Wednesday, March 8, 2017

OOAK Dolls: So Real They're Unreal

Bette Davis by CyGuy

Celebrity dolls, I discovered, have been around for a long, long time. According to Ellen Tsagaris of Dr. E's Doll Museum blog, the first commemorative doll is more than likely the Venus of Willendorf and other Venus figures discovered in Europe and said to be between 25,000 and 40,000 years old. Creation of tribute dolls continued through the ages, but it was during the reign of England's Queen Victoria that the popularity of such dolls surged. Royals, celebrated beauties and military heroes were all commemorated with dolls in their likenesses and prima ballerinas were memorialized as paper dolls.

With the arrival of movies in the 20th century came the manufacture of dolls based on film stars; the first Chaplin doll appeared in 1915. The runaway popularity of the Shirley Temple doll produced by Ideal in 1934 brought the production of more dolls based on popular stars like Sonja Henie, Deanna Durbin and others.

Celebrity dolls are still very popular and widely manufactured today. What is noticeable about these mass-produced dolls is that they may resemble but don’t truly look much like the icons they portray. For example, the doll on the left below is Madame Alexander’s 2002 rendering of Marlene Dietrich. The doll on the right is a restyling and repainting of the Alexander doll by artist “Lady Viola," a marked improvement on the original. 

Dietrich by Madame Alexander, left, made over by "Lady Viola," right

Below is a sampling of film star dolls mass produced by contemporary doll-making companies. All are originals, none made over.

Marilyn Monroe by Franklin Mint, Ava Gardner by Tonner, Elizabeth Taylor by Mattel

The worldwide popularity of dolls modeled on the famous is due primarily to the powerful cult of celebrity that has exploded over the last several decades. All collectors, those who collect out of devotion to a particular star or stars and those interested strictly in the investment potential, are most interested in dolls of particular quality and distinction.This is where the work of artists who create “One of a Kind” (OOAK) celebrity dolls, usually existing dolls that have been repainted and restyled, comes in.

Several years ago I happened upon the work of Kim Goodwin, who specializes in fashioning OOAK Marilyn Monroe dolls. The close resemblance of his repainted and restyled creations to the actress herself amazed me. Since then I have discovered that there are many gifted OOAK doll artists at work and, in a series of posts here, will explore the world of OOAK dolls and showcase some of my favorites.

Marilyn Monroe by Kim Goodwin

to be continued...

Atlas Obscura


  1. Wow. I find this incredibly interesting and look forward to the further articles.

  2. The Betty Davis doll and the Marilyn Monroe at the bottom, with her early 60's look, are my favorites. Interesting what people want to collect - there's also a whole group that collect Lego characters from movies. These dolls are pretty impressive.

    1. As Al Jolson famously said (and Bachman-Turner Overdrive sang rather tediously), "you ain't seen nothin' yet," Motorcycle Boy. Some of the best are yet to come.

  3. "positively the same dame" is from The Lady Eve with Barbara Stanwyck 1941. She is such a fav of mine. Wish someone would make a doll of her.