 by Louis Amberg & Sons, and the first Charlie Chaplin doll was produced in 1915. The Shirley Temple doll by Ideal was a wild phenomenon in the 1930s, and would go on to be one of the most successful celebrity dolls in history.
Note: My daughter looked so much like Shirley Temple when she was a little girl. In fact, she is still fondly known to one particular maestro as "Curly Top". I guess you could say I've been blessed with a real live Shirley doll of my very own.