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The Shirley Temple – Graham Greene Connection

Way back in 1938, Graham Greene was writing a review of the movie Wee Willie Winkie (what does that even mean?), starring the eight-year-old Shirley Temple.

While writing his review of the movie, Greene said this about Shirley Temple:

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.

A bit creepy. Did Greene ghostwrite Lolita for Nabokov?

Anyway, after those comments 20th Century Fox sued Greene for libel, and he also faced a prison sentence. Living in England at the time, Green fled to Mexico because he wouldn’t face extradition there.

While he was essentially a refugee in Mexico, Greene was inspired to write a book about a refugee priest in Mexico—and so was born The Power And The Glory. All of this according to Greene’s close friend Alberto Cavalcanti, who said this in his recently released journals: “Very likely Shirley Temple never learned that it was partly thanks to her that, during his exile, Graham Greene wrote one of his best books.”

Interesting. Little tidbits like that are part of the reason that this 101 books project never gets old. Outside of the reading itself, I always enjoy finding out these types of facts about each book and author.

So what’s up with that movie review?

More on the story here.

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yuck, that is a freaky discovery about GG. The poor child was only eight. Either “fashions” have changed or men are universally suspect (especially the middle-aged and clergymen). Nicola


    February 1, 2012
  2. Fascinating – I never knew this about Graham Greene and I’m a huge fan.

    I have to say I can see where he was coming from. Surely this is just an early version of the debate about the sexualisation of children in the media?


    February 1, 2012
    • Possibly. I certainly don’t think he was a creep really. But that one excerpt does strike me as weird. But, yeah, could totally be the beginnings of the Britney Spears-type sexualization of kids.


      February 1, 2012
      • Lori #

        We don’t have to go as far as Britney Spears, how about Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver? Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby.


        February 4, 2012
  3. Interesting find about Greene, and it does seem to me he is commenting about how others view her. However the description of her person takes it a bit too far in my mind. I would love to know what Shirley Temple Black thinks about the story. Wee Willie Winkie is a character from a Scottish nursery rhyme about sleep. I believe from the 1800’s. He runs through the town in his nightgown.


    February 1, 2012
    • I would assume she knows about it now even though she didn’t then. Although the details about this were just released from that one guy’s personal writings, so maybe she doesn’t know.


      February 1, 2012
  4. Wee Willie Winkie is the name of and a character in a nursery rhyme:

    Wee Willie Winkie
    Runs through the town
    Upstairs and downstairs
    In his nightgown
    Rapping at the windows
    Calling through the lock
    Are the children all in bed?
    For now it’s 8 o’clock

    Before anyone gets thoughts that this character is “creepy”, here is a bit of history: I think it is of English origin. It is very old, before the turn of the 20th century (I believe). I heard it read to me as a child (I am 40 ) and I have recited it to my children. I think perhaps it was written as a poem/rhyme to say to children before bedtime.


    February 1, 2012
  5. It’s worth pointing out that the movie Wee Willie Winkie (based on the Kipling story) was directed by John Ford in 1937 and that The Power and the Glory was adapted into a movie, called The Fugitive, by John Ford in 1947. So John Ford is all over this story. Greene, by the way, hated the Ford adaptation.


    February 9, 2012
  6. I somehow agree with him. I saw early Shirley Temple movies, and she was obnoxious, and always seemed to be playing cute, obv working her charms. Or maybe, I was just jealous of her dimples and her curls 😀


    February 10, 2012
  7. GRAHAM GREENE is a writer who probably writes on social themes perhaps with an scent of political overtones be it is his 1984 or ANIMAL FARM his message is clear and the purpose will not go awry.Nabokov on the other hand is a rebellion , debunking kind of a writer and both these styles wont coincide .. i suppose .. both their writings served as criticism against the communist regimes and set a very new trend about literature.

    the novel ANIMAL FARM has metamorphosised the Stalinist regime and it is a modern day allegory of the current state of affairs in communist t rule. animals represent bureaucrats and the mindless rulers , pigs who don’t have much of thinking rather more muscular.


    February 22, 2012
    • You’re thinking about George Orwell, not Graham Greene. Greene wrote The Power and The Glory. Orwell wrote 1984 and Animal Farm.


      February 23, 2012
  8. Me #

    Apparently, from his description of Shirley Temple, Greene himself was a pervert and possibly a pedophile.


    April 6, 2012
    • Luke17:2 #

      Or maybe he was putting the verbal description of what he saw on the screen in print to wake the reader up to uncomfortable truths that our brain overlooked because we were too engrossed in the image flickering before us on the screen to consider its deeper and depraved meaning. Re-read the clause following “enormous vitality” – that’s the slap on the face to those who were even slightly aroused by his lurid descriptions in the two previous clauses. What begins as a forbidden fantasy sometimes gets acted out in reality, unleashing devastation and disgust in its wake.


      October 19, 2012
  9. Gilligan Penny #


    So our brains have overlooked some uncomfortable truths because we were too engrossed in the image flickering before us on the screen to consider the deeper and depraved meaning?

    What the f*ck are you talking about? What “uncomfortable truths”? What “deeper and depraved meaning”?

    Here are a few words I would use to describe Shirley Temple’s characters: cute, plucky, mischievous, funny, smart, courageous and endearing. Are her characters precocious in thought and deed? Yes. It’s a major part of their charm. Are they coquettish — as in seductive, kittenish, sexually playful or teasing? Um. No.

    Why don’t Dennis the Menace, the Little Rascals and the Home Alone kid get saddled with being “coquettish”?

    Let’s be very clear on something: it is Graham himself who is responding to “her dubious coquetry” and “the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body”. His rant betrays him as someone who is repulsed by his sexual attraction to a child and is blaming that child for his own depravity. Because that’s what pedophiles do.

    I read elsewhere he referred to her as a “little bitch” and described her as having a “precocious little body as voluptuous in grey flannel trousers as Miss Dietrich’s.”

    Say what?! She’s a little girl, you sick f*ck.


    December 17, 2013
    • Academic Criticism #

      No. Greene described what was obviously being marketed.


      February 11, 2014
  10. Richard White #

    “Wee Willie Winkie (what does that even mean?)”

    Wee Willie Winkie was a poem written by William Miller (1810–72). In Jacobite songs Willie Winkie referred to King William III of England, one example being “The Last Will and Testament of Willie winkie”[6] but it seems likely that Miller was simply using the name rather than writing a Jacobite satire.[

    “A bit creepy. Did Greene ghostwrite Lolita for Nabokov?”

    Stupid attempt at humour that only reveals you have barely a superficial understanding of Nabokov’s novel


    February 11, 2014
    • Thanks Richard! Welcome to the blog.


      February 11, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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