Friday, December 23, 2011

Retro Doll Mania

        My Dear Mama, was born in 1930. Her early life was spent between the Stock Market Crash / Great Depression and World War Two. Because of this, and also being the tenth and youngest child of a coal miner, when Mama was growing up she didn't have dolls.  They were expensive. Food was a better expenditure of the family budget.
       What Mama did have was paper dolls. When the kids would go to town to a movie Mama (then known as Patty Jo) would save her popcorn money. Instead of an edible treat at the movie on the long  walk home she would stop to buy paper dolls at the drugstore or "the five and dime".
     By the time Patty Jo was ten or so she had quite a collection. Beautiful paper dolls of Deanna Durbin and other film stars, with lavish paper wardrobes.  She also had a niece, about two years old, who really wanted the paper dolls.  Her mother, who apparently had no idea what the paperdolls meant to Patty Jo, insisted that she give her paperdolls to little Susie. All of them.  Naturally being a toddler little Susie tore them up.

That this was traumatic for Patty Jo is certain, why else would I have heard this story 5,000 times in my life?  
     Fast forward a few years, and Patty Jo, who is now called Patricia, has something better than a mere collection of paperdolls, she has a job (first as a waitress, then as secretary to the hospital's head of nursing) and a wardrobe of her own pretty clothes from the nicest dress shops in town. When they get nice things in that would look good with Patricia's bright blue eyes and flaming red curls the shop ladies set them aside in the back room and telephone her so she can come have the first look before they are put out to the general public.
        She also begins to collect dolls. I doubt if she thought of it as "collecting dolls" in a 'this is a hobby' or 'this is important' kind of way. She just saw dolls she liked, bought them, and with her sister Dorothy began to sew stylish wardrobes for them. 
This is a Dollikin from Uneeda Doll company. (is that company name a form of subliminal advertising?)  She is 19 or 20 inches tall depending on her hairstyle. She's fully articulated, so is extremely posable, designed to be a showpiece rather than a child's toy.  Commercial patterns were available to sew clothes for her, so she had an amazing wardrobe. If you have ever tried sewing for a Barbie you'll appreciate how much easier it is to sew for a doll whose hand is as big as your thumb.

This is Little Miss Revlon. Her waist turns. She's pretty, elegant, and about half as tall as Dollikin.  Also the possesser of a vast wardrobe.

This is Tiny Terri Lee. By the time I met her she had so many clothes they wouldn't all fit in her box.  Of course dolls don't wear out their clothes or outgrow them.

This is an 8 inch Betsy McCall doll. Yes, same name as the magazine and the pattern company. Yes, commercial patterns were of course on sale so you could dress her. Yes, Mama's was very well dressed.

Fast forward again to the fall of 1956. Patricia by this time is usually called Pat. She has a handsome husband who makes a nice living.  She is a stay-at-home mom, a term no one had thought of yet as it was assumed anyone producing a child would stay at home and raise it herself. She has a four-year-old son called Dickie-boy nd a newborn daughter. Moi.
A daughter is, of course, good and sufficient reason to get more dolls.

I've been perusing the internet trying to find "every doll I ever had". Most of them are there somewhere. In fact, most of them can be bought on Ebay right now.  If in my stroll down memory lane you see something you like, the odds are you can find a seller or three or five on Ebay who would be happy to fulfill your dreams.

Droopy Drawers

These squeaky baby toys have a wardrobe mishap going on in the back. Their jammies back flap is half down, which is why in our family they were called Droopy Drawers. I have no idea what the original name was, if they had one. There was one for my brother and one for me.

Yo-Yo Clown.  Mama made me one very much like this, which eventuallt succumbed to the ongoing disasters of living with small children.

This is a sleepy doll. Possibly meant to set a good example for nap-shy tots?

A Rose O'Neill Kewpie. My paternal grandmother made dresses for mine in the same fabrics as the dresses she made for me.

Mama had of course gotten off to a good start with the son, getting him a Howdy Doody marionette, which is manly being a cowboy and not a "doll" strictly speaking, so being pc for a fifties boy child.  Dickie Boy tired of him about the time his strings were hopelessly tangled, and I inherited him.  This picture is a rubber stuffed doll. Our marionette was wooden, with head and hands of somne hard plastic or composition ofnsome sort, but I couldn't find a picture of him. He was very floppy, which to my little child mind made him seem 'sick' so he got to be the patient when we played hospital.

Mama also bought a huge picture called The Dearest Dolls, which hung over my crib, and later hung over my bed in every house we lived in until I was old enough to protest.  It was a picture of a pair of shelves filled with what I suppose in the fifties would have been termed 'dolls of many lands'.  I thought is was creeeeepy, all those odd little faces looking at me all the time. I wish I could find a copy of it somewhere just to see if it's as creepy as I remember it being.

Tiny Tears. I remember walking across our cement front porch dragging her by one foot, her head scraping on the cement. Which means I must have been only a couple of feet tall and barely walking. When I was older I remember Daddy taking her head off to fix her broken drink-and-wet mechanism.

That's it for today folks.  These are all the dolls I remember from my birth till we moved from Willow Street to the house on Portland. I've decided the easiest way to document the dolls is to do it by which house we lived in when I got them. I suppose for someone who hasn't moved much that wouldn't work, but we've lived so many places that rather than thinking in terms of years I tend to think in terms of houses.


  1. I'm not a big doll-love,, but I DO love looking at pictures and reading stories about Patty Jo. All these stories are news to me--- I didn't even realize she was the youngest of ten. Did they all live to adulthood?

  2. Hi Middle Child. You told me ages ago I should write essays about all the little stories no one younger than me knows ; )
    Dolls are a good entry to that maybe. I had to start somewhere after all.
    No, not all of the ten children lived to adulthood. Three died as babies or small children. That is what got Mamaw into the Mormon church....while most of Christianity would have her unbaptized babies roasting in hell, the Mormon missionaries told her that her babies would wait for her in the spirit world until she died, and she would raise them in heaven. She liked that idea, got baptized and had her children baptized as well. Papaw obstained. He apparently felt religion was for women and children. He always liked to have the missionaries visit though.

  3. Correction: Papaw Abstained. I neither type nor spell well at night.

  4. Oh, I had a tiny tears doll, I called her Pauline and I loved her so for so many years and then when I was twelve she came up missing, I think she ended up being accidentally donated to a childrens ward at a local hospital. We never found her, I was quite devastated.

  5. Hi Bean and Welcome. My sympathies for Pauline's mysterious disappearance. We moved a lot throughout my life and I could (but won't) write a book about the things that somehow didn't make it from one house to the next. I thinkn parents assume we've "outgrown" something and they donate it or otherwise dispose of it for us. My four kids have pointed out I've been guilty of this parental naughtiness too. My only defense is that if we kept everything they ever had we could need six houses to keep it all.
    Your lads are adorable, by the way!


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