Sunday, July 26, 2009
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.