Dolls are rarely in the limelight in my upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan. So I literally stopped short when, early in the autumn of 2004, I passed one of my favorite bookshops, Ivyâs Books, and saw an old felt doll, a teddy bear and a group of Dare Wrightâs The Lonely Doll books filling the front window. Peering more closely at the quirky display, I quickly realized its impetus: the publication that month of a biography of Dare Wright by Jean Nathan, which had already been generating press attention in publications like The New York Times and Vogue magazine. Nathanâs book, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll (Henry Holt), sat in an antique birdcage in the center of the display.
âThat window display elicited the strangest reactions from people whoâd read the books,â reports Ivyâs Books owner Jay Pearsall. Most of the major mediaâs coverage of the biography explored, in some detail, those âstrange reactions.â
Why such widespread interest in the deceased creator of a series of childrenâs books, more than forty years old, featuring a doll and two teddy bears?Â âEverybody I know loves the story,â muses Danny Shapiro of The Toy Shoppe in Richmond, Virginia. âIt moves from the dark side to the light side. And I find this new interest in Dare Wrightâs life inÂtriguing and mystifying.â
The story of the first, most well known, book, published in 1957, introduces Edith, a doll with a severe case of loneliness. One morning, two unexpected visitors arriveâMr. Bear and Little Bearâand her problem is solved. The three live happily together until Edith and Little Bear get into serious mischief and are punished by a spanking from Mr. Bear. Edith panics that the bears will leave and she will be lonely again, but Mr. Bear assures her that as she and Little Bear have promised to behave from now on, they will stay forever. The book inspires hate/love relationships with a good number of its readers. Beloved by many, it also has been criticized for its spanking scene, for its anti-feminism and for what some see as its sexual undertones.
Dare Wright (1914-2001) was a successful model and photographer before devoting herself, in her forties, to the creation of the series of childrenâs books about Edith and the two bears. Instead of illustrations, the booksâ images are Wrightâs moody black-and-white photographs, which lend a mysterious power of heightened realism. Wrightâs own life was unusual, and somewhat mysterious. She was raised as an only child by her divorced mother, the painter Edith Stevenson Wright, to whom she was deeply attached and for whom she frequently posed. The pair regularly engaged in extensive fantasy and make-believe as a means of creative expression, certainly making a heightened realism of their lives. In early adulthood, Dare discovered a handsome older brother, who had been brought up by their father and grew strongly attached to him, as well. Jean Nathanâs book questions what The New York Times described as âunwholesomely close relationships with her mother and brother,â and the possible resulting psychological damage, which may have caused Dare to create The Lonely Doll books as a form of personal therapy.
âThe story of The Lonely Doll,â concludes Nathan in her epilogue, âwas in large measure Dareâs own story. In the book, a tour de force of wish fulfillment, she found a way to make things right, providing her alter ego, Edith, with love and rescueâŚ.she ceaselessly sought that rescue in her own life, which was spent posing, playing dress-up and retreating into fantasy in order to remain her motherâs âgood and precious daughter,â as if holding on to her mother and her motherâs love depended on that.â
Astute doll collectors recognize that the Edith of the books is a made-over Lenci. âIn 1924, Edie Wright bought Dare an Italian felt Lenci doll,â explains Brook Ashley, a lifelong friend who became Dareâs legal guardian when she grew ill and is now executor of her estate, in an unpublished article. The doll, according to Ashley (who now owns it), âwas 22 inches tall and numbered series #109 in the Lenci catalogue. Dressed in a brilliant orange felt bonnet and organdy dress that was accented with felt flowers, the doll had mohair curls and Lenciâs trademark side-glancing eyes. Dare named her Edith after her mother, whose hair was similarly styled,â and eventually packed her carefully away in a trunk. She rediscovered the doll in the early 1950s, Brook continues, and âbegan transforming Edith from a classical Lenci into a new and distinctively different doll. Edith got a straight blond wig with bangs and a ponytail, just like Dareâs own hair. Her ears were pierced for tiny gold hoop earrings, and Dare made her a pink-and-white gingham dress with a white pinafore.â
While she encouraged and supported Jean Nathanâs book, inviting the biographer on a personal tour of Wrightâs apartment, her possessions and portraits and granting access to Wrightâs personal photographs and writings, Ashley ultimately withdrew her cooperation from the project, believing that the biographer âwould result in skewing the true story,â as she wrote in a letter to The New York Times. âShe [Dare] and Edie may have been entwined, but that did not stop Dare from achieving her own success,â Ashley asserts in her article. âDare grew into a beautiful woman who forged a new concept in childrenâs literature. Dare was a joyous individual, not a quivering shadow of her mother. They enjoyed each otherâs company, and shared a bed when Edie visited.â
While the truth of Dare Wrightâs life will remain forever in question, there is no doubt that the publication of Nathanâs controversial biography has given life to Edith once again. The Toy Shoppeâs Danny Shapiro unhesitatingly admits that âJean Nathanâs biography triggered our interest in having a new version of Edith produced.â He apÂproached the Alexander Doll Company, makers of the very first rendition of Edith in 1958, to create an exclusive edition in vinyl with a felt finish (a medium that the company had recently introduced). He realized that such an Edith would be true to the original character, as well as linked to the companyâs origins as a maker of felt and cloth dolls. Whatâs more, Alexander could now render Edithâs signature side-glancing eyes, as crucial to an authentic resemblance as her traditional pink-and-white checked dress.
