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Santa Claus

Since today is Christmas Day, I figured that it would be very appropriate to blog about The Doll and Teddy Bear Show that took place at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Maryland earlier this month.

I used to go to that show frequently. While the show, which is held about two or three times a year, has always had a huge emphasis on vintage dolls prior to 1960, I remember that the show had tables that were devoted to more recent dolls from my own childhood (such as Beautiful Crissy, Barbie, and Dawn) as well as newer dolls from recent years. I even remember seeing a table or two selling Asian ball jointed dolls.

I have lots of memories of going to those shows, starting with the couple of times I attended doll meet-ups at the Gaithersburg show that were organized through the Den of Angels forum where we all carried our Asian ball-jointed dolls around the show as we browsed the various vendor tables.

It was at one of these shows in September, 2005 where I found a vintage Velvet doll that was partially clad and had eye mold. I purchased her for only $10 then went to another table that sold vintage doll clothes and purchased Velvet’s original dress with a pair of shoes in her size for another $10. I managed to get rid of the eye mold and restored Velvet to her original glory. I took photos of what I did at the time. I later wrote a post about what I did back in 2010 and that post still remains among my more popular posts of all time.

At another show I found two vintage circa-1940s dolls that were totally disheveled and they were on sale for only $3 each. I purchased both of them and I turned one of them into a Little Red Riding Hood doll that I later sold on Etsy. (I’ve since misplaced the other doll but I’m hoping that she’ll eventually turn up once I get really serious of decluttering my home once and for all.) It was at that same show where I had unfortunate encounters with vendors whose hearts weren’t clearly into their profession of selling dolls.

The last time I went to a show was in 2011, when I purchased a couple of adorable outfits that were perfect for this doll that I had recently purchased. But then my hip problem became so acute that I had to have surgery followed by my husband leaving me abruptly just three months after my surgery. Then I spent the next few years dealing with the fallout from the hip surgery and divorce while adjusting to my new reality. (And that’s not to mention the crappy economy and the crazy politics that have gone on since an African American was elected to the White House for the first time followed by unlikely election of Donald Trump. But that’s a whole different series of blog posts that have nothing to do with the topic of this post.)

So it was 2017 and I found out online that another doll and teddy bear show was being held in Gaithersburg in early December. I hadn’t gone in six years so I was ready to visit again. I remember that the December show was usually the biggest one. The show’s organizers would rent more space than usual and it would be filled with lots of vendors and lots of dolls and teddy bears. I was looking forward to seeing some eye candy. My attitude was that I would purchase a new doll and/or doll clothes only if such items fit in with my tight budget but, otherwise, I was only there for window shopping with no anticipation of buying anything new for myself. I wasn’t disappointed because there were tons of eye candy and I took tons of photographs to prove it.

There were plenty of Christmas-related dolls and teddy bears for sale but I found one vendor table that had a Hanukkah menorah on display.

The most memorable booth was the one that sold Lenci dolls. The most notable thing about these dolls is that Dare Wright used her own Lenci doll in The Lonely Doll book series. I found them to be very lovely to see in person.

I really loved the expressive look on their faces.

Lenci even made a Madonna and Child doll.


Many of the outfits on these dolls are very exquisite.

The only thing about Lenci dolls is that the original company went out of business in 2002. As a result many of these dolls are collector items and they are definitely not cheap. Many of the ones I saw on sale cost thousands of dollars. The cheapest Lenci doll I found was a tiny doll that was less than one inch tall and that was on sale for a whopping $75.

The show had plenty of miniatures on sale that were made for dollhouses.

I even saw hand-painted clothespin dolls at that show.

I saw American Girl dolls on sale that were even cheaper than buying a new doll at the American Girl Place store.

I found two Barbie dolls that were made to resemble Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance from the famous “Job Switching” episode of the TV sitcom I Love Lucy. (That’s the one where Lucy and Ethel get jobs working in a chocolate factory only to have their stint be short-lived.)

One table had a variety of doll parts in a variety of sizes available for sale. It would be great for anyone who was looking for a part for an old doll.

Since the show was known as The Doll and Teddy Bear Show, it was natural that there were plenty of bears there, as well as other types of stuffed animals (such as rabbits, and dogs).

There were plenty of Santa Claus dolls available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Some vendors had those reborn baby dolls which look very lifelike.

I found some odd things on sale at that show, such as this vintage children’s book called Beloved Belindy. It was written by Johnny Gruelle, who was the original creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. With the Aunt Jemima/Mammy-style illustration on the front cover, I can see why Beloved Belindy is more obscure today than Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.

