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Baby Burlesks: Polly Tix, Madam Cradlebait, and Morelegs Sweettrick
Photos of Shirley Temple from Baby Burlesks
When we think of children things that come to mind are sweet, precocious, and, above all - innocent. But what happens when a child's innocence meets erotic adult fantasies? Together they create Baby Burlesks.
Baby Burlesks were a series of 10 to 11 minute reels made in the 1930s and shown before moviegoers before the main attraction. All of them satirized popular movies at the time such as What Price Glory? and The Front Page. What makes these reels disturbing are the blatant adult themes, sexual innuendos, and wardrobe adorned by preschool aged children. They, too, featured a young, charming Shirley Temple.
In Polly Tix in Washington (1933), Temple plays Polly Tix, who is a prostitute. She gets called to seduce a congressman inorder for him to pass an oil bill. Temple's outfit consists of a bra and panty set and later in the reel she's bejeweled. After getting in the good graces of the congressman, she stops prostituting and gives up her jewels. They even share a seven second on-screen kiss together.
In War Babies (1932), Temple is a prostitute in a saloon. She dances provocatively for the toddler soldiers at the bar. Temple sidles over to the bar where she's juxtaposed between two diaper clad soldiers. She pinches the bottom of one for a big lollipop. She smiles and puts it in her purse, then hugs him. The other soldier gets jealous; he steals the lollipop and gives it back to her, thereby, winning her affection. As further proof of her status, one of the soldiers takes her in the back room and returns flossing a safety pin between his teeth.
To worsen matters, an African American boy is doing a strip tease on a table. He's the only one other than Temple who's fully clothed, but ends up in his underwear. There's also another boy on all fours sucking on a cow udder. Moaning sounds, rather than mooing, can be heard.
Honing in on Marlene Dietrich in Kid In Hollywood (1933), Temple is a nightclub performer named Morelegs Sweettrick. She's forced to scrub floors until her arch nemesis can't perform and takes her places. This ends up with Temple's character having a baby and raising the child alone.
By today's standards, Baby Burlesks would be considered child pornography and exploitation. It's clear a pedophilic agenda was afoot. A director nowadays wouldn't get a way so easily making short films oversexualizing children. Although Temple saw Baby Burlesks as "a cynical exploitation of our childish innocence" and "the best thing I did"--the fact she was a strumpet in most of her roles is questionable. Even more so at the lack of concern regarding them. Perhaps many moviegoers legitimately didn't see children playing adults as problematic. Or, perhaps, for a few cents, they secretly enjoyed their sexual fantasies being acted out by children. But, this is a common narrative that constantly evolves: the welfare and innocence of children being compromised for money.