Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

The love affair between the public and images flickering on film began with the first silent films of the 1890s and has never cooled. There are numerous dolls that relate to film.

Some dolls actually depict film stars enjoying both on and off- screen activities. Other movie stars had doll collections of their own or can be found in publicity pictures posing with dolls. Child actors were often pictured playing with dolls of their era.  While still other stars had dolls made in their likenesses by individual doll artists and through licensing agreements with large doll making companies. Some of the stars found in doll form have obtained iconic status while others are nearly forgotten a century later.

All of these dolls enabled their young owners to play among the stars and collecting them today brings an added dimension to the story of 20th century dolls. We hope you enjoy this sampling of some of these dolls.

Charlie Chaplin (Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin KBE) rose from a childhood of poverty and loss, to working the music halls and stages of London, to becoming one of the preeminent stars of film from 1914 until his retirement in  1976. In a ca. 1918 publicity photo Chaplin poses with a doll costumed as one of his on-screen characters. Louis Amberg of Cincinnati and New York was an importer, wholesaler and manufacturer of dolls and toys. In 1915 he offered 14″ Charlie Chaplin doll which had a composition head and hands, and a cloth body. Doll photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop All Dolled Up. Other companies such as Dean’s Rag Book Co., Bucherer, Peggy Nesbit, and many others would go on to make Chaplin dolls in a variety of mediums.

Chaplin’s clever and good-hearted comic character “The Tramp” became an icon of the early film era. American doll artist Gwen Flather of New Hampshire created her version of this character as he appeared in the film “The Kid.” Along with Chaplin is his co-star, child actor Jackie Coogan. Flather worked making her needle-sculpted, nylon fabric dolls from 1936 until her death in 1995. (Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Oldeclectics). On the right is another cloth doll depicting Coogan’s character from this film. The doll was made by artist Mary Green who worked making her portrait dolls of actors and actresses in mid-20th century. Many of her dolls were commissioned by editor Daniel Blum for use in illustrating his Screen World Annuals. The painting employed by Green for the faces on her cloth dolls is skillfully executed creating very good portraits of the people represented and the costumes are faithful miniature recreations of those worn in their famous roles (Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop The Museum Doll Shop).

The fan magazine Photoplay was founded in Chicago in 1911 by Macfadden Publications and was published until 1980. Along with film insider news, in 1919 the magazine also offered paper doll sets called MOVY-DOLS which were illustrated by Percy Reeves. Seen here are Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Norma Talmadge.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi de Valentina d’Antonguolla of Castellaneta, Italy would be known to the world as Rudolph Valentino. His career, though brief (about 7 yrs), cemented his place in the hearts and imaginations of movie goers. The composition bed doll shown here represents him as the romantic film figure he played in his movies. Publicity still image is from the film “Blood and Sand.”

Left to right: Actress Agnes Ayers began her film career in 1914 and was active through the 1920s. She is seen here imitating the composition doll she poses with. Actress Marion Davies was Hollywood’s #1 female box office star in 1923. She poses in a publicity still with a bisque-headed doll costumed in her likeness.

American actress Colleen Moore’s film career began with a screen test for W D Griffith in 1914. Throughout the 1920s she was a tremendously popular star. Moore was also passionate about doll collecting. The publicity still on the left shows her with dolls under her Christmas tree, on the right is an image of Moore holding a flapper doll purse.  In 1929 Collen took her love of dolls and miniatures and used it to create her “Fairy Castle.” This imaginative dwelling for was built by her father and is now exhibited at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The Effanbee Doll Company of New York created a “Fairy Princess” doll set based on the notoriety of the Fairy Castle. The set used their Wee Patsy composition doll and includes information about Collen Moore’s Fairy Castle printed on the box. Doll photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Choses Necessaires Antiques.

The toddler Peggy Montgomery, billed as Baby Peggy, was a silent film sensation of the early 1920s. In later life, changing her name to Diana Serra Carey, she would become a published author and an advocate for the rights of child performers. During the height of her film career dolls were made in her likeness. Louis Amberg sold Baby Peggy dolls in composition (both wigged or with molded hair), bisque, and all-bisque versions in the 1920s. Diana poses with a group of dolls in her likeness in the publicity image shown upper right. The dolls shown here are courtesy of Ruby Lane shops My Dolly Market, Lynette Antique Dolls and Accessories and Sara Bernstein’s Dolls.

America’s darling, Shirley Temple provided a source of joyous escape for depression weary audiences of the 1930s. Shirley Temple dolls have been made in composition, vinyl, cloth and porcelain over the years. Temple received many dolls as gifts from her fans, developing quite a sizable doll collection. Many of these would later be donated to charities. In July of 2015 the Theriault’s auction house held their sale entitled “Love, Shirley Temple” which featured Shirley’s personal collection of costumes, dolls and other memorabilia.

Judy Garland glittered first on the stage and subsequently on the big screen, endearing herself to audiences around the world from the early 1920s until her death in 1969. The mention of her name is enough to recall her many roles of hopeful youth and her the gift of her musical talent. The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company of New York working under licensing from Metro Goldwyn Mayer produced composition Judy Garland dolls. In 1939 and ’40 they offered three sizes of Judy as she appeared in the film “The Wizard of Oz,” the doll was sculpted for Ideal by Bernard Lipfert. From 1940 to ’42 a teen Judy Garland doll could be had in 15″ and 21″ sizes. Doll photos courtesy of Morphy Auctions and Ruby Lane shop All Dolled Up.

Soprano Deanna Durbin appeared in films from the age of 15 in 1936 until she retired from acting in 1949. Her roles in comedy and romance movies helped keep Universal Studios from going into bankruptcy during the Great Depression. From 1938 to ’41 Ideal offered Deanna Durbin dolls in sizes of 15″, 18″, 21″, and 24″ (21″ doll on left courtesy of Morphy auctions, 18″doll on right doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop The Doll Connection). Merrill Publishing of Chicago offered their Deanna Durbin paper doll set in 1941.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was the basis of the 1939 film produced by Fleischer Studios. The film was a response to the growing trend for full-length animated feature films which began with Disney’s Snow White in 1937. Ideal secured the licensing rights from Fleischer to recreate characters from the movie in doll form. These composition dolls included 10″ Gabby and the 13″ Little King which had strung, wooden-segmented bodies (photos courtesy of Morphy Auctions), and the 20″ Gulliver for which the company used the Deanna Durbin mold (photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Gandtiques).

British actor Lupino Lane began his career as a child in the theater in 1896. His 1937 rendition of the song The Lambeth Walk from the musical “Me and My Girl” became so popular that it led to his reprisal of the stage role in the 1939 film of “The Lambeth Walk.” The British cloth doll makers Dean’s Rag Book Co. made a 12″ doll depicting Lane in the movie. The doll features a cloth mask face.

Most publishers of paper doll sets of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s included movie star sets in their lines. Shown here are Whitman Publishing Company’s Elizabeth Taylor ca. 1953 and June Allyson ca. 1957. In the center is Merrill Publishing Company’s Rita Hayworth set ca. 1942.

Author – Linda Edward


John Axe The Encyclopedia of Celebrity Dolls. Grantsville: Hobby House Press, 1983

Linda Edward Doll Values, 13th Edition. New York: Page Publishing. 2017

Edward Pardella Shirley Temple Dolls and Fashions. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1992

Ursula Mertz Collector’s Encyclopedia of Composition Dolls. Paducah: Collector Books, 1999

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