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When Love Turns to Vinyl

There she was again—that face. I’d seen her many times, in many different situations and clothes, always playing as if she were someone else, always successfully hiding beneath a glamorous facade. But I always saw through her disguises to the person she really was. I always saw the real Marsha Hunt. Or did I?

mel-loves-marshaOf course, as a child I didn’t think anything of the sort, and childhood is where my relationship with Marsha really be­gan. I just thought of her as “the pretty lady.” At first she was just one of the beautiful soft-focus faces I religiously watched on afternoon and late- night television. Many nights, after my parents had gone to bed, I would creep out from under my covers and into the living room where the console television was waiting, a co-conspirator in my nocturnal viewings. I would turn the sound down low and sit as close to the screen as I could and still be able to see the image. I loved the old black- and-white movies and the people who inhabited them. I knew which number on the dial was the key to the kingdom they called Hollywood. I started noticing the faces of certain stars I preferred, long before I knew their names. Marsha was one of those faces. What I noticed and loved about her was not only the beauty, with wide-spaced blue eyes and a profile like a notebook doodle, but also the physical grace with which she carried herself, often to humorous effects. She could faint gracefully into a spinning swoon or dance with her feather duster as she cleaned the furniture in a room. She could run across a moonlit garden in high heels and evening gown without tripping or even seeming aware of her feet. I thought she was wonderful. Gradually I started to see her in primetime places other than movies as she appeared in episodes of TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, and one summer in the 1950s, I was thrilled when she played the perfect mom in a witty comedy series called Pecks Bad Girl with killer kid Patty McCormick. It was with these TV appearances that I learned her name was Marsha Hunt. After that, she became a face and a name I always watched for. Anytime I saw her name, I made a point to watch. I never lost my taste for the movies that Marsha and her contemporaries made. Without my realizing it, they were becoming the basis for my future.

Many years passed during which I left home, went to different schools and became a New York City-based illustrator and then hopeful doll designer. At this point all these hundreds of movies I had watched over the decades came flooding back to me as the basis for the fictional lifetime and ca­reer of my creation, Gene Marshall. I set Gene’s story squarely in the period I loved the most and created a composite of my favorite stars who had helped form my ideals of beauty. That Gene’s last name was Marsha with two letters added at the end went by unnoticed, even by me.

Gene Marshall was a knockout groomed and dressed for “Mel Loves Marsha.”During the early blush of Gene’s success I was introduced to Marsha once again in the most fortuitous way possible— through her wonderful book The Way We Wore. My friend Doug James had a copy. One day, as we were discussing a possible dress design for Gene, he showed me Marsha’s book as reference. I was thrilled! For some reason I hadn’t known about the book until that moment. Instantly I did a bit of footwork and found myself a copy—and then a few more copies. The book became a treasured source among Gene’s designers for any number of the costumes that went into the Ashton Drake line for Gene. Even when the specific outfit wasn’t from the book, how it was worn and with what certainly was.

A couple of years after discovering Marsha’s book, I was approached by Hyperion Press to write and illustrate a book of Gene’s biography. One of the concepts we decided upon for the book was to ask a few real celebrities to write their memories of the early rise of our girl star as if she had been real and had affected their lives. I immediately thought of asking Marsha to contribute a piece. After using so many of her costumes for Gene, it seemed the perfect connection. Gene had been a model early in her career, just like Marsha, and I had noticed by then other similarities in their stories. So, through a dear friend of mine on the west coast, Gene Maiden, I sent an extremely heartfelt letter to Ms. Hunt, asking if she would consider writing a few sentences for Gene Marshall, Girl Star, the decided-upon title for my book. To my absolute joy and amazement, she agreed. In a few weeks, two wonderful pages arrived from Marsha. They were a lovely account of a studio commissary meeting between Marsha and Gene, beautifully written and extremely generous to the story I was telling. A flurry of faxes went back and forth, and she received enough thank-you flowers from me that she wrote to tell me to “stop with the flowers.”

She assured me she had a beautiful garden behind her home and was really worried about all my money going into her vases. During this phase of our friendship, based entirely on phone calls and faxes, good luck intervened and Marsha was invited to New York to speak at a tribute for film director Jules Dassin. We arranged for a lunch meeting during her stay, and on July 6, 1999, we met face to face for the first time.

