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Shoe Shine, Mister?

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"Now go home and get your fuckin' shinebox!"
Billy Batts, Goodfellas

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 set in the present anymore, although they may still appear in historical fiction.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Sakura Gari, a very young Souma worked as a shoe shine boy. When his father Lord Saiki found out about him and went to London to retrieve him, he finds Souma in his stand.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Scrooge McDuck famously earned his Number One Dime shining shoes as seen in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
  • 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.

    Films – Animated 
  • Coco: At the beginning, Miguel gives the opening narration while shining a musician's shoes. His family has been shoemakers for several generations, and the kids apparently have the job of shining shoes until they graduate to making them.
  • Fantasia: Parodied in the "Pastoral Symphony" segment, which features a blackfaced centaur named Sunflower shining the hooves of the white ones. Due to severe Values Dissonance, that scene has been absent from the movie for over half a century.
  • Gulliver's Travels: During a montage of the Lilliputians working to spiff up the giant (to them) Gulliver, a shine boy is seen shining his fingernails.

    Films – Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Black Caesar: During A Minor Kidroduction, Tommy is a shoeshine boy. He jumps at the chance to make real money by assisting in a mob hit - he talks the target into a shoeshine and then grabs his leg so he can't escape an ambush.
  • Toward the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 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 Dark Knight Rises, one of Bane's henchmen poses as a shoeshiner to smuggle a submachine gun into the Stock Exchange.
  • In Deewaar, Vijay starts shining shoes as a kid to help pay for his brother Ravi's education.
  • Similarly, though offscreen, this contributed to Rambo's status as a Shell-Shocked Veteran in First Blood - one of his best friends was blown to bits because the shoe-shine box he'd bought from a Vietnamese boy was wired with explosives.
  • Gangster Squad features a shoeshine boy in one scene offering his services to the squad, only to end up machine-gunned to death by a mob assassin aiming for the squad.
  • Goodfellas features a scene in which Tommy DeVito brutally beats and knifes Billy Batts to death for insulting him about being a shoeshine boy in Tommy's younger days. This eventually gets Tommy killed, as Batts was a made man, and you do not kill a made man in the mob without a sitdown and an okay from the made man's boss.
    • 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, Billy Batts taunted Tommy DeSimone, calling him "spit-shine Tommy." DeSimone retorted by yelling, "Shine these fuckin' shoes," and then executing Batts.
  • In The Grand Budapest Hotel M. Gustave instructs Zero to give what remains of the money he's giving him to a shoe-shine boy who is crippled with a prosthetic left leg.
  • Hoa-Binh: One of the jobs that Street Urchin Hung tries, in a desperate effort to support himself and his toddler sister on the streets of 1969 Saigon, is shoe shine boy. He isn't very good at getting customers, and the man who gave him the shoe shine box fires him after only a day.
  • In 1972 film Les Charlots font l'Espagne (The Charlots in Spain or Crazy Boys in Spain) two French tourists stranded in Spain are mistaken for shoeshiners. (Actually they were the clients, the real shoeshiners left their stand after seeing their football team lose on TV.) They decide to make some quick money and start working. Unfortunately, the first client pays with a credit card, and then a biker lady pays for polishing her leather coveralls with just a kiss. Bonus points for a polishing cloth making the sound of a cow being milked.
  • 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 movie M*A*S*H, 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.
  • Nick of Time. A disabled war veteran earning money this way becomes a reluctant ally to the protagonist, after he overhears the villain discussing his Evil Plan while having his shoes shined (he suffers from hearing loss, but is not completely deaf as the villain had been lead to believe).
  • Outrage: Played for a joke. After Jim declines a shoe shine, the shoe shine boy says "OK, if you want to look like a slob."
  • Prince of Space is a shoeshine boy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."

  • A character from The Adventures Of Captain Vrungel, admiral Kusaki, uses the services of one to disguise himself as a black.
  • In Burke series, the Prof (short for either Professor or Prophet) uses this as a cover when carrying out surveillance, when he's not pretending to be a mad street preacher. As he looks like just another homeless guy trying to eke out a living in The Big Rotten Apple, it doesn't seem unusual.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • For a little while on Night Court there was a shoeshine stand that was an important place in the courthouse, with the shiner, Leon, as a recurring character. It turned out he was a runaway, hiding in plain sight in the courthouse. After he was sent to foster care, the shoeshine stand remained as a place to sit.
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "The Birthday Bag", Harriet Conklin invents a story about an impoverished shoeshine boyfriend of hers in order to get money from Miss Brooks.
  • 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. Our hero goes to him to catch the 'word on the street', then various celebrities turn up for advice on everything else.
  • The Prisoner (1967) 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.

  • MAD: Sergio Aragones did a number of shoe shiner gags:
    • One strip has a shoeshine box fall to pieces under the foot of an obese man. Guiltily, he hands the crying shoeshine boy a wad of cash and walks off ... whereupon the kid quickly reassembles his flimsy box and waits for the next fat guy to come along.
    • "A MAD Look at Movie Monsters" has Frankenstein's monster walking the streets and everyone fleeing in terror, except for an eager shoeshine boy offering to clean up the monster's boots.
    • One Drawn-Out Drama shows a sullen bootblack with a "Going Out of Business" sign on his stand, as hordes of pedestrians in sneakers, sandals and bare feet walk past.

