Monday, 21 October 2013

Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road

Not sure who sings this beautifully mournful version of Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road - Harry Champion, perhaps. The subtitles may come in handy.

Noël Coward taught Marlene Dietrich the same song. Imagine that. Or rather don't imagine that - hear her massacre the ditty here. Very unusual, this.

Had enough? You can find Shirley Temple performing this song on YouTube (but I can't be bothered to add the link. Please do so, if only to savour what follows in today's blog.)

It was Twentieth Century Fox lawyers who sued the English magazine Night and Day following its publication of Graham Greene's shrewd 1937 review of Wee Willie Winkie. The paragraph which caused all the fuss is worth repeating:

The owners of a child star are like leaseholders--their property diminishes in value every year.   
Time's chariot is at their back; before them acres of anonymity. Miss Shirley Temple's case, though, has a peculiar interest: infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece (real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel). In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is completely totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant's palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers--middle-aged men and clergymen--respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.

The trial was held on 22 March 1938. Greene had left for Mexico on 29 January and did not return to Britain until May. The judge fined the magazine a bankrupting £3,500. Greene went on to write one of his greatest novels, about a whiskey-priest in Mexico - The Power and the Glory.

Temple was the biggest child star of all time and there will never be another. She's still with us, aged 85 and living in Santa Monica, California. What an extraordinary life.


Extract © The Estate of Graham Greene


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