Let Us Mourn the Loss of Legacies

Legacy

Shirley Temple Black passed away this week at the age of 85. She is best known as a child actress, we’ve all seen the infomercials, and even for some of her later film work. However, her life after Hollywood wasn’t as well known until she passed away. Temple was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, an Ambassador and UN Representative, a breast cancer survivor (one of the first to speak publicly about her illness and push for self-examinations), and was the first female Chief of Protocol. Despite all of these accomplishments, if you were to look through the tweets on the day she died you would have been overwhelmed with accusations of racism and, even worse, being a conservative. That’s right, Curly Top supported the GOP. Sorry, Shirley, your legacy will now be degraded.

It would seem that no matter how much good a conservative celebrity does in their life when they die there will still be people who write it all off. This was a child star that turned out normal. She didn’t twerk, drag race, get high and crash cars, pop in and out of rehab. No, Temple instead completed well over thirty films beginning in 1931 and working until 1961. Then she focused on causes, particularly Multiple Sclerosis and breast cancer. Then she went on to work in government, running for office, working on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, serving as Chief of Protocol before continuing on in ambassador and diplomatic services.

What a terrible person!

Really, I don’t know what other position one could take on the actress. A woman working hard all of her life, leaving a bad marriage at a time when women generally didn’t do that sort of thing, serving her country, and helping to raise awareness for the environment and health issues. How dare she be a conservative! Now if she had the same list of accomplishments and had been a liberal they would be touting her as a feminist heroine. Instead there are people claiming to be thankful that she’s dead because it’s one less Conservative in the world.

The main claim to racism for those waiting to dance on her grave, are the films she was in during the 1930s… Seriously? Because of the roles an 8 year old played during the 1930s she’s labeled a racist? You might have an argument if you were talking about the films of D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation is incredibly racist, but surely not Shirley. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who didn’t even know she was a real person. Between the tweets boasting that a “bigot” had died, there were confused comments about how they had no idea the drink was named after someone. Which begs the question, what’s the point in building a legacy any more?

Sid Caesar also passed away this week and Ralph Waite. Sid Caesar is a favorite of mine, I love Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. There was something uniquely wonderful about Sid and his talent, it was always beautifully executed and done with the notion that the audience was smart. Despite this wonderful legacy, this plethora of television history, most everyone was saying “Oh, the coach from Grease” or “the old man from Vegas Vacation.” Ralph Waite is being remembered as Papa Gibbs, Jethro’s father on NCIS. But before that he was Pa Walton on The Waltons, from 1972 to 1981. The man had a long career playing everything from a depression era patriarch to slave trader in Roots. This career came after serving as a minister, but these details won’t be recognized when there’s a Dance Moms scandal brewing.

The sad thing is these legends are going to fade from the general consciousness in a few days. Fans won’t forget their legacy and impact, but overall people are going to remember them selectively if at all. The work Shirley Temple did for this country will mostly be ignored because she did it as a conservative. Sid Caesar, who helped build sketch comedy to a profound level and gave an outlet to writers like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, will be ignored by the hordes who refuse to watch anything in black and white or from the 50s because they expect a slew of offensive –isms to follow.

Ralph Waite will be remembered for his small appearances on Bones or NCIS because the current youth isn’t going to take the time to watch a show like The Waltons, now dismissed as being corny. Which brings me back to my original question, why bother building a legacy? Current celebrities aren’t especially bothered by the notion. Instead of a lasting body of work they’re opting to leave us with a growing pile of TMZ posts and US Weekly rumors. What are we going to be remembering fondly 40 years from now? In a culture that constantly opts for the easy rather than the meaningful will we be left with nothing but The Kardashians?

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