Shirley Temple, who died earlier this year aged 85, cemented her latter-day reputation as Hollywood’s ultimate bobby-soxer when she starred in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer the only film to use the term in its title. She never received a spanking in her career as an adult actress, but probably came closest in this 1947 film which was known as Bachelor Knight outside the US.
The plot centers on a high school girl, Susan Turner, who lives with her older sister Margaret, while male authority is provided by Uncle Matt (Ray Collins), a psychiatrist.
After seeing a debonair guest speaker (Carey Grant) at her school, Susan sets about making herself more “mature” to appeal to him, snubbing her teenage boyfriend and giving an absurdly over the top performance of “adult” behaviour.
Eventually, the inappropriate crush is resolved when the older man pretends to cooperate with Susan’s obsession by dating her and forcing her to recognize the gap in their ages. Finally convinced that they are mismatched, Susan returns to her teenage boyfriend, believing that he needs her more.
In the video clip Uncle Matt threatens to put Susan across his knee for arguing with Margaret played by Myrna Loy (no stranger to a screen spanking herself of course).
A year earlier, Shirley had played another troublesome and precocious teen, Corliss Archer, in Kiss and Tell.
To boost sales and attract customers at the local bazaar, Corliss and her friend Mildred decide to start selling kisses.The idea becomes a success among the soldiers visiting the bazaar, and business is booming…until the girls’ parents find out about it!
There isn’t a spanking in the movie, alas, but the gallery below includes three slightly different publicity shots. Shirley is being spanked otk with a hairbrush by her screen father (Walter Abel).
The posed hairbrushing was used on lobby cards and various promotional material and even turned up as recently as 2006 on the cover of a book: American Sweethearts – Teenage Girls in 20th Century Popular Culture by Ilana Nash.
Looking at such figures as Nancy Drew, Judy Graves, Corliss Archer, Gidget, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Britney Spears, American Sweethearts shows how popular culture has shaped our view of the adolescent girl as an individual who is simultaneously sexualized and infantilized. While young women have received some positive lessons from these cultural icons, the overwhelming message conveyed by the characters and stories they inhabit stresses the dominance of the father and the teenage girl’s otherness, subordination, and ineptitude.
According to Ilana Nash, who is writing from a feminist perspective, “Mr Archer’s intense gaze at his daughter’s buttocks suggest a desire to control and consume her sexuality especially since sex is the crime for which he punishes her.”
Clearly she doesn’t approve of young women being subjugated with spankings but her publishers weren’t above using the picture on the cover were they?
Academics can philosophise as much as they want but what Columbia Pictures knew 70 years ago remains true today:
There’s nothing that draws people in like a good spanking!
We’ll be taking a closer look at bobby soxer spankings in my next post.