Good Girls, Bad Girls

It’s school holidays here in Victoria. I used to love the winter term break – especially as the cold weather provided a perfect excuse to spend all day watching television. (Yes, I was a TV addict as well as a book addict.) So though I usually blog about books, I’ve been thinking about the other pleasures of childhood holidays.

I especially loved it when daytime television featured ‘festivals’ of 1930s child stars. As much as I admired Shirley Temple, it was the ‘Jane Withers Festivals’ that provoked special excitement. What was it about Jane? She’s largely forgotten now, except for her role as the very bad rich girl who bullies Shirley in the film Bright Eyes. But I think what I liked about her was that, even though she wasn’t as pretty as Shirley, she was bursting with energy. And even when she was bad, you couldn’t help but admire her. She was never a wimp.

It’s decades since I’ve seen a Jane Withers films but she is fixed in my memory as the tough but good-natured working-class kid who saves the day, not necessarily through cheesy personal charm but through sheer grit and determination. She was a real girl. The sort of girl that everybody knew and had probably had a really big fight with at some stage. I loved her for that. Sometimes it feels as if the only girls left in the movie world are impossibly pretty and dauntingly unreal. Perhaps Abigail Breslin’s success rests on the fact she gets a little closer to real girldom than many of her contemporaries. But Jane could do wicked in a way that I’ve never seen Abigail B. tackle.

Despite my best intentions, I haven’t been able to embed the only decent clip of Jane Withers in action that I could find but if you follow the link, you’ll get an idea of the sort of girl Jane could capture so well. You may not like her, but you have to admit, she’s got spunk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltsEms2SkGI

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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