I saw a couple of Native American kachina dolls on sale at one table.

I vaguely remembered when I was a very young child, there was a TV show called Julia, which starred Diahann Carroll. That show is remembered today as the first TV show to depict an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role. (The main character worked as a nurse.) I remember some kids in my elementary school had Julia lunch boxes but I never realized that a Barbie-sized doll was also released until I went to that show.

I saw a couple of other dolls based on the main characters in the TV shows The Flying Nun and I Dream of Jeannie.

I saw this one vintage Mickey Mouse doll.

There were plenty of vintage Barbie dolls but the ones that still had their original boxes were expensive.

I saw some vintage dolls that were based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

I saw a set of vintage Dionne Quintuplets baby dolls. I have to admit that they are adorable to behold as long as you’re willing to overlook the sad real-life story of what happened to those girls behind the dolls.

I found these bottles of dollhouse-sized perfume and cologne to be totally cute.

I found this sign announcing that a family-owned business will close down in a few months after being in business for 72 years.

Most of the dolls and stuffed animals on sale were very expensive. I found one vendor table that sold something called Bling Dolls, which measure around six inches tall.

They cost $6 each but if you bought two or more, they would cost only $5 each. I might have considered buying two if it weren’t for the fact that all of the dolls had the same hairstyle, hair color, eye color, and skin color. That one doll type was cute but I wasn’t into buying the same doll with different outfits.

I basically bought only one Bling Doll. It was an impulse buy but she costs $6 and I found her to be quite cute.

There’s a keychain attached to her head, which means that she can either be attached to a few keys or clipped to a backpack.

Here’s a closeup of her face.

I took those last three pictures while I was eating lunch that I had purchased from the food stand at the show. A woman sat down near me and we started talking. Like me she had also attended previous doll shows and she mentioned that she felt it was smaller than she remembered.

As I was walking around the show I noticed that too. I remember the Christmas doll shows used to fill at least six large rooms. It would literally take me at least two or three hours to visit them all and I would be exhausted from visiting every single vendor table. This time I basically finished the entire show in less than 90 minutes. On top of it, I saw no Asian ball jointed dolls or even recent modern dolls from the 1970’s onwards. The vast majority of dolls on sale were made before 1960. The older dolls looked nice but they were very expensive. (It was common to see such dolls being on sale for over $100.) I still remember the day when I bought a wrecked Velvet doll for under $20 and I rehabilitated her. Or the times when I found some cool fabric that would be perfect for a doll outfit or a really neat doll clothes pattern that I wanted to try or a really interesting doll book that I decided that I wanted to read.

I don’t know for sure why it had changed so much. Maybe it’s the rise of sites like eBay and Etsy where people prefer to sell online than to actually transport their wares to a doll and teddy bear show. Maybe it’s the rotten economy where too many people have finances so tight that purchasing an expensive doll would be considered a frivolous luxury that they literally can’t afford. Whatever the reason, this show didn’t really have the little surprises that used to amaze me so much and were so relatively affordable that I ended up making impulse buys. The only surprise that really came close was that $6 Bling Doll I purchased. She’s a cute find but I still remember the show’s better days in the past.

The only fringe benefit of going to a smaller show is that I still had time in the afternoon to check out a flea market that was also held on the grounds of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds but it was located on the other side from where The Doll and Teddy Bear Show was held. I ended the day by checking out a show that was held closer to my home and it was also where I ran into a lot of my friends. I’ll write about those two events in a separate post.

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This year is the 60th anniversary of the publication of what has got to be the strangest yet most unique children’s book ever published. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright was a New York Times bestseller right alongside Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat when it was first released but, unlike the Dr. Seuss book, The Lonely Doll has gone out of print only to get reissued years later. It also hasn’t aged as well as The Cat in the Hat due in large part to the notorious spanking scene, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Here’s a personal confession: I had never read any of The Lonely Doll books as a child. I know that for sure because those books have such a unique design that I would have remembered reading them if I did. I still have memories of reading those Little Golden Books that my mother used to pick up for me when she went grocery shopping, mainly because those books were priced pretty cheap. I also remember reading books written by Dr. Seuss and other books featuring characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, and Babar the Elephant. But I definitely don’t recall reading The Lonely Doll.