âAlexander and Edith are a perfect match on many levels,â Shapiro continues. âThis is another step in the lineage of the Lonely Doll, as Madame Alexander was the first to undertake an Edith doll.â
âWe are thrilled to be producing the Edith exclusive for The Toy Shoppe,â says Alexanderâs director of marketing Jane Abrahams. âEdith is a character that is very close to our hearts at Alexander. This is the first felt Edith we have ever done; she has beautiful mohair hair and the designers have done an exquisite job of painting her face in a unique style.â
The Toy Shoppe had commissioned and sold a highly praised all-felt interpretation of Edith, made by the husband-wife team of Haut-Melton in 1997 (see âThe Mystique of Edith,â Dolls, June/July 1997), and accompanied by a Little Bear made by Steiff, the makers of Dare Wrightâs own teddy to whom she assigned the role of Little Bear, and the makers of the forthcoming exclusive edition, as well. Shapiro describes the forthcoming doll from Alexander as âan excellent effort at getting the doll to look like the one in the book, in felt, and at a good price.â The approximately 12-inch doll, limited to 500 pieces, sells for $249.95, with Steiffâs six-inch accompanying open edition of Little Bear priced at $120. (The Haut-Melton set, released eight years ago, was limited to 750 and cost $895.)
There is a small list of other versions of the doll. Following the Alexander Companyâs first in 1958, the short-lived Rothschild Doll Company produced a 21-inch felt Edith in 1985, followed by the Haut-Melton version in 1997. The Alexander Doll Company obtained the license again in 2003, and produced an eight-inch hard-plastic version, which is still available. All of these versions went relatively unnoticed outside of the doll world; Shapiro hopes that the general interest spawned by Jean Nathanâs biography will bring wider attention to this new rendition of the enigmatic character.
Whether or not it was a therapeutic exercise for its creator, âThe Lonely Doll is a classic childrenâs story,â Shapiro maintains. âIt has loneliness, friendship, mischief and an authority figure who punishes, but makes everything right again.â The Alexander Doll Companyâs newest edition of Edith will certainly inspire readers of all ages to discover or rediscover this compelling story.
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The 2015 DOLLS Awards of Excellence Industryâs Choice winners (DAEs, also called the Diamond Awards) were announced at the International Doll & Teddy Bear Show in Asheville, N.C., June 6. The Industry's Choice winners will go on to become the nominee's in the Public's Choice voting, set to begin in late June.
Without further ado, here are the winners of this year's Industry's Choice Diamond Awards!
The Jones Publishing Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed upon one recipient per year. This award was created in 2002 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the teddy bear, with the first recipient being Steiff, a German-based plush toy company known for its high quality and prices.
The Lifetime Achievement recipient must be or have been involved in some aspect of the doll and/or teddy bear field for a minimum of 25 years. The recipient may be an individual, partnership, corporation, company, author, artist, marketer, historian or any other industry professional. Lifetime Achievement Award nominations may be made by previous recipients or members of the LAA committee.
To qualify as a nominee, entrants must meet the following criteria:
The Lifetime Achievement Award has been presented to the following individuals and companies since its inception:
2003 Hildegard Gunzel
2004 Alexander Doll Company
2005 R. John Wright
2006 Wendy Lawton
2007 Virginia Turner
2008 Toy Shoppe
2010 Helen Kish
2012 Maggie Iacono
2013 Heidi Plusczok
2014 Jack Johnston
2015 Kaye Wiggs
August 8, 2014 - Blackall Associates Inc. is proud to announce the winner of its Summer Heat Photo Contest. The contest drew entries from around the world. Masterpiece Doll collectors sent in a special photo showing how their Masterpiece Dolls were enjoying the summer heat.
You havenât seen a toy show until youâve seen this one. Six buildings! Over six hundred exhibitors! Exclusively toys and dolls and childrenâs playthings on display everywhere! This is the show everyone always says they intend to visit, and now is the time to do just that. Collectors say the Chicago Toy Show really is the largest in the entire world. They are correct. Collectors say they find toys at this show that are never seen anywhere else. Correct again.
19 April 2014 â 5 October 2014
A special exhibition will take place at the Toy Worlds Museum Basle to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Japanese-Swiss diplomacy and friendship.