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Growing Up in an Instant

August 29, 2016




Like many senior citizens, my ninety-one-year-old mother spends much of her time watching television, particularly old movies. She’s constantly asking me questions about actors and actresses from the 30s and 40s, questions like who was John Hodiak married to, or what was the name of that guy who played Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. I often remind her that these actors and actresses were plying their trade long before I was born, and while I enjoy old movies my interest doesn’t compel me to research the lives of long-dead movie stars. But a recent conversation with good ol’ Mom brought to mind a childhood experience when I was eight, one that rocked my little world.


Growing up in the 50s, I watched TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Howdy Doody. On weekend afternoons I could usually find a Shirley Temple movie, like Captain January, Little Miss Broadway, The Little Princess, Heidi and The Littlest Rebel. I preferred Rin Tin Tin or The Three Stooges, but these usually aired on weekday afternoons, not weekends.





In 1960, The Shirley Temple Show premiered on Sunday nights. TV Guide was the only magazine to be found at our house and I looked forward to the thick edition filled with new fall shows. I spotted this new Shirley Temple show on Sunday nights and was eager to see fresh stories with someone who, although not a boy, nevertheless managed to be involved in interesting adventures.


My older brother wasn’t happy because he wanted to watch Maverick, but it was my turn to pick our Sunday night program and I picked The Shirley Temple Show. (Cut me some slack—I was eight years old.) When the program started, I was confused.


“Who’s that lady in the fancy dress?” I asked.


My mother looked up from the ever-present book in her hand, took a puff on her Salem cigarette and said, “That’s Shirley Temple.”


I didn’t understand. I’d seen Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm just that afternoon and knew this grown woman couldn’t possibly be Shirley Temple. This woman was old enough to be my mother. The Shirley I knew was a dimpled little girl with a head full of ringlets who pouted or burst into silly songs waaaaay too often. “I saw Shirley Temple this afternoon and she was a little girl. How could she have grown up so fast?” I asked.


My mother smiled. “The movies you watch in the afternoon were made in the 30s during the Depression, back when I was a little girl. She’s all grown up now.”





I had no idea! I felt gypped, and it was probably around this time I started wondering what else wasn’t as it seemed, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy….


What about you? I bet a few things confused you while growing up.




