By Paulette Tarant
“Come on down! Would you like to be Queen for a Day?”
What started as a radio program hosted by Jack Bailey became one of the first reality game shows on American television in the late 1940s. Thousands of women were invited to share their sad and tragic stories in front of the “Queen for a Day” live audience. The winning contestant was selected by the audience using an applause meter, and the winner would then be granted a special wish and lavished with gifts.
The show’s popularity inspired the Hollywood Doll Manufacturing Company to create and market a doll specifically named for the show. One of the largest doll companies of its era, the Hollywood Doll factory was located in Glendale, California, from 1945 to 1958.
As a child in the late 1950s, I attended an episode of the “Queen for a Day” show at the Moulin Rouge Theater, previously known as the Earl Carroll Theatre, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I had received a birthday gift in the form of a blue star-studded box which contained a beautiful hard-plastic doll wearing a crown and a vivid red velvet cape trimmed with real rabbit fur. On top of the doll sat a magic ticket!
The ticket invited “bearer and party” to attend the “Queen for a Day” show. I was beside myself with happiness, having actually received two gifts in one box. Mother and I attended the show in 1959, and I carried with me my beautiful doll. The 5-inch doll with sleep eyes was my first introduction to the Hollywood Doll Co.
I have not been able to confirm the exact year that Hollywood Doll introduced its Queen for a Day doll to the public, although the company ran an ad for its 9-inch Queen for a Day and Heart’s Desire dolls in the January 1947 issue of Playthings, a toy industry trade magazine. The radio show ran from 1945 to 1957, and the TV version aired on NBC from 1956 to 1960, then on ABC from 1960 to 1964.
I find this mid-century modern doll to be terribly underrated, as it represented the emotions (whatever they may have been), of millions of viewers who tuned in to the show every Monday through Friday during its run on national television. Many viewers would gather with family and friends to watch and cheer on their favorite contestants.
Other viewers were repulsed and described the show as tasteless and demeaning to women. Yet this did nothing to deter the long lines of women eager to become one of the qualifying contestants that stretched around the building.
The Hollywood Doll Company hit the mark with this doll, as the Queen was one of their most popular and best-selling dolls. Both the show and the doll company were a huge success in the ’50s. After all, who wouldn’t want the benefits that came with the title of “Queen for a Day”?
Paulette Tarant manages the Hollywood Doll Company Fan Club Group on Facebook and is a member of the United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC). She is currently working on a reference book about the Hollywood Doll Manufacturing Company in collaboration with author Elaine Pardee.