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Desperate Housewife on the Verge of a Doll Collecting Breakdown

Late on Sunday nights—after the kids are sound asleep and the hubby has retreated to the bedroom to read Popular Science magazine—I settle down on the couch with my loyal cat, Annie, and my trusted remote control in hand. I DVR “Desperate Housewives” faithfully, and I love being able to sit and unwind for 45 minutes as I watch all the over-the-top goings-on, gloriously commercial free! Usually, it’s a source of amusement and occasional nail-biting cliffhangers. This week, it was an affront for all collectors who have ever held a doll in their arms!

In case you’ve never watched the primetime soap (though the producers claim it’s a parody of a soap), it centers on the loves and losses of four central housewives, and then a visiting neighborhood minx or a villain pops into the picture for a year or two as well.

The main quartet of sensational-looking hausfraus are Susan (Teri Hatcher), Lynette (Felicity Huffman), Bree (Marcia Cross), and Gaby (Eva Longoria). Over time—the show has been running for seven seasons now—Gaby has become my favorite character. She has a mammoth ego, and no moral compass whatsoever. She is materialistic, jealous, petty, hypocritical, and calculating. You’d never want her as a pal in real life, but on TV she is a welcome shot of pure, uncalculated energy and entertainment.

However, the petite spitfire (it always makes me chuckle that she is supposed to be a former runway model, when the fashion industry considers 5’ 8” to be the minimum height allowable) has had a bad run of luck lately. Having discovered that the baby she birthed seven years ago was switched at the hospital and she’s been raising another woman’s child, Gaby has become understandably perturbed.

Being on a television series not known for its restraint, she’s allowed this discovery to turn her into a completely loopy nutcase. Evidence that she’s become more unhinged than a farmhouse’s screen door flapping in a Kansas twister? Well, she’s tracked down who her birth daughter is, learned that the girl, now called Grace, is being raised by illegal immigrants, and plotted to have them picked up by immigration so she could be reunited with her “real” child! Of course, she sees the errors of her way at the last possible minute, and masterminds the escape of Grace and her parents. They are now fugitives from the federal government. (Thanks a lot, Gaby!)

Left with a hole in her heart, and ignoring the two daughters she has at home, Gaby is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And this is where the producers show their misunderstanding of the doll experience. Gaby, in a truly desperate move to hang on to the biological daughter she can’t have, buys . . . a . . . doll!

Back in the 1960s, when spoiled former fashion models got a case of the blues or the red meanies (like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), they’d reach for a handful of prescription pick-me-uppers. Famously nicknamed “dolls” by Jackie Susann in her scandalous novel, “Valley of the Dolls,” the barbiturates and painkillers were a necessity for getting to bed and for getting up in the morning.

In the brave new world of 2011, the “doll” that is comforting the growing-ever-more-screwy Gaby is a real doll. When her frienemy Bree (none of these women are purely friends or enemies) discovers Gaby’s secret surrogate, she is horrified. Mind you, these are women whogabyanddoll_small have cheated on their husbands, committed manslaughter, been facedown in the gutter drunk, covered up crimes, and have formed lynch mobs, BUT the notion of a woman with a dull is beyond the pale to them! That made me roar with laughter, and then it made me roar with anger.

The mature doll collector has been given a bad rap in popular culture. It’s one of the last bastions of unadulterated bigotry. Way back in “Murphy Brown,” the kookiness of Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) was further driven home by having Corky shown as a collector of Madame Alexander’s First Lady dolls. (“Pat Nixon is my favorite,” she candidly opined.) On “Will & Grace,” the politically correct roomies decide to become friendlier toward other residents in their high-rise. They meet someone who seems fairly decent, until they discover he’s a doll and bear collector—a double whammy. Same with “Sex and the City,” when Carrie’s hapless gay pal, Stanford, finds a potential lover. However, he has to bid a hasty adieu when the prospective paramour is revealed to be a Madame Alexander fanatic.

