Childlike Wonder: Morality vs. Reality

Child stars often have the reputation of going off the deep end once they enter adulthood. Lindsay Lohan, anyone? Amanda Bynes? In our media savvy era, we can keep up to date on the latest star spiraling out of control as it unfolds in real-time. This is where today’s post will connect back to my musings on Shirley Temple and Honey Boo Boo. We say the industry and our morality has changed because of the events happening in former child stars and current stars lives… but has it deviated?

I think censorship plays a key role in our perception as far as “celebreality” and the “good ol’ days”. I’ll be the first to tell you I love the Classical Hollywood era, but I’d be naive if I believed the cleanliness was accurate to stars’ every day lives. Mainly, I prefer the classic era’s representation of the “good ol’ days” and I think we all have a longing for times that appear to be better. Studio systems strove to keep their actors and actresses’ lives under close watch to maintain an image — audiences were given, in reality, a lie to feed their desire for childlike wonder.

If you’ve never seen Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), drop what you are doing (I don’t care if you’re at work) and see the film! I love it so much I have a poster of the film hanging over my bed at home in Texas. If I could sum up wholesomeness in one film, Meet Me in St. Louis is the answer. A mid-western family consisting of Mom, Dad, Rose, Lon, Esther, Agnes, and Tootie and their biggest problem is moving to New York City. When have you ever heard of anyone in the history of the universe that DOES NOT want to move to New York City? You haven’t! That would be a dream come true to most families… but not the Smiths. They love their home in St. Louis and their Dad is one big stick-in-the-mud trying to move them away from their own personal paradise. Yes, it is bizarre.

The biggest draw to this film, I think, is the presence of two child stars and one former child star (Judy Garland) who is still, in essence, portraying someone much younger than her actual age (her character is graduating high school, Garland was around 22). Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are the youngest sisters and their lines easily steal the show — especially Tootie. Esther (Garland) is caught up in a teenage romance with the boy next door. Just writing about the plots and situations almost gives me the feeling of eating too much dark chocolate. But, if you’re vying for morality and feel-good music and scenes… this film is Classical Hollywood at its finest.

Judy Garland and soon-to-be husband Vincente Minnelli on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland and soon-to-be husband Vincente Minnelli on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Watching this film, you would never guess Judy Garland had been experiencing true difficulties in her life: a divorce from her first husband David Rose; two years prior she aborted her child due to outside pressures of the studio — although she was married, a child would destroy her childlike Dorothy Gale image; and the studio was starving her (according to co-star Margaret O’Brien) and feeding her pill after pill to stay on schedule and maintain her weight. I’m not certain about the degree of media coverage on Judy Garland’s life in the 1940s, but I know the movie moguls and Louis B. Mayer were doing everything in their power to hide the truth. How different her situation would be in 2013.

At the core of our obsession with trying to pick and choose what is moral and what is wholesome, I think perhaps we should evaluate perceptions of reality. If you’re gaging morality on reality television or films… I would advise you to look in another direction. Child stars and their images are the lens in which we would like to see the world, but we can’t expect anything coming from a media outlet to portray the truth.

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