  • The song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" mentions a shoe shiner:
    Pardon me, boy
    Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? (Yes, yes!)
    Track twenty-nine
    Boy, you can gimme a shine
  • "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy", a song performed by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, amongst others.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Fat" mentions the concept:
    When I go to get my shoes shined, I gotta take their word
  • "Get Rhythm" by Johnny Cash.
  • "Shoeshine Boy" by Eddie Kendricks.

    Video Games 
  • Kicks the skunk from Animal Crossing: City Folk/Let's Go To The City is a shoe shiner you can meet in the city. He changes the color of your shoes according to the clothes you're wearing at the time. In later series entries, where shoes are a separately equipable item, Kicks works as a shoe salesman instead.
  • There's one of these in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Paying him is necessary to enter the fancy store.
  • There's a particularly entrepreneurial kid version in the The Witcher 3 expansion, Blood and Wine. He gets a fair amount of gold out of you for information, plus a chemical compound from a friend of yours that'll make him the best shoe shiner in the city.

    Western Animation 
  • Color Classics: In Little Dutch Mill, a blackfaced shoeshiner "shines" the Dutch people's wooden clogs by whittling away the dirty surfaces.
  • DuckTales (1987): Besides adapting the story of Scrooge's "Number One Dime" as told in the comics, one episode has Scrooge teaching his grandnephews the value of "working smarter, not harder" by telling them of how he financed his move to America during his days as a shoeshiner. By inventing a machine out a bicycle and his father's suspenders, he could shine four pairs at once, allowing him to earn his funds in few months instead of the years it would normally take.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • In "The Secret(s) of Castle McDuck!", Scrooge accuses his father Fergus of not doing anything to support him when he was growing up, citing that his beloved Number One Dime was earned from the hours he spent cleaning Bert the ditch-digger's boots. At that point, Fergus reveals that he gave Bert the dime, muddied his boots and sent him Scrooge's way, all to help his son learn self-reliance and become the person he is now.
    • In "The Ballad of Duke Baloney!", a flashback has Scrooge, during one of his globetrotting adventures, getting his spats shined by a South African lad named Duke Baloney. Scrooge gives the boy a dime as an affectionate nod to his own beginnings, but Duke feels cheated and swears vengeance, growing up to become Flintheart Glomgold.
      Duke: A dime?! Shoe shine's a dollar! Spats are extra! Plus tip!
      Scrooge: I was trying to teach you a lesson in self-reliance. It's how I became the richest duck on the world.
      Duke: You're the richest duck in the world, and you only gave me a dime?!
    • In "The Richest Duck in the World!" Scrooge, having lost his fortune, decides to build it all up from being a shoeshine boy again, and for the first time notices that very few Duckburg residents actually wear shoes.
  • The Legend of Korra: Hiroshi Sato got his start as a shoeshiner, before finding a backer for his "automobile" idea.
  • Looney Tunes Cartoons: The short "Shoe Shine-nanigans" has Daffy Duck working as a shoeshine boy working on Elmer Fudd's shoes using various unconventional methods. At the end, Elmer tries to shaft Daffy, only to get hit by a truck, leaving behind only his shoes.
    Daffy: Yeesh. I guess that's what you get for being sole-less.
  • Underdog's Secret Identity is "Shoeshine Boy."
    • That's humble and lovable Shoeshine Boy.
      Random Citizen Who's Just Gotten a Shine: Thanks, Shoeshine Boy. You're humble and lovable. (throws him a coin)
      Shoeshine Boy: Bless you, sir. (Bites coin)
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Whacking Day", Bart decides to make his living as a shoeshine boy after being expelled from school.
      Bart: Shine yer boots, guv'ner?
      Homer: No son of mine is gonna be a 19th-century cockney bootblack!
    • In "The Day the Violence Died", Bart meets the true creator of Itchy & Scratchy, Chester J. Lampwick, who is now a hobo reduced to shining shoes for a living. After he successfully sues I&S Studios for all their money, he lives in a mansion, where he hangs out in front offering people a shine.
    • A flashback from "Thursdays with Abie" reveals that Granmpa was one of these as a kid. He once shined Clark Gable's shoes, but he got stiffed.
  • Sushi Pack: In one episode, the Titanium Chef's evil plan involves shoe-shining, even though his own minions point out that no one shines his shoes in this day and age. However, his plan also involves the power of peer pressure, and sure enough, everyone wants to get their shoes shined to be "cool". One boy even volunteers to help them shine shoes.

    Real Life 
  • This article written in 1968 explains the job of being a shoeshine boy.
  • The oldest known surviving photograph to include a human appears to be of a man getting his shoes polished. This is why he was standing still long enough to appear in a picture with an approximately ten-minute exposure.
  • About the only places in the First World countries you could possibly even still see a shoe shine stand at all are a mall or an airport.
  • 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 honor.
    • 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.