I first learned about The Lonely Doll as an adult when I read reviews of Jean Nathan’s biography of Dare Wright called The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright. I read that book years ago and I found it fascinating. That book initially got the cooperation of Wright’s sole heir, Brook Ashley, who has since disavowed it. You may want to keep that in mind if you decide to read Nathan’s biography.

I finally found The Lonely Doll and one of its sequels, Edith & Mr. Bear, in a store. Having read both books, I’m basically of two minds. Artistically they are lovely but the stories that accompany them basically had me going “WTF?!?”

The Lonely Doll is the spiritual ancestor of all those doll photostories that one can easily find on the Internet in places like SuperInky.com,  DeviantArt’s bjd-club, and the Instagram #AGIG group. The big difference is that The Lonely Doll was created in an era when there was no World Wide Web or social media. In fact the forerunner of the Internet—known as ARPANET—wouldn’t go online for the first time until 1958 and access to ARPANET was limited only to government workers with high security clearances. That book initially received wide attention mainly because Dare Wright managed to convince a major book publisher to publish and distribute it in schools, libraries, and bookstores.

Film photography was the only photography option that was available at that time, which meant that a photographer was limited to—based on film length—12, 24, or 36 exposures. In addition, a photographer didn’t know if a picture turned out correct until after the film was developed. Many photographers routinely took several shots of the same subject from different exposures and different angles in the hopes of getting at least one perfect photograph. Black and white photography was still common in 1957 mainly because it was less expensive than color photography.

The Lonely Doll was published in 1957 and it became an immediate sensation due to its unusual design. Normally a children’s book would feature illustrations done in a variety of media (such as ink, watercolor, mixed-media, etc.). What stands The Lonely Doll apart from the others is its use of black and white photography to illustrate the story. The photographs are quite effective in that they bring out an expressive quality in the doll and two teddy bears who are depicted in the story. Here’s a typical photograph from the book.

The accompanying story is incredibly full of WTF?!? Here’s the basic gist: There was a doll named Edith who lives in a nice townhouse in New York City. She has everything that a doll could ever want except for one thing: friends to share it with. She spends much of her time wishing and praying that God or someone would just send her a friend or two.

One day two teddy bears show up to the front steps of Edith’s home out of the blue. The larger teddy bear is known as Mr. Bear while the smaller one is known as Little Bear. The two teddy bears say that they would like to move in with her and be her friends. Edith is so overjoyed that her wish has come true that she never wonders where these teddy bears have come from or how they found out that she existed or how they knew that she needed their friendship. It’s obvious that the two bears have a father and son relationship even though Little Bear always calls the bigger one Mr. Bear instead of Dad, Daddy, or Papa.

Little Bear treats Edith as an equal and they frequently play together and have a good time. Mr. Bear, on the other hand, proceeds to take command of the house by bossing Edith and Little Bear around and scolding them if they do something that Mr. Bear does not approve of. Never mind the fact that Edith was the one who had the house first and Mr. Bear is someone who has just moved in instead of the other way around. Edith seems to tolerate Mr. Bear ordering her around.

One rainy day Mr. Bear grabs an umbrella and tells Edith and Little Bear that he has to go somewhere. He doesn’t tell them where he’s going or why he’s going without taking Edith or Little Bear with him. He tells Edith and Little Bear to not get into any trouble then leaves.

Edith and Little Bear are frustrated because Mr. Bear has left the home without them plus they can’t play outside because it’s raining. Little Bear suggests exploring around the house and they come across a dressing room with a mirror, clothes, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories. Edith and Little Bear play dress up by trying on various clothes and jewelry while making a mess in the room. At one point Little Bear grabs a tube of lipstick and writes “Mr. Bear is a silly old thing” on the mirror. He encourages Edith to put lipstick on even though she says that Mr. Bear had previously told her that she’s not allowed to use lipstick. Edith puts on the lipstick at the moment that Mr. Bear has not only returned home but he’s standing at the entrance to the dressing room. When Mr. Bear scolds the two for the mess that they’ve made and especially scolds Edith for trying on lipstick, she briefly gets a backbone and stands up for herself by saying that she has the right to use lipstick while calling Mr. Bear a silly. That brief bit of Edith standing up for herself leads to the notorious spanking scene where Mr. Bear first puts Edith over his knee and whips her bottom then he does the same to Little Bear.

After spanking both Edith and Little Bear, Mr. Bear tells the two to clean up the mess and orders Edith to stop crying before leaving the room. Edith continues to cry to the extent that even Little Bear is getting annoyed. Edith tells Little Bear that she’s afraid that Mr. Bear will leave and take Little Bear with him and she’ll become (gasp!) a lonely doll again!

