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Mad Men: Adulthood Looms "At the Codfish Ball"

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Taken from a Shirley Temple/Buddy Ebsen song and dance number featured in 1936's Captain January, I took this week's "At the Codfish Ball" as not so much a nod to the actual movie but more an allusion to the drama behind the scenes. After the film's release, critic and novelist Graham Greene wrote a scathing review of Temple, suggesting that her popularity stemmed from her pedophilic appeal.

Drawing on Temple's past roles (especially Charles Lamont's 1932-33 satirical series Baby Berlesks where a 3-year-old Temple plays sexualized characters under the guise of "It's cute to use toddlers to make fun of adult-stars") he found Captain January "a little depraved," saying she had "an oddly precocious body as voluptuous in grey flannel trousers as Miss Dietrich's." Temple was only eight when Greene made these statements, and in 1938 he found himself embroiled in a lawsuit with Fox and the Temple family after he reiterated this when a 9-year-old Shirley starred in Wee Willie Winkie: "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."

While I'm not sure it's fair to throw labels like that on a child, in hindsight we can blame Fox and Temple's parents for allowing those occasionally dubious creative decisions. I couldn't help but relate that moment in Temple's life to Sally Draper's last night. Sally's a bit older than Temple in those movies, she's now at the awkward age between her adolescence and teens -- struggling with her desire to be more mature and starting to see the adults around her as people with flaws, not idols. I think she's long since shed any pedestals for her mother, but she still looks up to her father and had a jarring experience this week while staying with him after catching Sterling with Megan's mother.

Sally vacillates between yearning to stay young and innocent and her growing cynicism for those she's supposed to respect. She's pleased when Grandma Pauline trips on the phone cord and breaks her foot, sending Sally to her father's when he's about to get an award from the American Cancer Society for his article denouncing Lucky Strike. She appears ready for the awards gala dressed a bit too old her age -- and unlike Temple's parents, who turned a blind eye in favor of a paycheck, Don gives her a wistful look, realizing his daughter is growing up -- then promptly orders her back to her room to remove the make-up and go-go boots.

Sally's not the only one struggling with her parents this week; Peggy makes the decision to move in with her boyfriend Abe. I think in her heart she feels it's wiser to live with him and give the relationship a "marriage practice run" but at the same time her upbringing is telling her it's not right and perhaps they should be married before making that step. They break the news to her mother, who promptly leaves. Peggy tries to stop her and gets chewed out for "giving the milk away for free."

And Megan has her own parental issues to deal with. Emile and Marie Calvet come to visit and attend the awards gala. After Megan comes up with a brilliant idea to save the Heinz pitch and Don makes sure she's given credit for her creativity -- her father puts a damper on her elation, believing her own dreams are taking a backseat to Don's. Megan begins to struggle internally, wondering if she's putting her own ambition aside or just finding new avenues for it in advertising. It's normal today to adjust our aspirations and pursue different careers than we may have thought we'd end up in after high school or college. People grow up and what they want changes -- is her father holding onto some childhood dream his daughter had, while she's moving on and finding she can use her talents in ways she hasn't thought of before? She's initially proud of herself, but starts to doubt whether or not she's doing the right thing by getting so immersed in Don's passions -- are they her passions too? Or is she putting her own aside for her husband's?

Each of these women (well, two women and one girl) are struggling with adulthood and the changes it entails. The whole world reacted to Shirley Temple growing up; maybe Sally, Peggy, and Megan are lucky to only have to deal with their parent's acceptance of it.

Read my full recap of this week's Mad Men at The Donnybrook Writing Academy!