A unique group of doll survivors from 1938 are the “flexy dolls” produced by the Ideal Toy Company. The group consists of Sunny Sam, Sunny Sue, Soldier, Clown, Mortimer Snerd, and Baby Snooks. The 13 inch dolls have composition heads and hands; wooden feet and bodies; and arms and legs made from flexible mesh wire tubing. The feet are large and flat which allows the doll to stand unassisted. The tubular arms and legs can be posed in any number of positions, and they were advertised as being the dolls “with a thousand poses.” The individual heads were sculpted by doll artist, Joseph Kallus who is best known for his work with Kewpie and the Cameo Company dolls. The heads are marked IDEAL DOLL/USA. The flexies have original and distinctive faces and sold for about $1.00 when they were first introduced.
The “flexies” are an example of Ideal Doll Company’s innovations in the industry. The company was in the forefront in both securing licenses for famous characters or celebrities to be produced in doll form and for applying the latest technology to the construction of dolls. Two of the dolls were based on radio characters popular at the time, and all of the dolls have the unique flexible wire structure. Black versions of some of the dolls were also produced; photographs of a black Sunny Sam and a black soldier have appeared in doll literature.
The dolls have molded and painted hair and painted eyes. Rather than realistic facial features, they have a comic character appearance. Sunny Sam is a little boy dressed in patched pants and a long sleeved shirt. His face is molded with a pug nose, round cheeks, and a watermelon smile. His eyes are painted glancing upward giving him a happy, impish look. Sunny Sue has molded hair styled in a bob and has an innocent, almost serious look with her Cupid ’s bow mouth and raised eyebrows. She wears velveteen pants and a long sleeved smock trimmed with rickrack. The color and pattern of the clothing varies. It appears that these names were assigned to the dolls and were not meant to represent any existing characters.
The soldier wears a khaki uniform consisting of pants and jacket buttoned over a shirt and tie. He also wears a matching cap. The face appears to be the same as that used for Sunny Sam. Additionally the head mold was used by Ideal on both a soldier and a sailor with a five piece composition body. That soldier’s uniform is identical to the one worn by the flexy soldier. The clown came in a one piece traditional baggy clown suit in red, white and blue polka dot cotton with pompom buttons and a ruffle at the neck. The mold is the same as that used for Mortimer Snerd; however, the face is painted white with clown make-up.
The Mortimer Snerd flexy represents one of the ventriloquist dummies made famous by Edgar Bergen who began performing in vaudeville but rose to fame on radio. His best known dummy was Charlie McCarthy, dressed in top hat and tails, with which he first appeared on Rudy Vallee’s radio program in 1936. The performance was so well received that the following year Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were given their own show. Critics have always been surprised that a ventriloquist on radio, where the audience could see neither the dummy nor the ventriloquist’s skill, could have been so popular; however, the pair experienced huge success. Edgar Bergen developed other characters for the program including Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker. With a buck-toothed grin and long nose, Mortimer Snerd represented the amiable rube in contrast to the suave Charlie McCarthy. Edgar Bergen with his dummies went on to appear in films and on television and even were the subject of a short lived comic strip called Mortimer and Charlie. The flexy doll’s face was created by Joseph Kallus and closely resembles the original dummy. Flexy Mortimer wears brown wool herringbone trousers with attached white sleeveless shirt with collar and necktie and a brown felt blazer.
The Baby Snooks flexy depicts another radio character – one that was portrayed by singer-comedienne Fanny Brice who had headlined the famed Ziegfeld Follies for many years. She first played her Baby Snooks character, a bratty toddler, in a Follies skit and went on to star in her own radio show called “The Baby Snooks Show” that continued until 1951. The character did not transition well to television. Fanny Brice became familiar to modern audiences through the Barbra Streisand’s portrayal of her life in the films “Funny Girl” and “Funny Lady.” The flexy Baby Snooks has a caricature face framed by short curly molded hair with a loop for a large bow and has an open-closed mouth. She is dressed in long ruffled pants and a gathered long sleeved smock top with ruffled collar. The cotton fabric is found in a variety of prints.
While not overly common, the flexy dolls are not too difficult to find for sale on internet sites or at doll shows and are an interesting addition to a collection of dolls either from the 1930s or one that focuses on character dolls. The dolls endure as lasting examples of the creativity and innovations of the Ideal Doll Company.
About Doll Castle News
In 1958, Edwina Mueller completed a home study course in doll repair from the Doll Hospital School of Aledo, Illinois, and opened a doll hospital and gift shop in her home in Washington, New Jersey. In an effort to build the business she contacted others involved in the doll world for items to be sold in the gift shop. She soon realized she enjoyed corresponding with dollmakers and doll collectors more than repairing dolls. Click here to read more!
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