Nymphetmania has a long and hoary pedigree in Hollywood and flourished years before Nabokov gave us the Lolita syndrome.
DW Griffith’s child-woman ingénues such as Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh were ‘pseudo-nymphets’ (critic Andrew Sarris’s term) – while Lolita was herself largely inspired by that most blatant of all paedophile fantasies Shirley Temple.
Sure the curly-haired moppet gladdened hearts during the Depression – played matchmaker and performed various good-fairy magic tricks but it was her blatant coquetry and sexualised gestures that made her box-office gold – and that are so alarming today.
In a series of one-reelers called Baby Burlesks between 1932-1933 in which child actors spoofed their elders – a scantily clad Shirley played call girls and nightclub performers – pranced and pirouetted and gave sidelong come-hither glances in outrageously adult stories – replete with phallic jokes and leering camera angles.
Instead of opprobrium there’s a Gallic shrug at philanderers of whatever age or gender.
Where we see Humbert Humbert they see the incorrigible roué and where we see jailbait they see that most delectable of voyeuristic pleasures: girl on the cusp of womanhood.
How many verité-like studies have there been of blossoming beauties ambling along the streets of Paris?