I think we can all agree that 2010 has been a heck of a year (substitute “h-e-double hockey sticks” if you want to capture the full weight of the year’s suckiness). Like many other Americans, I am thankful that I’ve made it to this part of the calendar year with my humor and my sanity in tact. I’m also very grateful that I’ve been able to share my doll musings with all of you for the past several months. I thought it would have been an insurmountable challenge to find doll connections on a weekly basis, but it’s been surprisingly liberating to see doll references in my daily (and sometimes hourly) life.
My latest “cloth encounter of the doll kind” happened just this morning, and the prior one three days ago. I’ll start with the most recent one first.
When I was a little kid, I loved Barbra Streisand. Where other children were into nursery rhymes or bubblegum pop music, I was swooning for the Brooklyn belter. I discovered her early albums at my uncle’s house, and he told me about seeing her perform live in Greenwich Village back in the early 1960s. It was fascinating to hear his depictions of her gangly, kooky, thrift-shop appearance, and I fancied myself to perhaps follow in her footsteps. (I, too, was from Brooklyn, wore hand-me-downs, just like Secondhand Rose did, and sang loudly and passionately.) However, my warbling was sometimes mistaken for wailing, and my transformation into a songbird has remained an on-again, off-again pipe dream.
Inspired by Barbra, though, I began to read everything I could about her. I remember in one of the bios I had, she talked about being so poor as a child that she couldn’t afford a doll. Instead, she had a hot-water bottle with a face drawn on it. She would sleep with that at night and confide her dreams and desires to this Baby Teardrops surrogate. What a sad, sad image. And it got even worse. She revealed that the baby-sitter who used to watch her while her mother was at work “knitted a little pink sweater and hat for it.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of playing with a medical device masquerading as a Madame Alexander cutie is heartbreaking and a little absurd. I was always affected by that confession, because it was so bizarre and so abysmal. I couldn’t fathom not being able to own a doll as a child. It was inconceivable to me.
Flash forward to present-day America, and now Ms. Streisand can afford to buy anything her little heart desires. I was leafing through Entertainment Weekly and there was a review of Streisand’s latest project—not an album, or a movie, or a concert. Rather, it’s a huge coffee-table book on architecture and decorating: My Passion of Design, in which she shows off one of her enormous homes in Malibu, a mock Nantucket barn smack in the middle of the California coastline.
What the editors of EW decided to highlight in the review is that Streisand has dolls all over her house. They quote her as enthusing: “The porcelain faces . . . the wide eyes . . . the delicately painted eyebrows . . . the tiny teeth.” (Then the reviewers make a crack about that sentiment being the stuff of nightmares!)
Over the years, the singer/actress has earned a reputation for being controlling, demanding, egotistical, and hard-nosed. How fascinating then that this steel-willed businesswoman still has a soft side for dolls. As a matter of fact, the basement of her mansion is designed to mimic an old-fashioned Main Street. Rooms along the hallway are mock shops, which feature her many collectibles. And, yes, there is a “doll shop” in her downstairs design scheme.
It houses floor-to-ceiling shelves of priceless French and German antique dolls. There’s also a beautifully crafted dollhouse that is bursting with exquisite treasures and trinkets. Talk about living well being the best revenge!
During an interview for the book release, she led a writer through her homey haven. They spent a lot of time admiring the antique Brus and Jumeaux.
“Did children really play with these? I don’t know. I can’t imagine,” Streisand is quoted as observing. “They’re so intricate. Look at the fabric on the muff,” she says, touching one appreciatively. “Many of them are automatons.”
Streisand then winds one up and it begins blowing bubbles. “Isn’t that something? I’d never seen one blow bubbles before. I found her in Paris. And look at this one—she knits!”
I find it touching that a movie mogul (who can be downright monstrous, I’ve learned) is still in touch with the little girl from Flatbush who had nothing but ambition and spunk. Her doll display is the literal translation of a dream come true. I think it is amazing.
And I think the Streisand rags-to-riches tale is particularly fitting for this Thanksgiving blog. Despite all of the economic woes and downturns, we’re seeing around us, one thing hasn’t been fundamentally transformed. America is still this world’s best hope. We’re still the land where immigrants flock to make their dreams reality, and we’re still a country where our citizens are encouraged to dream big and to make those visions come true. Remember, the “pursuit of happiness” is part of our historical blueprint.
That’s why, despite all of the bad news, I think we should all be thankful that we are Americans. And as doll collectors, we should be thankful that so many talented men and women choose to pursue their crafts and their art in this land.
I hope you all have a bountiful and beautiful holiday with your loved ones and your dolls. And if you are traveling, don’t let the big, bad TSA employees get you down. The tiny 3-year-old who had the videotaped meltdown a few days ago was egged on because her teddy bear had been seized and searched. I think it could just easily have been her American Girl doll or Disney Princess that was snatched away. The young tot’s toy was touched (inappropriately) and then she was grabbed for her physical pat-down. Pandemonium followed.
I don’t know what will come of these “enhanced searches,” but I know the lawsuits are already piling up. I can’t see them lasting beyond this Thanksgiving getaway season, but just think a child and her toy were the Paul Revere of this anti-screening movement. Her demand of “don’t touch me, leave me alone” was the catchphrase of weary and fed-up grown-up travelers everywhere. Talk about GI Joe: Real American Hero—here’s a real American Girl, a little modern-day heroine.
You see, dolls and their impact are everywhere!
Before she became a worldwide force to be reckoned with, Streisand liked the simple lines of a sailor frock (top). That outfit became one of her trademarks. Today, many of the original Streisand costumes fetch high prices at auction.
“I worked on this doll very hard. The slit in the dress was at the back; it had to go on the side. The fabric—the bow had to be limp, it couldn’t be straight,” Barbra Streisand told Oprah Winfrey about the Mattel re-creation of the singer in her early performing days.