After our three-hour lunch, I came away smitten and have remained so ever since. With the book completed and a success, I was able to take some time and travel to California occasionally and spend time in Marsha’s garden and lovely home and realize a life-long dream of actually being friends with her. I wanted to share this lovely friendship with the world, so I proposed to Ashton Drake we step outside of Gene’s usual story line and create a doll entitled “Mel Loves Marsha.” I had a beautiful Irene-de­signed gown from The Human Comedy meticulously copied, and we coifed the doll in a style reminiscent of Marsha’s famous “feather cut.” “Mel Loves Marsha” was one of the most successful dolls from the 2004 line.

At the same time “Mel Loves Marsha” was being planned for the Gene line, I was working with Sandra Stillwell on arrangements for the ninth Annual Gene Convention, planned for the Biltmore Hotel in Hollywood. After Marsha agreed to be the guest of honor, Sandra and I plotted for that year’s convention to be a tribute to “all things Marsha.” There was a competition of Gene-sized fashions, taken from The Way We Wore, with Marsha facing the impossible task of judging. I can only imagine the surreal aspects of seeing your own past created in miniature and requiring an official favorite. We showed the wonderful movie Lost Angel that Marsha made with film (and doll) legend Margaret O’Brien, and a room full of fans got to watch Marsha watching herself. We decided the souvenir doll would be dressed and styled in a beautiful white and gold dinner suit design by Travis Banton and borrowed from the film Smash-Up, Story of a Woman. A group of individual souvenir outfits were designed that year, all based on Marsha’s wardrobe, including the lovely fur-trimmed pink suit in which she had been happily married to Robert Presnell. It came with a striking floral and tulle hat and bridal bouquet and was certainly a sentimental favorite with Marsha. As she effortlessly charmed the crowds and announced that she had just celebrated her 87th birthday, I swore to myself that I’d throw her another party on her 90th.

This year’s Gene convention is just that party: the chance of a lifetime to celebrate a lifetime beautifully lived. When I first realized the year was upon us, I asked Marsha if she was up for another birthday party. When she gave me the enthusiastic go ahead, I presented the convention organizers with the idea— make the convention a 90th birthday party for Marsha and a tribute to and 60th anniversary for her film noir classic Raw Deal. I put the two occasions together and named the convention “Rare Deal.” We went into high gear with plans to create a tribute doll for Marsha that would complement the earlier dolls, yet be distinctively different. We decided for the first time ever in the Gene line to sculpt a portrait head of a real individual and create a true Marsha Hunt doll.

We went back to the original sculptor of Gene, Michael Evert; for four weeks he and I worked from countless studio portraits of Marsha and prepared the new head. Bits and pieces flew back and forth from the factory as the doll quickly took shape. We selected the clothes from Marsha’s book again: a gorgeous Edward Stevenson-designed black-tulle-over-flesh evening gown and a sporty tennis dress for the two dolls. Our separate outfit became a sensational fur-trimmed suit and hat designed by Edith Head, featuring such period innovations as a decorative silver zipper closure in the front and detachable fox peplums. When you’re interpreting fashions by such revered designers as these, you keep your fingers crossed and your heart in your throat.

There’s an age-old storyline in Hollywood that says two stars can’t happily share the same spotlight. Gene Marshall’s own story is based on her rivalry with Madra Lord over just that issue. But this year, at the 12th Annual Gene Convention, this timeworn cliché is being proved out-of-date and no longer valid. Gene Marshall and Marsha Hunt will be there, hand in hand, sharing the same spotlight and loving every minute of it— both of them perfect examples of what happens when love turns to vinyl.

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2013 DOLLS Awards of Excellence

The winners of the 2013 Industry’s Choice DOLLS Awards of Excellence (DAEs) were announced April 12 at the Debut of Dolls Banquet held at IDEX in Orlando, Fla. Each entry in this year’s competition was evaluated by our panel of judges: Doll industry consultant Pat Burns, doll writer and historian Penny Herbst, Simon Farnworth of DollObservers.com, author and DOLLS contributor Stephanie Finnegan,

DOLLS editor-at-large Jill Jackson, and Modern Doll President Patsy Moyer. This year’s Industry’s Choice winners go on to become the nominees for the Public’s Choice awards voted on by DOLLS readers. Look for photos of all the nominees, ballot, and online voting instructions in the July 2013 issue of DOLLS.

