Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Madame Alexander's Margaret

Madame Alexander was Madame Beatrice Alexander Behrman, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Her father owned one of the first doll hospitals in the United States, and it was this background that gave Madame Alexander her love of dolls and inspired her to start her own line.

The Madame Alexander doll company was founded in 1923 in New York City (where it still operates today.) The company can boast a series of firsts in the doll industry: the first doll based on a licensed character (Scarlett from Gone With the Wind); the first to create character dolls in honor of living people (Princess Elizabeth, the Dionne Quints, Shari Lewis, Coco Chanel). Madame Alexander was also the first to introduce the first mature figured fashion doll with haute couture outfits (Cissy, followed by Elise and Jacqueline to name a few).

In the late 1940's, Madame Alexander designed a face sculpt and christened it Margaret. Dolls were subsequently manufactured and named for child actor Margaret O'Brien. Margaret played "Tootie" in the film "Meet Me in St Louis," whose character buried dolls who had died from some imaginary fatal disease. A Margaret O'Brien doll seems a perfect match.

The Margaret mold was also used for many other characters. Margaret was used for Little Women characters, Wendy from Peter Pan, storybook characters like Alice in Wonderland, and The Faerie Queen. Not all Margaret dolls are Margaret O'Brien. Madame Alexander distinguished her character dolls by what costumes they wore, as opposed to how their faces and bodies were sculpted. If you own a Margaret doll and don't have her original clothes, there's no telling who she might be, although her wig style may help to identify her.

A later addition to the Margaret collection, is Princess Margaret Rose, Queen Elizabeth's late sister. She also has a Margaret face.

Madame Alexander dolls from this era may or may not be marked on their backs or backs of their heads - so it's important to be familiar with the face sculpt when you're looking for a doll to add to your collection. Quality materials and craftsmanship are the hallmarks of a Madame Alexander doll.

I have three Margaret dolls, and they are all just that bit different. One 18 inch hard plastic Margaret came to me dressed in lingerie, so I have no idea whom she was originally intended to represent. Another hard plastic Margaret, a 14 inch version, is Wendy from Peter Pan. She wears her original costume - that's the only way I know who she is. The third Margaret is Princess Margaret Rose, a porcelain doll. In my opinion, Margaret is the most appealing of all the Madame Alexander face sculpts, although I have several other types as well.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Terri Lee

The Terri Lee Doll Company was founded in the 1940's, after its founder, Violet Lee Gradwohl, designed a doll for her daughter, not coincidentally also named Terri Lee. Terri Lee (the doll) was sculpted after the likeness of Violet's cousin's daughter. The dolls were at first made in composition (from 1946 - 1947), and then, in hard plastic, and tagged with the line "Born to love and be loved."

Terri Lee was probably one of the best dressed toddler dolls of her day, with, at one point, more than 500 outfits available. Violet, with no previous business experience, managed a joint marketing effort with the Brownies and Girl Scouts of America, and sold dolls wearing the uniforms of those organizations. There were also uniforms available for the Bluebirds and Camp Fire Girls (now rare and quite a find if you have one). Little girls and Terri Lee could "grow up" together in scouting organizations.

Violet Lee believed in diversity and along with the Terri Lee doll, produced a line of ethnic dolls all with the distinctive Terri Lee "look": Benji, Bonnie Lou and Patti Jo - Black dolls, and Nanook, an Eskimo doll. Later introductions included a brother, Jerri Lee; a baby doll, So-Sleepy; Connie Lynn; and Terri Lee's baby sister, Linda Lee.

Terri Lee began to lose popularity in the late 1950's with the introduction of fashion icon Barbie, and after two disastrous fires, the company closed its doors in 1962.

Not to be defeated, however, Terri Lee (the woman) retained rights to the doll, and she, along with her cousin Fritz, revived the Terri Lee name in the late 1990's and now manufacture a new line of Terri Lee dolls, only slightly changed from the original.

Hard plastic Terri Lee dolls are 16 inches tall. The composition Terri Lee is about 14 inches tall. The vintage dolls have painted eyes distinctive with silver paint used to create highlights, fly-away eyebrows and long outer lashes, and bodies jointed at the neck, shoulders and hips. Most Terri Lees available on the market are made of hard plastic, and the newer reproduction Terri Lees are made mostly of hard vinyl. Terri Lee was designed to be able to stand and pose on her own.

My composition Terri Lee has at some time had her face re-blushed and she has a new wig, but is in otherwise wonderful condition for such an old girl. She is marked Terri Lee Patent Pending on her back. My hard plastic Terri Lee is all original and is marked Terri Lee on her back. Her clothes are tagged Terri Lee. Her wig is original.

