Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Books: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

The 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

I recently shared a link to an article written by former child star Mara Wilson, from the films Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, among others, in which she talks about the hazards of achieving fame at such a young age. Celebrity can be a daunting enough prospect to face even as an adult. As a child, one can only imagine how much greater the weight of expectations and responsibilities can be. We naturally tend to think, however, that, as with many things, the modern-day version of fame is more complex than it was in the old days. In the case of Hollywood, however, that may not be completely true.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car) is a memoir by Dick Moore, who, under the name Dickie Moore, had a prolific film career during the 30s and early 40s as a child, appearing in such films as Oliver Twist, Blonde Venus, So Big, The Life of Emile Zola, Sergeant YorkHeaven Can Wait and Out of the Past. He also appeared in films and TV shows as an adult. In addition, he's notable for giving Shirley Temple her first on-screen kiss, in the film Miss Annie Rooney. In this book, Moore not only explores the realities of life as a child star in Golden Age Hollywood, he also interviews a number of his peers from the same era and gets them to share their experiences as well.

Dick(ie) Moore
The differences between being a film child star then and now are profound, and reflect the changes in American society. The 1930s, of course, was the time of the Depression, and many of these child actors were making more than enough money to support their parents. Films with juvenile movie stars were a major trend, and they were cranked out at a rapid clip. They were looked upon as a panacea for a moviegoing audience that needed to feel good in the worst way, and as a result these kiddie thespians were almost as revered as their adult counterparts.

With that success, though, came more than its fair share of drawbacks. Often, the kids were isolated from not only their peers, but from the rest of society at large. Their natural psychological development was impaired because the studios made every effort to preserve their juvenile image for as long as it was profitable, often with the endorsement and encouragement of their parents. And once they finally did grow up, many found it difficult to not only sustain their careers, but to successfully integrate into real life.

Moore recounts his experiences with great candor, as do his fellow child stars, which include Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan, Natalie Wood, Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Margaret O'Brien, and many more. There are the usual saucy and surprising behind-the-scenes stories, but there's also a lot of self-reflection as to what this kind of life was like, and what it did to them. Some of the tales are quite tragic, but there's plenty of humor and fondness as well.

I bought Twinkle used, at the Strand in Manhattan. I would've passed on it except I distinctly remember reading about this book on another blog, and for the life of me, I can't remember which one. It may not have even been a classic film blog; I'm not sure, but I remember reading about it and finding it interesting, and that's what made me get it.

This particular edition came with a surprise. Apparently this copy was the property of the late film critic Judith Crist. Her name is written on the endpage. She died almost a year ago, so I can easily imagine her family going through her things and selling off her books, including this one. I have an extremely vague recollection of seeing her name around as a kid, on movie posters and perhaps in print, but I don't recall ever being familiar with her writing.

"Dear Judy & Bill - This is for the folks who have
nearly everything - Love - Dot & Mur 7/84"
But check this out - between the pages of Twinkle were all these promotional press releases and photos for the book, which came out in 1984. There's an interview with Moore; it's just the usual promo stuff, nothing particularly noteworthy. The pics are of Moore then and now. In addition, there's some personal stuff: an anniversary card addressed to Crist and her husband Bill from two someones named Dot and Mur. Couldn't begin to imagine who they are. There's also a program book from a dedication ceremony for a school in Canada. I can't tell what Crist's connection to this was, if anything. Obviously this is one of those chance occasions that makes used book stores so special.

Anyway, Twinkle is an excellent book, and you should definitely check it out, even if the version you get has no memorabilia of any kind inside it.

For Whom the Bell Tolls


  1. I LOVE that you were able to actually figure out whose personal items those were. That's particularly awesome.

    I'm also glad the book ended up being a good read.

  2. You never heard of Judith Crist? She was fairly big for awhile.

  3. Another blogger mentioned this book so I was happy to see a full review of it. I definitely want to check this out. I'm happy that Dickie Moore decided to interview other child stars instead of just focusing on his own, which would have been interesting enough but I like that the book has different perspectives and stories. Thanks for the review!

  4. Including other child stars definitely made this a more fascinating read for me, especially since I had never heard of Moore prior to this.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.