Oh, it’s been a hard road for us adult collectors. We’ve been portrayed as psychos, sociopaths, misfits, and emotionally damaged goods. In my humble opinion, one of the most touching moments this entire year on “Desperate Housewives” was the exchange between Miss Charlotte, the owner of the shop where the doll was purchased, and Gaby. Gaby has returned with the doll to the “Academy”—that’s what the store is called—because the poor plaything was mauled by her daughters, who beat it up pretty bad with rough horseplay. She confesses that she wants the doll for herself, and is there something wrong with her?

Miss Charlotte shows Gaby her own personal talisman—an antique doll found in France. She calls this doll “Mrs. Humphries” and explains how the doll has a fascinating backstory. Mrs. Humphries has been Miss Charlotte’s companion for decades, and they both opened their businesses at the same time, and they both lost their sisters at the same time.

Gaby is confused, and asks tentatively, “Did the doll tell you that?” And then Miss Charlotte speaks pure pearls of wisdom. I’ll paraphrase as best I can here: “Dolls can’t talk, Gaby, but they tell their stories to you nevertheless. Dolls are great friends, because they don’t change, and they never leave you. What is your doll’s story, Gaby?”

And as the camera pans back to Wisteria Lane, and we see Gaby returning to her oversize home and oversize life, stepping out of her car with an oversize box, her voiceover tells us: dollcloseup_small“My doll is named Princess Valerie. And she was born a princess. But she didn’t always know she was one. She was switched at birth. And now she has returned to the castle, and her mommy is never going to let her go away again. She will remain a princess forever now.”

As that last line is delivered, we see Gaby hiding the doll in the box in her closet, on a high shelf away from prying little girl hands, and she shuts off the closet’s light.

How sad that Gaby can’t display her doll—that she can’t give it a place of honor on her dresser or on her bed. If that would seem too presumptuous, then why not let it sit on a rocker in her changing room, or perch upon a shelf in the family room. It’s awful that Gaby’s inappropriate obsession with her firstborn has been transferred to this secreting away of a doll likeness.

It makes all of us doll collectors seem just one Skipper and Skooter away from commitment. I’ve watched the ladies of Wisteria Lane behave very unladylike. I’ve watched them beg, borrow, and steal—before the credits have even rolled. I never thought the one unmentionable and tucked-away action would be doll collecting!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your take on the forbidden nature of being an adult collector in the mind-set of the media!

Photo Captions

Gaby has committed lots of questionable acts on “Desperate Housewife,” but none are as secretive as her love of “Princess Valerie,” her brand-new doll. [Middle]

Bearing an uncanny likeness to a daughter she can’t raise, “Princess Valerie” marks Gaby’s fall from grace. Is this the nutty action that will get her tossed off Wisteria Lane? [Bottom]

 

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great compliment. I would be very happy if things would be a great magazine in German language. Keep it up!
sunny greetings
Claudia from germany
Claudia Brauner , January 30, 2011 | url
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I very much enjoyed this article. However, I never knew that doll collectors were looked at like crazy people. I mean, collecting is collecting - and I've always looked at collections as art; whether the collection is depression glass, or paintings, or tins, or rubber duckies, or dolls.

With regard to the secreting away of the doll in Gaby's closet, it seems to me that it was a statement for the show, closure. It said that she quelled her anxiety over the lost daughter by placing her story in a doll, Princess Valerie, and putting her secret away, hiding it, protecting it. Of course it's not what a doll collector would do - wishing to surround ourselves with beauty and art.

Thank you for the article.

