No, she was not just a pin-curled moppet with a dimple, a sweet little voice, a penchant for tap dancing, and an excessively cute demeanor. When it came to Hollywood, little Shirley kicked somem serious butt. She was, for some years, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. She saved the Fox studio from bankruptcy during the Depression, keeping thousands employed, even though she was so young that she had to sign her first contracts with an X because she hadn’t learned how to write yet. She broke the color barrier as the first white woman to touch a black man onscreen, tapping away as she held the hand of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. And she went on to be a UN ambassador when she grew up, supporting Czechoslovakian president-to-be Vaclav Havel during the Velvet Revolution.
All that’s important to keep in mind during the most precious moments in her films when cynicism threatens to creep into your consciousness. Ignore any overly coy story lines and focus on the inner Shirley. Watch her light up the screen, playing off her fellow actors, and give her all whether she tears up, giggles mischievously, or sticks out her lower lip in indignation. And remember, just because someone’s got a headful of blonde curls and dimpled chubby cheeks doesn’t mean she isn’t a force to be reckoned with.