 

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DOLLS publisher Carie Ferg wins special Colliii Award

Iola, Wis. – Jan. 9, 2013DOLLS magazine publisher and former editor Carie Ferg received a special VIP Award for Outstanding Achievement in the 2012 Colliii Awards. The Colliii Awards are the largest online dollmaking competition in the world.

“We wanted to present the 2012 VIP Award to Carie Ferg as a recognition of the dynamism and innovation she has brought to the doll industry over the past few years,” said Colliii Awards Director James Carlsson. “The VIP Award is presented every year to a person or organisation that has made a significant contribution to the doll world. It was Colliii.com’s pleasure to present this to Carie as a token of appreciation for her hard work.”

Past VIP Award winners include DOLLS’ Editor-at-Large Jill Jackson for her work with "Doll Reader," the Biemann family from Schildkröt dolls in Germany, and such atists as Stephanie Sullivan.

Registration for the 2013 Colliii Awards will begin in July. For more information about the competition, go to www.colliii.com/en.
ProSculpt 2012 winners announced

The winners of the 2012 ProSculpt Annual Sculpting Contest have been chosen by collectors and artists from around the world. Winners this year are from England, Italy, Japan, South America, and the United States. Photos of all the winners can be viewed at the Johnston Original Art Dolls website. The winners are:

 

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A Chair for Your 16-Inch Sweetheart

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Haute Doll introduces its new exclusive by Horsman Ltd., the modern-style “Heart Chair” perfect for 16-inch fashion dolls. The design was inspired by Verner Panton’s 1959 full-scale contemporary chair design.

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Rockin’ Out at Rockefeller Center: An outdoor winter event showcases model-worthy Manhattanites.

{besps}ravena{/besps}

{besps_c}0|1.jpg|Available on December 6, “Ravena, Winter Chic” is an exclusive BJD from Ruby Red Galleria and DOLLS magazine. It can only be purchased through DOLLS.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|2.jpg|At a recent European fashion show, these lovely models showcased what Australian fashion designers are cooking up for winterwear. “Ravena” could have joined that lineup!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|3.jpg|Lauren Graham looks stylish and seasonal in her winter attire. Just because snow might be flurrying and blowing, no reason to let a fashion sense melt away!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|4.jpg|Singer/actress Brooke White was layered and lovely at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|5.jpg|When some of us layer, we come dangerously close to the Michelin Tire Man vibe. Sometimes too much bundling means near bursting!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|6.jpg|Cee Lo Green never worries about the curse of the Michelin Tire Man. The portly singer is proud to be a big man, and rejoices with his winter-clad Muppet pals.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|7.jpg|The 80th Anniversary of the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting was a special one, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The 80-foot Norway spruce hailed from New Jersey! 45,000 LED lights caused it to glow so brightly!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|8.jpg|Even the Christmas trees in New York are fabulously dressed from head to toe! The Swarovski star that tops the Rockefeller Center tree is brilliant.|{/besps_c}I just learned about a new BJD debuting on December 6—it's a Ruby Red Galleria exclusive for DOLLS. The creation is so spot-on in its costuming and its attitude, I swear that one of the designers must have been tailing me last month.

When my friend Cam phoned me and invited me to the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, I should have said “no.” Any sane person would have, but sanity and an evening with Cam rarely go hand-in-hand. Instead, I agreed, and we headed out to Midtown Manhattan on one of the most crowded, most frantic nights of the year.

As we attempted to approach the skating rink where the enormous evergreen will reign supreme, I looked at Cam and burst out laughing.

“Isn’t this how ‘The Day of the Locust’ ends?” I shouted to him. (That film from the 1970s is among my and Cam’s favorite flicks. It stars Karen Black and Donald Sutherland, and it concludes with a horrible, free-for-all deadly crowd stampede.)

“Don’t be such a Grinch,” he called back. “Or should I say ‘Grinchette’!”

“I’m not sure there is a female Grinch,” I replied. “I know there was a Smurfette, the only blue gal around. But a Grinchette? I have to check my Seuss.”

And so this intellectual discourse continued as we fought our way through the jangling and jostling crowd—and, yes, the mass of people were LITERALLY jangling as they jostled. A huge number of them had on Santa hats with bells affixed or had bells attached to their lapels or collars. They were rude but they were rhythmic!

Since our trekking was so slow, and the other gawkers had gotten their much earlier to stake out their spots, Cam and I didn’t so much watch the tree lighting as watch the other folks’ reactions to all of the events.