Kazjia Doll
Kazjia , January 27, 2011
...
Dolls are more than a hobby, a plaything, or an object of beauty; they are a part of history from the most crudely hand made doll to fine porcelain or reborns. They are a reflection of the times, they tell a story and they are art.
Art is collected in so many different forms, any museum can show you that. No one be criticized by how much art they wish to own and what type they wish to collect and if it is dolls one fancies go for it and enjoy. You are never too old to play with dolls, the play just becomes different; it becomes a collection of doll art.
Lisa Gregg , January 21, 2011 | url
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Bah, you don't get it. Collecting a few items is one thing, but the obssessiveness of many collectors--the sheer nuttiness of having a fixed point of interest in one thing--is certainly abnormal. Think of the lady who lives with 100 cats. Normal, healthy? No, not really.
Baggles , January 21, 2011
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don't you remember the audrey hepburn thriller Wait Until Dark ? obviously the head unscrews and the doll is filled with "things" that make her feel good. betsy wetsy would be too messy!
patricia park , January 15, 2011 | url
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Jill, Melanie, and Charlene: You're all so right. Certain people are permitted to be bashed, while others are sacred and untouchable. How sad that people who collect--who are helping to pump currency into a stagnant economy--are often parodied and caricatured. There should be more sensitivity to those of us who collect. It's not always about filling a hole, or plugging up a void--sometimes it's simply because an object has intrinsic value, beauty, and an allure. Let's hope a show will eventually come around to celebrate collecting. Off the top of my head, I can think of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." The lead character gets the last laugh when his MIB action figures nets him a six-figure return on eBay. He's rich, married, and happy at the movie's end. In part, thanks to his collection!
Stephanie , January 14, 2011
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Collectors are always portrayed as being nuts, and it's strange because TV (where we see ourselves shown as crazies) gives us HSN and QVC, plus tons of LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH & FAMOUS and CRIBS. We're shown what we should want to own, and what is beautiful to collect,and then we're slammed. It's very annoying and insulting. Thank you for pointing this out. I'm tired of seeing myself depicted as a lonely loon!
Charlene , January 14, 2011
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I don't watch the show but TV and movies have always made out that people who collect things are mad. Yet, most people collect something. Even famous people, the TV shows that showcase the homes of famous people often feature a room full of something the person collects.
Saying this, I have witnessed some doll collecting behaviour that I consider scary.. the people who collect re-borns.. not the collecting of them but the people who take them out in strollers. They 'burp' them, 'feed' them and 'change' them... showing them off like a real newborn, trying to make other people at the shows hold their "baby". I consider that disturbing. Just collecting something... not a big deal, but travelling around with an inanimate object, pretending it's alive, not just a source of comfort, that is a bit nutty.
Melanie Clark , January 14, 2011 | url
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The media likes to take a slap at anything that they think will draw a laugh or at a segment of people that they and society thinks is okay to make fun of. I try to grow a thick hide. My friends and my own daughter do not understand why I like dolls. I am not as obsessed as some, that talk and talk and live their lives around dolls...I do not substitute dolls for real relationships. But I don't judge those that do..often some unfortunate thing has made doll collecting (or any other focused interest) a safe haven. Who am I to judge? I also do not act embarassed that I like dolls and I do bring them up once in a while in conversation with friends when I am excited about a recent purchase, or some trivia I just discovered. Just as doll collectors are made fun of, I am also very heavy and made fun of. Society thinks it is ok to say unsolicited things in public about your weight and you obviously either do not have ears to hear with and be offended or hurt, or you must not have a brain to register it. In my opinion, heavy people are on the bottom of the totem pole of people to make fun of. If they were gay, handicapped, etc., it would be unacceptable for people to say things. Not so with heavy people. One of the most popular shows on TV, The Biggest Loser, and here I know most will disagree, parade people with little clothing to be weighed in like a freak show. Would it matter if they had a t-shirt and shorts on? No. It is unrealistic for people to watch it and think everyone can lose weight like that...people cannot afford personal trainers and leave jobs to lose weight. Would we ask a handicapped person to almost appear naked to show us his deformities? No. Again, to get back to topic and off of my soap box...the media thinks people who collect dolls must have nothing else in their life or have something wrong with them and shouldn't they have stopped playing with dolls at eleven years old? Does Demi Moore have something wrong with her? At one point she was a huge doll collector! Maybe some of today's best doll designers, who used to design clothing for "humans" had a reason to move into the doll world! LOL
Jill , January 14, 2011

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