Talent exploding through a multitude
of works = Genius in retrospect
of works = Genius in retrospect
Two milestones this week were reminders of watershed eras in American and world popular – Shirley Temple Black’s death and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
famous being Mama Rose, immortalized two decades after her second-rate career in Gypsy. What Shirley had was a dichotomous combination of adorableness and gravitas. They played off of each other in a way that made her seem a sweet little girl and ageless sprite. Her movie persona was to charm an older, avuncular male figure into supporting her, though the audience could also see that she was quite independent and a survivor. Graham Greene was sued and lost for suggesting in a review that Temple was a miniature adult. However, he missed the larger point of Temple’s career and the Hollywood dream factory.
Shirley Temple was under contract to 20th Century Fox for four movies a year. This probably stunned her parents, who fought to reduce the number to three annually. Her peak years (1934 –1939) produced twenty-one movies in which she starred and this after she’d appeared in over twenty short films or in cameo roles. Has anyone made that many movies in the past few decades? No, and it’s because the government broke up the supposed monopolistic power of the Hollywood studios, the first step in performers being able to control the uncertain destiny of their careers since there have been few studio chiefs in the interim that possess the chutzpah of making creative or financial decisions.
|President Ford Appointed |
Shirley Temple Black
Ambassador to Ghana
|Shirley with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (and Dexter)|
in The Little Colonel
We’ve been in the middle of the 50th anniversary of Bealtlemania for the past month or so. Kristen asked a question on Facebook for her friends’ favorite Beatles songs and she received a number of responses, prompting her to finally say that the easier question might be to ask are there any Beatles songs you don’t like? (I actually don’t love “Rocky Raccoon”, but that’s about it. My favorite choices are “If I Fell” and “A Day in the Life”).
Pop music had exploded in the ‘50s and the commercial emphasis shifted from sheet music to records and the electric guitar supplanted the piano as its primary melodic expression. It doesn’t take Freud to theorize why young women worshipped young men so publicly from the 1940s on. There was an artistic vacuum on the radio; it didn’t reflect the incipient youth movement and it didn’t make much of the folk revival, or what would become important about soul or country music.
What amazes me about The Beatles is how many incredible albums they produced in less than six years. There were eleven studio albums in addition to live albums and compilation releases. They weren’t the only group producing an outlandish number of extraordinary works at that time (The Rolling Stones, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, Motown, Aretha Franklin come immediately to mind), but pretty much everything they did had value. They were good, but not great singers. They weren’t in the same league as Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Roger Daltry, or Robert Plant. However, their music and lyrics are unparalleled and no one else put out Meet the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Rubber Soul, Help!, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beatles (the White album), Let it Be, and Abbey Road during that era (or any era since).