In 1947, Shirley Temple was 18 going on 19 and struggling with a difficult marriage.
Her career was faltering, too. She was no longer the winsome child star who had charmed millions of moviegoers during the bleakest years of the Depression. She was now one of many talented young actresses in Hollywood.
But Temple wasn’t a seasoned pro for nothing, and if you watch films from the last years of her movie career, you can’t detect the off-screen pressures she must have faced. She was a hard worker, starring in three (three!) films released in 1947: Honeymoon, That Hagen Girl and, one of our personal favourites, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Now, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is one of those films that suggests you leave your critical thinking skills at home. However, it does deliver hearty laughs in return.
The film stars Cary Grant as an affable painter of contemporary American life. He is one of those fellows who’s always in trouble, usually with women. However, his real headaches begin when he gives a lecture at the high school Temple attends, and discovers Temple has developed a sudden, fierce crush on him.
After the rousing lecture, Temple rushes to meet Grant in the school hallway, and introduces herself as a representative of the school newspaper. She fawns over Grant and gushes over the Suffering Of The Artistic Soul. While the uncomfortable Grant tries to make a polite getaway, Temple immediately starts grilling him on his love life. This makes Grant wonder what kind of newspaper the school actually publishes:
Temple: “Oh, all the students read it.”
Grant: “I’ll bet they do!”
Grant is Not Interested in Temple for many reasons, including her age. Yet, their scenes sparkle with on-screen chemistry, the way scenes do between two professional actors.
Myrna Loy also stars as Temple’s accomplished older sister, a judge who is well aware of Grant’s reputation. She considers the remote possibility of Temple dating him as odious: “I’d just as soon my sister were going out with an actor.”
Although the cast includes the ultra-fab Rudy Vallee and Ray Collins, it’s Temple’s charismatic performance that elevates the film and, ironically, makes Grant and Loy even more culturally significant.
The term bobby-soxer was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Bobby socks (short socks that reach just above the ankle) became fashionable during WWII and, after the war, were often worn with saddle shoes. This style was especially popular with teenage girls and young women.
More importantly, the bobby-soxer crowd made big stars out of singers like Frank Sinatra and actors like Van Johnson. Just like today’s teenage girl demographic, these young women could elevate a performer’s status to über-stardom.
By portraying a bobby-soxer, Temple was endorsing the longevity of Grant and Loy. It’s telling that Loy is not cast as Temple’s mother, but her older sister, and Temple’s crush on the 40-something Grant only enhanced his status as a romantic leading man.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer was a profitable film for RKO; it tied with The Egg and I as the second-highest grossing film of 1947. It also won a screenwriting Oscar.
Grant and Loy may have gained street cred with the younger set in this charming film, but it did not save Temple’s film career. By 1950, she was out of the movies and her troubled marriage – but had embarked on other challenges in her remarkable life.
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer: starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple. Directed by Irving Reis. Written by Sidney Sheldon. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 1947, B&W, 95 mins.