Little Bear encourages Edith to help him clean up the mess. Both Edith and Little Bear apologize to Mr. Bear, who says that they can all forget about the incident. Edith asks Mr. Bear if he’ll stay and the story ends with Mr. Bear and Little Bear assuring Edith that they’ll stay with her forever and ever. Never again will Edith ever have to worry about being a lonely doll.

It may be that story’s idea of a happy ending but, for me, it would be a total nightmare.

Ever since my marriage imploded in late 2011 I’ve gotten involved with a divorce recovery group where we’ve discussed codependency, how destructive codependency can be, how to identify a codependent relationship, and how to avoid getting into one in the future. This book basically sends a message to kids that it’s better to be in a codependent relationship with someone who orders you around and even spanks you if you get too far out of line than to live alone. That’s totally messed up thinking.

Then there’s the spanking scene itself.

Notice how Edith is dressed in a short slip with her panties showing. Then there’s the “ooh-la-la” expression on her face that makes that scene look like a sexy BDSM scene with a doll and teddy bears. And Mr. Bear’s face seems totally fixated on Edith’s butt.

I once did a photographic parody of that spanking scene for an art exhibition a few years ago. I used a Volks Dollfie Dream as a stand-in for Edith. I picked this doll because she has a very mature sexy body, which is the complete opposite of the child-like Edith doll. I used a panda bear that I once owned but I’ve since given away when I was downsizing after my marriage collapsed. I even included The Lonely Doll book that was opened to that spanking scene.

Kitsch Series 8: The Spanking

At least I had no pretense that I was doing this with children in mind. This photo was part of an exhibition series called Kitsch. (Link is definitely NSFW.)

The success of The Lonely Doll has led to several sequels. I’ve only read one of them, Edith & Mr. Bear, which was published in 1964.

Once again this book includes photographs that are very well-composed and expressive.

In some ways I think the story in this book is far better than The Lonely Doll because it’s a basic morality story that tries to teach a lesson. By this point Edith and the two bears have been living together for a while and they have been joined by another member of the household—a tiny flesh and blood kitten named, well, Kitten, who has a minor role in this book.

The story begins with Edith and Little Bear waiting near the front door for Mr. Bear to return home from a shopping trip. Mr. Bear arrives with three presents. One is a dress for Edith and the other is a toy boat for Little Bear. The third and biggest package is one that Mr. Bear has purchased for himself—a clock. Edith becomes fascinated by the new clock but Mr. Bear decides to put the clock high upon the mantel so neither Edith nor Little Bear can reach it, play with it, and risk breaking it.

Despite Mr. Bear’s efforts to keep the clock out of the reach of the other two toys, Edith becomes fascinated by the clock to the point of obsession. One day, while she was home alone, Edith drags a pile of books over to the mantel until the pile is big enough for her to reach the clock. Edith climbs up to the mantel and, at long last, she’s able to play around with the inner workings of the clock.

But then she loses her balance and both she and the clock comes tumbling down along with the books. The clock breaks into a lot of little pieces. Edith tries to sweep away the evidence but Mr. Bear finds the pile of broken clock pieces. He brings Edith and Little Bear into the room and demands to know which one of them broke the clock. Edith lies by saying that she didn’t break the clock while Little Bear also denies it as well, except he is telling the truth.

Initially Edith thinks she has gotten away with her lie. But then she begins to feel intense guilt over her lie and her efforts to keep the truth a secret starts to weigh in on her. She’s afraid that Mr. Bear will hate her if he ever knows that she broke the clock. The guilt stresses her out so much that she isn’t able to enjoy her own birthday party and she begins to act cross around Little Bear. Edith attempts to tell Kitten the truth about the broken clock but that wasn’t enough to get rid of the guilt because Kitten never had anything to do with that clock and Kitten can’t say anything beyond “Meow.”

One day the guilt over the clock weighs in so heavy that Edith takes her stress out on Little Bear by ruining his drawing and Little Bear calls her “horrid.” After he leaves in a huff Edith realizes that she has become horrid and she decides that the best thing she can do is run away from home.

So Edith runs away and ends up spending the night on the streets. She goes down to the docks the following day and thinks about boarding one of the boats but then changes her mind when she realizes that if she does so, she’ll never see Mr. Bear or Little Bear ever again.

