Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Right Somebody to Love

Not long ago, we lost a great actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman's career was tragically cut short by his death at age 46.  In reading about his career, I was struck by a quote Hoffman once gave a reporter.  NPR put it on their Facebook page:

...Just to be loved, I think, is, like, the thing that gets you up in the morning.

Is that true? Does being loved give you the strength to face the day?  Perhaps it can.  But perhaps there's also a form of love that's more important.  When I read the quote from Philip Seymour Hoffman, I immediately thought of Shirley Temple.

(That's not a non sequitur.  Stay with me.)

A few weeks after Hoffman's death, we also learned that Shirley Temple Black died, at the age of 85.  If you're old enough to be interested in this blog, I probably don't have to tell you who Shirley Temple was.  

People saved their Shirley Temple dolls, paper dolls, sheet music, books, photographs and other memorabilia.  I've often seen other Shirley Temple memorabilia at estate sales.

Sheet music from a Shirley Temple film
A couple of years ago, I found a bunch of original vintage Shirley Temple paper dolls.  I took them with me the next time I visited by mother, and asked her to tell me again about her experiences watching Shirley Temple movies as a child.

Shirley Temple paper doll

One of paper Shirley's paper dresses.  Note the wide collar.

My mother remembered seeing Shirley Temple's films in the theater with her mother and her older sister in the 1930s.  Mom also (ruefully) remembered my grandmother's attempts to dress her daughters in matching outfits "like Shirley Temple would wear."

Dresses worn by my mom and her older sister.  Note the wide collars.

Even if Mom didn't appreciate having to dress like Shirley Temple, the songs and dances from the films stuck with her, to the point that Mom was able to teach her own kids the lyrics to "Animal Crackers in My Soup" and "Be Optimistic" all those years later.

There had to be more to the classic Shirley Temple films -- Little Miss Marker, Bright Eyes, Baby Take a Bow, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, Little Miss Broadway (and I'm just scratching the surface) -- than a cheerful message that helped people muddle through the Great Depression. There must have been underlying messages in Shirley Temple films that people identified as Truth, and took them to heart (or at least tried to).  

So when I heard that she had passed away, I remembered again this song from another Shirley Temple film, Captain January, and I wondered -- is this just an old-fashioned, out-of-date sentiment?

What makes life the sweetest,
Bestest and completest?
Not a big doll house,
Or a Mickey Mouse,
But the right somebody to love.

Ice cream, cake and candy
May be fine and dandy,
But if you ask me they're not one two three
With the right somebody to love.

One you really care for,
And is yours to have and keep;
One you say a pray'r for
In your "Now I lay me down to sleep".

Tho' you're not quite seven,
What is most like heaven?
It's the joy that's found
With your arms around
Just the right somebody to love.

-- Music and lyrics by J. Yellen / L. Pollack, from the film Captain January (1936) 

It's interesting that in this song, love is active, not passive; it's not just a feeling*.  Love is giving, not receiving.  My pastor defines love as "doing what's best for the other person."   

* Obi-Wan was wrong, Luke:  Don't entirely trust your feelings.  They change too often.

There are other lyrics to the song that didn't make it into the film:

You may have a bankful,
For which to be thankful,
Nothing you possess,
Brings you happiness,
Like the right somebody to love.

(Try singing that to a 21st century professional athlete or corporate CEO, whose income is higher than the GDP of a small nation.....)  

So is the idea that not just receiving, but giving love important, an old-fashioned thought that has gone away?  I'm pleased to report that apparently it has not.  Alexander McCall Smith expressed a similar thought at the end of one of his books in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, called In the Company of Cheerful Ladies:

...She had so much love to give -- she had always felt that -- and now there was somebody good to whom she could give this love, and that, she knew was good; for that is what redeems us, that is what makes our pain and sorrow bearable -- this giving of love to others, this sharing of the heart.

And so, it seems, we have our marching orders.  Get out there and love people.  Do what's best for them.


Here's a short video clip of Shirley singing the song to her doll in Captain January.  Little Shirley's character, Star, is an orphan, and the doll is named "Mother."

Here's a longer version of the song, with Shirley singing to "Cap" (Guy Kibbee), who took her in when she was orphaned.  Poor Guy Kibbee, to have to appear in a dream sequence dressed like this....  But it underscores the idea that real love is giving, not just receiving.


(My apologies to those of you who can't get the tune out of your head now.)

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