Archive for March, 2011

Little Miss Marker

March 12, 2011

This photo, a still for Little Miss Marker, meant a lot to me growing up. It is included in Shirley Temple’s autobiography Child Star, which I had a copy of in my room. I had a very big floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and her book was on one of the weird upper shelves. Some adult books had been left there and forgotten about by my parents. They weren’t adult in any kind of exciting way, just serious and thick. Child Star was hardbound in black cloth that had collected a coat of fuzzy dust and some milky stains. It was a long time before I actually read the book, not until I was 12 or 13, but I would pore over the pictures in the inserts, and especially over this one.

Part of what intrigued me about this picture is how not like a child’s picture it feels. The energy is more like that of a pouty twenty-year-old who thinks she knows a lot. I also particularly liked pictures where smiles could disappear and return just by staring long enough. When Shirley’s smile is there she’s casual and matter-of-fact. Without it a weighted, almost accusatory sexuality creeps in. The dress she’s wearing is itself defiant, the worn chambray splitting at her shoulder and above the babydoll seam. That latter hole was mesmerizing, not just because it was suggestive but also in its deliberateness—there would be no normal source of stress to cause a tear like that.

I remember thinking that there was a quality here that I wanted someday. Shirley’s movies were often about a hardscrabble, streetwise little girl. It was a persona I romanticized; I wanted that toughness which was also cute and a little sexy. I thought girls’ faces looked prettiest with a sour mouth and smudges of dirt. I never saw Little Miss Marker (it wasn’t at my video store, nor part of the pink Playhouse Video VHS collection that I had) which increased its mystique. The harsh syllables of the title fit with that scrappy dress. There’s another Shirley movie called Little Miss Broadway that I had found pretty uninteresting. I imagined this to be its darker, more vital cousin.

The still is used on a DVD cover for the film now, and it’s colorized—they put a patch under the hole!

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