Edith decides to return home and tell Mr. Bear the truth. After she comes clean about the clock, Mr. Bear tells her that he suspected that it was her all this time and that he knew that it was an accident that she broke the clock. He tells her that he would never have punished her for an accident. He also decides not to punish her for lying because he feels that she has already punished herself with the constant stress and spending the night on the streets. Edith goes to bed happy that she has come clean about what she did and Mr. Bear has forgiven her.

Had the book ended there, it could’ve been an excellent morality story for children showing how telling a lie can have a negative effect on the person telling the lie in the form of guilt and additional stress.

But, sadly, the story continues from there. Edith continues to get into various mischief (such as digging up flower bulbs to see if they have sprouted then replanting them upside down). One day Edith decides to bake something special for Mr. Bear and she starts making a mess in the kitchen while she’s mixing the ingredients. She gets Little Bear to light a match so they can heat the gas stove, despite the fact that Mr. Bear has forbidden the two from even touching matches. Mr. Bear catches them in the act and it leads to another spanking scene.

You get a clear view of Edith’s panties while she’s rubbing her freshly spanked butt.

The book ends with the three of them walking to a nearby park with Little Bear bringing his toy boat to float in the pond.

After reading those books, one could be forgiven for wondering what kind of person would write a series of books like this. Looking at Dare Wright’s life provides all kinds of insights as to why she would write them.

Dare Wright was born in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada in 1914 as the younger of two children in a dysfunctional and deteriorating marriage. Her father, Ivan Wright, was a theater critic while her mother, Edith “Edie” Stevenson Wright, was an artist.

Her parents’ marriage was strained by Ivan’s descent into alcoholism and his frequent job switching. Edie tried to make ends meet by painting portraits. The marriage ended in a divorce that grew so divisive that each parent ultimately took custody of only one child while cutting off all further contact with the former spouse and the other child. As a result, Dare would never see her father again since he died a few years later. She wouldn’t be reunited with her older brother, Blaine, until after both siblings were well into their 20’s.

Basically Dare Wright was raised as an only child of a divorced single parent long before that kind of family unit was common.

Edie and Dare settled in Cleveland when Edie found that she could make a living painting portraits of that city’s wealthy elites while Dare attended Coventry Elementary School. At one point Edie purchased a doll for her daughter. It was a felt doll made by the Italian company Lenci. The doll was known as the Lenci 109/14 series and she originally had brown curly hair. The doll was named Edith after the mother but I was never able to find out whether it was a name that Dare gave to the doll or if Edie had insisted that the doll be named after her and Dare went along with it.

Soon after the doll purchase Edie sent Dare to begin the fourth grade at the Laurel School, an all-girls’ boarding school in Cleveland. Dare attended that school all the way through high school. After she graduated from the Laurel School in 1933, she migrated to New York City where she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her stage acting career reached no further than landing a small part in a touring company production of Pride and Prejudice. She switched to modeling where she had better luck landing jobs. At some point, probably as a result of her modeling jobs, she became fascinated with photography and she obtained her own camera. She became so adept at photography that she became a fashion photographer.

Her career took a new turn when she was reunited with Edith the doll during one of her visits with her mother. By this point she was also reunited with her brother Blaine, who purchased two teddy bears for her from FAO Schwarz. The larger was a Schuco bear while the smaller was a Stieff. The three toys served as the basis for The Lonely Doll books.

Dare replaced Edith the doll’s original brown hair with a new blonde wig with bangs that can be worn in a ponytail. That doll wig is similar to how Dare Wright wore her own hair in real life, thus fueling speculation that Edith the Lonely Doll is a stand-in for Dare Wright in these books.

Blaine Wright was a lifelong bachelor who never had children of his own. Dare Wright was once engaged to one of Blaine’s friends until her fiancee broke off the engagement. Otherwise, Dare never married nor had any children. Both siblings became alcoholics. One doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist to guess that their parents’ devastating divorce that separated the siblings for many years may have had something to do with what became of them later in life.

One also doesn’t have to be an expert to guess that The Lonely Doll series probably portrayed an alternate reality in Dare Wright’s life as she tried to explore what would have happened if she had ended up growing up with her father and brother instead of her mother—including a scenario where she gets spanked by her father whenever she’s bad.

Should parents buy this book for their children? My only suggestion is for you to read the book before giving it to your child so you can decide for yourself whether it’s something that’s appropriate for your child to read. All I can say is that The Lonely Doll books are definitely a far cry from Dr. Seuss.

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