Due to Terri Lee's distinctive face sculpt, it's nearly impossible to mistake her for anyone else, unless of course, you come across an unmarked knockoff made by one of several companies in the mid 1950's to mid 1960's, when the Terri Lee company won litigation for copyright infringement and reclaimed their molds.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Back in the 1930's, Effanbee made Little Lady for older girls, but before that, in 1928, Effanbee came up with a hit with younger girls - Patsy.

The ever popular Patsy is a little girl doll with moulded hair and headband. She has a typical toddler body with a distended belly, bent right arm, a puckered closed mouth, painted eyes and chubby cheeks. Her hair is usually auburn but her eye color can vary. Some Patsys had "sleep" eyes. Patsy had quite a few "sisters," but Patsy herself is 14 inches tall. Effanbee patented Patsy as she was one of the first strung dolls able to stand and pose on her own.

Patsy became so popular that soon, rival doll manufacturers were following the Patsy craze. Sally, Peggy, Peaches, Chikie, Trixbe, Babs, Maizie, Judy ... all attempted to latch on to the Patsy phenomenon.

During World War 2, Effanbee made a special Patsy in time for Christmas, and Patsys were produced with magnets in their hands so that the little dolls could hold things - and parents could buy endless Patsy accessories. There were Patsy sticker books, Patsy paper dolls, and special Patsy newsletters and booklets. "Aunt Patsy," an Effanbee public relations wonder, traveled the country touting the joys of Patsy. There was also a Patsy Doll Club. No other doll enjoyed such marketing mania.

The last composition Patsys were manufactured in 1946, and these dolls are unmarked. Dolls made before 1946 are marked Effanbee Patsy Doll on their backs. Effanbee designed a wardrobe of clothes for Patsy, and little girls fastened them with safety pins. My Patsys long ago lost their original outfits and heart charm bracelets, but are wearing outfits that they might have come with, back when they were sold.

In the 1980's, Effanbee (now Tonner) revived Patsy and sold vinyl dolls that used the original Patsy mould. The latest Patsy type dolls have rooted Saran hair, but in my opinion, nothing beats the charm of the original composition doll.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Arranbee Nancy Lee

One of Effanbee's major competitors was the R&B Doll Company (Arranbee). Arranbee came out with teen dolls about the same time that Effanbee came out with Little Lady. Arranbee's teen composition dolls were marketed as Debu'teen and Nancy Lee. Their bodies and faces are more slim than Effanbee's teen doll (more about Debu'teen in another post.)

Nancy Lee has an all composition body and came with fashionable costumes, the same as Little Lady. Nancy Lee has a slender teen body, mohair wig, sleep eyes, and closed mouth. My Nancy Lee is 18 inches tall, and when she came to me, her face paint was damaged. She has since been repaired and wears her original oil cloth shoes. She is dressed like Little Red Riding Hood in an original rayon dress and cape. The rayon dates her to the World War 2 era when rayon was a popular dressmaking material. She is marked R&B on the back of her head.

In the late 1930's, Arranbee manufactured a line of Nancy Lee dolls dressed as Southern Belles, due to the unending popularity of Gone With the Wind. These costumes rivaled those of Madame Alexander dolls and were made of taffeta and tulle.

Teen dolls of this era fascinate me. Unlike the smiling toothed baby dolls of the same era, teen dolls were neutral faced and had closed mouths. They were made to resemble more closely the fashion models of their day. They were the perfect doll for girls who had outgrown their baby dolls but weren't quite ready to stop playing with dolls altogether.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Effanbee Little Lady / Anne Shirley

Before there was Barbie, there were teen dolls for older girls, and every major doll manufacturer had their own model of a teen doll.

F & B (Effanbee) doll company used a Dewees Cochran mold to make a doll modeled after a popular teen actress of the 1930's, Anne Shirley. Anne Shirley, whose real name was Dawn Evelyn Paris, played the popular heroine Anne of Green Gables on film in 1934. The film proved so successful with young audiences, that Dawn took the name Anne Shirley in real life and made it her own.

Effanbee's Little Lady doll, or sometimes Anne Shirley, doesn't strongly resemble the actress who had her name, but the name alone was enough to ensure sales. Effanbee offered Little Lady for 20 years, from 1939-1959. The one major difference that I have seen, between the dolls called Little Lady and Anne Shirley, is that Anne Shirley dolls often come with human hair wigs, while the Little Ladies have mohair wigs. During WW2, when materials were scarce, the dolls had floss wigs. The only good way to tell, is to check the maker's marks. Anne Shirley dolls are marked Anne Shirley on the back of their heads, while the Little Ladies are marked Effanbee USA.

Outfits for Effanbee's teen doll were grown-up and stylish. As you can see from my Little Lady doll, she is ready to go to her high school prom. Her dress, underwear, socks and shoes are original. She has a beautiful original full mohair wig and is marked Effanbee USA on the back of her head, and on her back. Her paint is original - she looks like she's been lovingly cared for over the decades.