Books Magazine

The Shirley Temple – Graham Greene Connection

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

I know things have been slow here at 101 Books lately, and obviously that’s my fault. Season of life, family and work responsibilities, and all that.

I fully intend to get back on a regular 2-3 posts a week schedule. I really do.

Today, though, I’m sharing a post from a few years ago about Graham Greene and his strange obsession with Shirley Temple.

I’m reading through The Heart of the Matter right now, and posted this back when I was reading his other novel on the list, The Power and the Glory.


Way back in 1938, Graham Greene was writing a review of the movie Wee Willie Winkie (what does that even mean?), starring the eight-year-old Shirley Temple.

While writing his review of the movie, Greene said this about Shirley Temple:

Watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood that is only skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.

A bit creepy. Did Greene ghostwrite Lolita for Nabokov?

Anyway, after those comments 20th Century Fox sued Greene for libel, and he also faced a prison sentence. Living in England at the time, Greene fled to Mexico because he wouldn’t face extradition there.

While he was essentially a refugee in Mexico, Greene was inspired to write a book about a refugee priest in Mexico—and so was born The Power And The Glory. All of this according to Greene’s close friend Alberto Cavalcanti, who said this in his recently released journals: “Very likely Shirley Temple never learned that it was partly thanks to her that, during his exile, Graham Greene wrote one of his best books.”

Interesting. Little tidbits like that are part of the reason that this 101 books project never gets old. Outside of the reading itself, I always enjoy finding out these types of facts about each book and author.

So what’s up with that movie review?

More on the story here.

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