First off, let me just say that some dolls creep me right out. I’m not one for porcelain dolls or life-like baby dolls. Maybe it was a movie I saw or a museum exhibit, I’m not sure, but most dolls give me the willies.
However, as a very little girl, I used to like to drag around a baby doll (the infamous over-scrubbed one from this tale). I graduated to Mattel’s “Chatty Cathy” when I was around 5 or 6 years old. In Grade One, my teacher, Miss Garnett (Hey, Miss “G”!) nicknamed me “Chatty Cathy” because I basically never shut up. My school reports always read: “Excellent progress, but talks too much.” By the way, Miss G and I got on famously – she even wrote me a letter from Europe when she went on her summer holidays. At the time, I thought she was so old, but now I know she was probably only about 22. Isn’t it funny how we perceive the age of adults when we are children? Of course, as we ourselves get older, what WE think of as old gets higher and higher in number, does it not? At 47, I think 90 is pretty old, but 20 years ago, I thought 50 was ancient!
From “ChattyCathy”, I moved up to Ideal’s sister doll to Tammy–“Pepper” . She was a spunky little, curly-mopped doll with dresses and ensembles not unlike my own. In fact, WE could have been sisters. She was fun to play with and like me, she was an only child – well, an orphan, really, since no one ever thought to provide her with parent-dolls. She had the company of my three favourite stuffed toys: Teddy, the orange and white bear, sent to me at age 6 months by my dad’s sister, Josie – all the way from the UK. Then there was Doggie, a little velveteen Boston Terrier. When you curled back his lips, a gorgeous red velvet was revealed. Who ever would have thought to put in that detail, I wonder? There was also a very large pink poodle with a huge head. He had a zipper running the length of his under-carriage, wherein a little girl might stuff a pair of pajamas, or secret away anything private. Pinky – (You saw that one coming, didn’t you?) was kept around for a long time since he was quite useful in that way as I came to acquire (or create) more “private” stuff.
Around about the late 60s, I was inducted into the Mattel cult of Barbie. My parents weren’t up on the whole Barbie world, however, and instead of the typical, blonde, busty bimbo, I got straight-legged “Francie”. She was probably my dad’s choice as he was known to favour the brunettes on film. He liked Hedy Lamarr, (He always said, “She can put her shoes under my bed, anytime!”), Sylvia Sidney, Audrey Hepburn and Cyd Charisse who, according to Daddy, had the best legs on film.
Francie was cute, and I wasn’t disappointed. After all, I’m not a blonde either, so it was kind of like dressing myself (if I had been older and self-sufficient or independently wealthy). She did have limitations with those legs, though – she couldn’t ride a horse (Doggie), or pedal a bike, or even sit in a chair, so she had as much fun as she could standing ramrod straight, or lying down in her case, looking gorgeous.
Her case was white plastic with a silver metal clasp on the side and a carrying handle at the top. Lord knows, that case got carted around from house to house when I visited friends and relatives. It unsnapped and opened up to reveal a semi-closet with tiny metal rod and little plastic hangers (remember those?) for her ever-burgeoning wardrobe and accessories (which had their own pull out drawer).
Later on, I would get another Barbie – replete with large breasts, bendable legs and bikini, but no Ken doll, or any “Action Jackson” or “G.I. Joe” ever entered the Davison house. Why? I think it was to avoid the possibility of an unseemly encounter while either one of them was being undressed. We were a good Catholic family after all; we couldn’t have anyone’s lumps or bumps accidentally grazing each other, could we?
A bit of an odd entry also appeared on the doll front in the late 60s. They were a kind of blend of the “Gumby and Pokey” concept with cute, long-haired, little girl figures. They were charming and bendy and fun and came in cool picture-frame packages with neat accessories like rocking horses and sailboats, but they were also the source of humiliation at my and the other not endowed girls’ expense. When grade school boys cottoned on to the name of “Flatsy” they decided to use it to tease and taunt any girls who had yet to “blossom” into early womanhood. They would chant, “Flatsy, Flatsy, they’re flat and that’s that!” (thanks, marketing manager!) as they pointed and giggled and then ran away. The “Flatsy” girls were never to be seen in the high branches of the big oak tree out back of the school, being explored by the big boys in Grade Six. Too bad they didn’t make a rubber doll called, “Busty” – we could have got our own back with that one!
My favourite doll of all-time had to be the Topper “Dawn Doll”. She was a miniature version of the Barbie doll – standing at only 4 3/4 “, but she had gorgeous, long, straight hair. Her tiny face was made up to perfection and her wardrobe was a knockout blend of groovy casuals and haute couture pieces! I can only vaguely remember a few outfits that any of my dolls owned – My Barbies shared a beautiful, tiered and scalloped, white organza, mid-calf dress and Dawn had a funky red raincoat with a black belt.
Jane K (of the Burnt Offerings and Roller-Derby posts) had an Angie doll from the same line and the two of us played with them for hours on end. We even took them swimming in our 3 foot deep, above-ground pool in the backyard. For some reason we found it highly entertaining to watch their long locks get sucked up into the pump of the pool. We were easily amused back then, weren’t we? Now we have to have reality shows and action movies and celebrity magazines and shopping sprees to keep ourselves entertained. Whatever happened to the fantasy-world we lived in with dolls?
One Christmas, Santa brought me this fantastic, plastic box that opened up into 3 distinct, funky, pre-decorated rooms, complete with molded plastic furniture in primary colours. It was sort of disco meets mid-century modern crossed with 1950’s stay-at-home mom. What a trippy little palace the “Barbie Family House” was. Fortunately, there was room for everybody – Francie, Barbie, the Flatsies, Dawn and Angie and all the visitors that stopped in from time to time.
The “Family House” had a carrying -handle in the top of the box and I used to heft it next door to Jane’s house, where unbeknownst to my parents, she had a “Ken Carson” doll and a bendable “Brad” who were very lucky men-about-town, because they got to share a bed with not one, but two or three bosomed and negligeed girls. It was a kind of “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” sort of family.
Perhaps the doll culture is why we women become rather controlling in our relationships with men/spouses. I mean, after all, we spend years as kids, putting words into the mouths of all our plastic figures – we make them say what we want them to say. It’s only when we come together in real life, that we realize that doesn’t work. “Ken” has a mind of his own…and says what HE wants to say. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just put your man in his case every once in a while and snap it shut? Or select a new beach cover up for him and pop on a new hair-piece? Then you’d take him out later and everything would be just fine. Just fine.
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