For me, that has never been more true than this week. Because this week, Shirley Temple died.
When the headline crawled across the bottom of my TV screen, I was stunned. Although I had been anticipating this news for a while, I still couldn't believe it. Shirley Temple gone? You might as well have told me that the earth had spun off its axis. It simply wasn't possible.
I never met Shirley, but somehow, this loss feels profoundly personal. It's as if it marks the official end of my own childhood. Even though it ended decades ago.
It's hard to describe what Shirley Temple meant to me. Although I wasn't alive in the 1930s when she made her movies, her films were a huge part of my childhood. Growing up, Shirley Temple movies played on TV all the time. And from the moment I saw my first Shirley Temple film, I was smitten. I loved everything about Shirley; her smile, her dimples, her hair, her clothes. I knew every line of every film by heart, every word of the songs, and most of the dance routines. I still do.
Even as a child, I knew the storylines were silly. The films were pure fantasy and beyond saccharine. But it didn't matter. I was transported by Shirley's charm, by the music, by the dance numbers. I also loved Shirley's co-stars, from Jack Haley and Alice Faye to James Dunn, Buddy Ebsen and Frank Morgan.
Shirley Temple movies were my entree into Hollywood Musicals. They were the gateway drug that opened the door to the classic movie musicals of the 1930s, introducing me to the delights of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkeley, Eleanor Powell, The Nicholas Brothers and countless others. And once I walked through that door, there was no going back. I began a love affair with films, music, and dance from Hollywood's Golden Age that endures to this day. And it was Shirley who inspired me to learn to tap dance and who helped turn dancing into a lifelong passion.
Shirley had such a profound impact on my life, I just assumed that everyone else must feel the same way. And so I eagerly awaited an outpouring of reaction to news of her death.
On my way to work last Tuesday, I anticipated my office would be buzzing with talk about Shirley. But it quickly became apparent that what for me had been an earth shattering event was for my peers, clearly, a non-event. It was just business as usual. I glanced at my young colleagues, staring at their computer monitors. Were they posting thoughts about Shirley Temple on their Facebook pages? Hardly. I would guess the vast majority of them had never even heard of her. If I inquired, I was told, "Oh yeah, my mom — or grandmother — used to love her movies." Were I to ask them, "What's your favorite Shirley Temple film?", I'm sure I'd be met with blank stares. I might just as well ask, "Which of William Howard Taft's speeches was your favorite?" (Just for the record, my favorite Shirley Temple movie is "Poor Little Rich Girl", followed closely by "Curly Top" and "Captain January").
Suddenly, the world was sharply divided into two distinct camps: people who know and care about Shirley Temple, and people who don't.
Later that day, I hurried home, eagerly awaiting what I imagined would be a tsunami of tributes to Shirley. But on the news, it was also just business as usual. On CNN, Piers Morgan's lead story was about Tom Brokaw's health problems, followed by some rehashed Clinton scandals. Later in the show, during an interview with Bruce Dern, Piers Morgan briefly mentioned Shirley's passing. That was it.
I flipped through the channels, expecting there would be more coverage of what to me was clearly a world shattering event. But I never found it. If Kim Kardashian breaks a nail, it's front page news. If Miley Cyrus buys a new thong, it's the lead story on "Entertainment Tonite". Shirley Temple was once the most famous person in the world. She was one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. Why wasn't this the biggest story of the day? Was it because there was no scandal or drug overdose involved?
When I bemoaned this disappointing lack of media coverage to my husband, he said, "Well, don't forget, Shirley Temple was famous two or three generations ago...young people don't know her anymore. Neither does most of the media."
I know he's right, but I have a hard time accepting it. In my eyes, a world where Shirley Temple is no longer relevant is a diminished world. A less sparkly world. A less beautiful world. Certainly a far less charming world.
Shirley Temple may not matter much to the new generation. But she matters to me. And she always will.
As the 20th century, and especially the early 20th century, recedes further and further into the distance, fewer and fewer of that era's cultural icons are still remembered or appreciated. And that's tragic.
Which is why this week, I have a bad case of the 21st Century Blues.