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Lucky you- we did not have TV until was I was ten ....and then it was only black and white! It was a treat when we would go over to my Grandmothers house and watch Sunday's Disney show in COLOR! By the way- I only knew Shirley Temple when I used to babysit her kids.
By: Kathe W. on August 29, 2016
That would be quite a shock. My mom likes Shirley Temple movies but I've never watched more than a few minutes.
By: PT Dilloway on August 29, 2016
Whether we like it or not, people get older. Watching Clint Eastwood get old bugs me.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on August 29, 2016
I'm still confused. My brothers fooled me with many fake stories, and of course Santa. I remember Saturday morning there was Shirley Temple Theater. She was super cute and talented. I only vaguely remember her show as a grown lady...Maverick was a favorite in our house.
By: cranky on August 29, 2016
LOL, what a shock! I grew up viewing the outside world through such restricted mental filters that nowadays I'd probably be diagnosed autistic. Everything about the world confused me, and much of it still does :)
By: Botanist on August 29, 2016
The magic of movies and Shirley temple was voted the #1 box office during most of the 1930's ahead of Clark Gable! That must have secretly irked him but that is how it was. At least she had a good head on her shoulders. I thought the Warner Bros cartoons were real and walked around the set like one sees in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I couldn't think how they could not be real. Now the way your mom asks those questions is what i used to ask my dad when I was little. "Who is is that? Are they dead? When did they die? Were they married? Who to? When were they born? I don't know much about John Hodiak except that he did have an affair with tallulah Bankhead on the set of Lifeboat. She was a busy gal. Leslie Howard died in 1942-he was shot down by the Germans because he was doing some spy work. He was in WW1 and had shell shock. He went into acting to help his PTSD
By: Birgit on August 29, 2016
I'm always surprised when someone I knew as a child is now grown up. People should remain the same age as when we last saw them!!
By: fishducky on August 29, 2016
I just read that Ed "Kookie"Byrnes turned 83! That comb he used to run through his hair on "77 Sunset Strip" probably has more teeth than he has!!
By: Laurie on August 29, 2016
Thanks Birgit. Now I don't have to look up Ashley Wilkes. Did not know that about Leslie Howard. I think James Garner when I saw him in the Notebook hurt me the most. I was a huge Maverick fan.
By: Arkansas Patti on August 29, 2016
Lots confused me, like why my brothers couldn't have long hair like so many of the boys on TV.
By: messymimi on August 29, 2016
I can imagine what a shock it was to you if only because you have remembered it all this time!! But what reason could a kid have for thinking any different? It would make perfect sense that people would stay the same age, for goodness sake!!!!!
By: Jenny on August 29, 2016
In a similar vein, I see pictures today of movie stars and sexy babes from my childhood and find they're now 85 and living in a nursing home (if not dead). YIKES! How did that happen? ;)
By: scott park on August 29, 2016
I didn't watch that much tv when I was a kid. Combat, Lassie, and the science fiction shows on Saturday. Mostly I stayed outside until I had to come in.
By: Rick Watson on August 29, 2016
I was pretty TV-savvy, but I didn't understand how kids could chew that wax from fake lips and mustaches like gum. AND the wax from those little miniature soda bottles with the colored liquid that would choke you from the taste.
By: Val on August 29, 2016
Aw! Sorry you were disillusioned. It is rather surprising when well known actors get old, but I haven't really been disillusioned except for the Bill Cosby thing. (I loved him when I was young.) My husband and I constantly wonder who actors are or what else we've seen them in. He has a smartphone and I have a laptop and we look up online stuff 10 times a night. Your mom should do that and have all her curiosity satisfied.
By: Lexa Cain on August 29, 2016
I think I was born a not much confused me, sadly. An old soul in a kids body.
By: Tabor on August 30, 2016
Just this morning, during breakfast with a friend, the subject of who from Gilligan's Island was still alive. While I thought Gilligan had passed, I was quite surprised to learn he did so in 2005! On a related note, I left for Navy boot camp FORTY years ago today. Ay, yi, yi....
By: Al Penwasser on August 30, 2016
Oral Roberts confused me. I had a great aunt who thought old Oral was a miracle worker and she thought we should touch the TV screen when he was imparting his miraculous healing. Scared me out of the room. Her sister on the other hand never missed Alfred Hitchcock presents and for some reason his opening theme song reminded me of a funeral dirge. I didn't know what it was about rotund man with a strange accent and odd manor, but I watched even though it confused me. Speedy AlkaSeltzer on the other hand was an all right Ace.
By: Tom Cochrun on August 30, 2016
As a kid, Sunday night was Walt Disney, but that was in the 60s. There is a neighbor here who worked in foreign service for her career and worked as Shirley Temple Black's assistant for many years.
By: Sage on August 30, 2016
I will venture off the topic of celebrity and say my childhood confusion set in when I was a young pregnant teen at my church. I grew up thinking everyone that attended was perfect and never did anything wrong (in the sense I was the one of few who sinned and did wrong by having unlawful sex and getting pregnant at the young age of 15). Little did I know I was among the sinful and it was the greatest awakening of my youth. I was very naïve and shameful at the time, but I will add I have a wonderful daughter that came of the entire experience. It was certainly a life lesson in more ways than one.
By: STL Fan on August 30, 2016
Everything confused me then, as it does now. Go on IMDb to answer your mom's questions. It's an easy way to make her happy. Wait! I forgot that nothing makes Mama happy. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 30, 2016
Childhood innocence and our memories hit the proverbial wall at some point... as we discover the truths/lies. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 31, 2016

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