A shrill shriek would emerge from the people way ahead of us.

“What is it?” I’d ask.

“Il Vole,” Cam would reply, referencing the teenage opera singers.

A cheer would erupt.

“Who is that?” I questioned.

“Chris Mann, from ‘The Voice.’” Another opera singer, who is marketed as a heartthrob.

Then just a smattering of applause.

“Mayor Bloomberg,” we both declared.

Since we were merely hearing the audio playback of the concert, we gazed at all the young men and women surrounding us.

“I think there is more wool here on Sixth Avenue than in all the sheep farms in Scotland,” Cam proclaimed.

Looking around, I had to agree.

Guys and girls were all decked out in the “official” apparel of the season: woolen flap hats, jauntily tied scarves, and boots. Girls had on legwarmers—“Hello, Flashdancers”—and fingerless gloves. (“What’s the point of that?” Cam groused. “Are we supposed to WANT our fingernails to turn blue?”) We had our very own Joan & Melissa Rivers Red Carpet fashion critique.

There’s a certain hip look that New Yorkers achieve—even when they are multilayering, they still come across as thin, chic, and hip. When I add scarves and sweaters and hats to my wardrobe, I look bundled up and ready to explode: envision the Michelin Tire Man, but not as perky.

When these twenty-somethings put on the extra bits of fabric, they look like they are taking a break en masse from shooting the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. It really is quite amazing.

“I wish we could bottle their youth,” Cam lamented, looking at all the rosy-cheeked kids, teens, and college students who were scrambling about.

“Yep,” I agreed, “but can you imagine how much it would cost? And just how big would that bottle have to be! Better just to dream about it.”

And, wouldn’t you know it, just in time for Christmas . . . a doll that perfectly embodies that free-spirited New York City style has loped onto the scene.

The ball-jointed doll, which is a collaboration between DOLLS magazine and Ruby Red Galleria, is fittingly named “Ravena, Winter Chic.” Limited to 100 pieces, she’ll sell for 149.95. And, like all the other fashionable femmes who congregate in Manhattan, she weighs only 2 pounds, 6.9 ounces! The “Ravena” doll is bundled up and beautiful. Quite a feat, indeed!

Like her advertising copy says: A New York City native, the harsh NYC winters don’t stop “Ravena, Winter Chic,” a DOLLS dressed doll exclusive by Ruby Red Galleria, from exploring the city she loves. From uptown boutiques and coffee shops to downtown restaurants and theater, “Ravena, Winter Chic” bundles into her purple tights and faux-fur boots, corduroy short pants, pansy T-shirt, black motorcycle-style jacket and cozy knit hat to hit the streets in style. Even when the elements are unforgiving, “Ravena” survives and thrives in the city that never sleeps! The fully dressed 12-inch ball-jointed vinyl doll features removable wig and eyes, plus underwear and a sweet “love” tank top.

Ruby Red Galleria always has a way with its wardrobe, and “Ravena, Winter Chic” is no exception. I am sure Cam will be ordering one online. He’s probably circled December 6 on his calendar. After all, if he was willing to chew “instant youth” vitamins or spray on “adolescent forever” cologne, can you imagine how happy he’ll be to have a chic New Yorker to call his own?

“Exercising and eating well . . . who could be bothered,” Cam knowingly observes. “I’d rather play my way to younger days.”

And, yes, it can’t be denied. Cam has the healthiest inner-child in town!

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Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event
Fans of Pullip and Dal pose with their dolls at PUDDLE 2011. Photo by Mike Hurlock

The fourth Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event (PUDDLE) drew 60 doll lovers from 10 different states and Canada to the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn in June. This year’s theme, cranes, was inspired by the sandhill cranes at the group's charity organization, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Six custom dolls and other items donated by sponsors like The Sleeping Elf and Denise's Dolls were raffled off at the event, raising $500 for the center.

The weekend started Friday night with dinner at Mitsuwa Japanese Mall in Arlington Heights, followed by a tea party at the hotel. PUDDLE officially kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday, starting with an organized buy-sell-trade opportunity, and dozens of fans milled around trading and buying doll wigs, eye chips, bodies, clothing, and more.

