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"Need a shine, mister?"
Rarely seen today and on the way to being a Discredited Trope
(at least in First World countries) is the Shoe Shine Boy and the Shoe Shine Stand.
The Shoe Shine Boy is a young boy
who carries around a box. Inside the box are the shine tools, which the boy takes from the box as the customer places his shoe on a pedestal built on the box.
The Shoe Shine Stand is a bunch of chairs, where the customer sits and places his feet up on a stand in front of them. Since this is a more established business, the shoeshiners are generally adult men. They are often black men, so calling them shoeshine "boys" is not recommended in modern times.
Stands are often seen at bus and train stations, as well as at hotels. In older stories they were often on the street.
In detective stories, the detective usually has a conversation with the shoeshiner
while he gets his shoes shined. This lets him know what is happening "on the street"
. The detective usually adds an extra tip to pay for the information.
Shoe shining is often used as the first step in a character's working his way out of poverty
— the Burger Fool
of its day. Horatio Alger Jr. is probably the Trope Codifier
, if not the Trope Maker
, for that aspect (see Literature below).
Shoe shine stands do still exist, but this site is about tropes. You don't see them much in media anymore.
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- Scrooge McDuck famously won his Number One Dime shining shoes.
- Torpedo, or Torpedo 1936, is a Spanish comics series which depicts the adventures of the antagonistic character Luca Torelli, a heartless hit man, and his sidekick Rascal, in context of the violent organized crime culture of New York during the Great Depression era. Luca Torelli was a shoe shiner before becoming a hitman.
- In an early Batman comic, Robin goes undercover as a shoeshine boy, and when the villain of the week stops to get a shine Robin secretly applies a tracking device to his shoe.
- In Silver Streak, the police are looking for George, so Grover buys some shoe polish from a shoeshiner at a stand at the train station to use to disguise him as a black man.
- Goodfellas features a scene in which Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), brutally beats and knifes Billy Batts to death for insulting him about being a shoeshine boy in Tommy's younger days. This would eventually get Tommy killed, as Batts was a made man.
The film is based on the real-life experiences of Henry Hill and the people he met through the Vario brothers, who owned a shoeshine stand and other businesses. In real life, William "Billy Batts" Devino taunted Thomas "Two Gun Tommy" DeSimone, calling him "spit-shine Tommy." DeSimone retorted by yelling, "Shine these fuckin' shoes," and then executing Batts.
- A hotel shoe shiner played a major role in Nick of Time with Johnny Depp.
- Also featuring Johnny Depp is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; toward the end, after rejecting Wonka's desire to have him take over the factory and abandon his family, Charlie is shining the shoes of an unknown man and insults Wonka. The man promptly drops the newspaper from in front of his face, revealing a rather offended Wonka.
- In the movie Mash, the snippets of the song "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" are played at various times. The song is also on the movie soundtrack. In the film it is sung in Japanese, except for the words "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" in English. You can hear the entire song in Japanese here.
- Young Frankenstein. When Frederick's train pulls in, he asks a shoeshine boy, "Pardon me boy, is this the Transylvania Station?" The boy replies "Ja, ja. Track 29. Oh, can I give you a shine?" This is a Shout-Out to the 1941 song "Chattanooga Choo Choo".
- Live and Let Die: While James Bond is trailing Kananga's car in Harlem, he's spotted by a black shoeshine man, who calls Mr. Big on a radio inside his shoeshine kit.
- In The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire sings and dances "Shine on your Shoes" with the shoe shiner. He was a real dancing shoe shiner rather than an actor/dancer, and the inspiration for the song "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy". A BLAM song.
- Prince of Space is a shoeshine boy.
- In That Man From Rio, Adrian chases his girlfriend and her kidnappers from Paris to Rio de Janeiro. As he's lost them and is at loose ends, a street kid comes up and shines his shoes. Adrian has no money, so he shines the kid's shoes in return. They befriend each other, and the kid turns out to be pretty resourceful, saving Adrian in a couple of dangerous situations.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, one of Bane's henchmen poses as a shoeshiner to smuggle a submachine gun into the Stock Exchange.
- A character in the opening of The Creature from Haunted Sea receives a message from a guy posing as shoe shiner. Then men with guns start shooting them.
- Ragged Dick, an 1867 dime novel by Horatio Alger, Jr. about a poor but honest shoe shiner and his rise to middle-class comfort and respectability through good moral behavior, clean living, and determination. Shine!, a musical based on Alger's work, particularly Ragged Dick, was produced in 1982.
- A character from The Adventures Of Captain Vrungel, admiral Kusaki, uses the services of one to disguise himself as a black.
Live Action TV
- Andy from Parks and Recreation gets the job of shoeshine boy at Pawnee City Hall after a season and a half of being essentially homeless and unemployed.
- Police Squad! had Johnny the Shoe-Shine Boy, who knew everything, so much that he's listed on this site as an Almighty Janitor.
- For a little while on Night Court there was a shoeshine stand that was an important place in the courthouse, with the shiner as a recurring character.
- El Chavo in El Chavo del ocho has tried a job as shoe shiner on more than one opportunity. Always ending up distracted mid-job and painting the socks, trousers and sometimes even the face of the poor adult that accepted his services.
- The Prisoner episode "The Girl who was Death" parodies secret agent adventures, and early on has Number Six exchanging info with a fellow agent who is posing as a shoe shine guy, complete with transmitter brush.
- This article written in 1968 explains the job of being a shoeshine boy.
- Some famous Real Life shoeshiners:
- James Brown – "The Godfather of Soul". He used to shine shoes and sing and dance on Ninth Street in Augusta, Georgia; in 1993 the road was renamed "James Brown Boulevard" in his honour.
- Rush Limbaugh– conservative radio talk show host and pundit, shined shoes as a young boy to make spending money.
- Malcolm X – worked as a shoeshine boy at a Lindy Hop nightclub in New York City.
- Rod Blagojevich – later governor of Illinois.