5_costume_contest_newEvery attendee received a door prize, thanks to generous donations from many sponsors. Distribution of the door prizes was followed by a secret gift swap and lunch break. Afterwards, an informal Q&A-format customizing workshop answered questions for many fans new to the hobby, followed by a display of fully customized and modified dolls entered in the customization contest. Winners of an online photo/art contest which was held and judged before the event were announced along with the customization contest winners. The photo and art entries can be seen at www.puddlestyle.com/photoart.html.

Many fans continued the fun over dinner in the hotel restaurant and in the hotel lobby until the wee hours. Krista Farmer, who traveled from Toronto for the event, said “It was a crazy cool day.” Although the event officially ended Saturday night, 11 fans stayed for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center Sunday. — Jane Easterly

For information on PUDDLE 2012, visit www.puddlestyle.com.
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R. John Wright Convention

Attendees at the third annual R. John Wright Convention enjoyed the festivities of several major holidays coupled with outstanding dolls,R. John Wright introduces the “Wicked Witch of the West,” the newest piece in the Wizard of Oz series, at the Halloween Masquerade Luncheon. all rolled into four fun-filled days! R. John and Susan Wright chose “Celebrations!” as the theme for their 2011 event held at the historic Desmond Hotel in Albany, N.Y., which was co-chaired by Loretta Nardone and Lillian Wright.

The convention opened with St. Patrick’s Day reception Wednesday evening, where everyone laid claim to being a wee bit Irish while enjoying a scrumptious dessert buffet. The sales room opened immediately after this kick-off event, with conventioneers hoping the “luck of the Irish” would help them find that perfect doll or dolls.

Thursday began early with the Easter Morning Breakfast; those attending this ticketed event didn’t have to search for large, beautifully decorated baskets serving as table centerpieces. They were filled with molded felt eggs in pastel colors. At the end of the breakfast, the eggs were distributed and the happy new owners opened them to find “Peep,” a 3-inch yellow mohair chick as their event souvenir. His companion, “Posey,” was available for sale. After breakfast the special and competitive exhibits opened, along with the helper room. This year’s special exhibit, arranged by John and Susan Wright’s daughter Emily, was titled “Happy Holidays” and showcased R. John Wright dolls and animal characters and the traditional holidays that inspired them.

That afternoon, attendees boarded buses for the short trip to Bennington, Vt., for a tour of the R. John Wright facility along with other local activities. The Wrights explained the development of their creations from concept through completion before everyone had the opportunity to visit with their employees as they made various doll parts and accessories and shopped in the R. John Wright store. The day culminated with a Fourth of July BBQ followed by fireworks at dusk.

“Rose Fairy,” a new addition to the Flower Fairy series, was available for purchase at the Valentine’s Day High Tea.Workshops by dollmaker Gail Wilson and a program by Alan Pate, a leading American expert on Japanese dolls, were offered on Friday, along with several roundtable discussions on various topics. Attendees dressed up for the frightfully fabulous costume parade leading into the Halloween Masquerade luncheon, with prizes awarded in five categories. After lunch, the newest piece from R. John Wright’s Wizard of Oz collection, “Wicked Witch of the West,” made her debut in front of an enthusiastic audience.

The ticketed Victorian Yuletide Dinner featured traditional table decorations and an enchanting program, “A Victorian Christmas,” presented by Nardone. The event souvenir was the 10-inch “Mary Frances,” the latest addition to the Victorian Children Collection. Available for purchase was her 7-inch little sister, “Baby Grace.”

Saturday morning’s activities included another program by Pate and a workshop conducted byElaine Romberg won the Best of Show ribbon in the Competitive Exhibit for her exceptional Lenci Leprechaun Gnome type character doll. Emily Wright. That afternoon, a Valentine’s Day High Tea charmed conventioneers with fine teas and delicacies. The newest addition to the Flower Fairies series, “Rose Fairy,” was available for purchase. The evening’s closing event was a New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration. This elegant banquet featured another entertaining program produced and presented by Nardone. When the souvenir dolls were distributed, delighted attendees found the adorable 12½-inch “Celebration Scootles” would be going home with them. As an added bonus, her delightful twin brother was available for purchase.

As the convention ended, attendees were already making plans for next year’s “Around the World” event, which will be held at the same location June 20-23, 2012 and will celebrate the magic of children around the globe. There will also be an added treat as the first bear event held at an R. John Wright convention will be incorporated into the excursion to the Wrights’ facility in Vermont. For more information, visit www.rjohnwright.com or call (802) 447-7072. — Pat Burns
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