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These boxes, nestled one inside the other, contained the sum total of my mother’s paper doll collection. The blue box housed the large paper dolls that came in sets, the cigar box hid the “Progress” box, and inside that box were the paper dolls Mom cut out of magazines and catalogs.

I played with them all for the last time this past week.

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There are a total of 11 Starlets: Greer Garson (3 dolls), two dolls each of Bette Davis (pictured above), Gene Tierney, Lucille Ball, Lana Turner, Claudette Colbert, Rita Hayward, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, and Ann Sheridan, and one doll of Alice Faye.

Then there are the generic sets including two military weddings (one complete with a cutout Reverend), some Prom dates, and a set of nine Cabaret girls, all with multiple outfits.

I made the hard decision to attach the dolls to archival paper and cover them with acid-free protectors, one doll and corresponding sets of clothing on the page(s) following. For example, the Cabaret Girls all together in the box, and then all separated out with personal outfits in the new scrapbook.

The dolls are not in perfect condition: they’ve been mended, are missing feet or hands, and their clothes have also been mended many times over. They are 76 years old and have been handled by my mother, her friends, and by my siblings and I.

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The white album contains all of the sets of store-bought paper dolls (81 dolls, total) and their outfits (156 pages! Whew!). The blue album contains the dolls we were NEVER allowed to play with: The dolls cut out from magazines and catalogs.

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There are three type-written pages detailing the names of the dolls, their religion, and age. Marital lines are carefully catalogued. My mother was 14 years old when she typed out this Family Tree for her precious paper dolls. She then wrote on the back of almost all of them with a pencil, an act that was a Godsend in helping me identify who was who. Also, one name might have several dolls to correspond with it (the men were easy – there is usually only one cutout per man). I guess women change their outfits more often. And their hair color.

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I did find a date on the back of one paper doll: Redbook Magazine, December 1946. Mom was still adding to the family after she created the family tree!

There are 43 “living” family members listed (7 are listed as “deceased” and no doll corresponds with those names). After I attached them and put them in their sleeves, I counted them: 272 different dolls for those 43 “living” names.

They are in excellent shape, having never been played with by anyone other than my mother (I highly doubt she allowed her older sisters to play with them, or even a play mate – she certainly never allowed her own children to touch them!). I did get to play with them this one last time as I sorted them all out.

I asked myself several times why I was saving these paper dolls. The store bought sets are worthless on the retail market and are not even museum quality – they’re just the banged up remnants of a 14 year old girl’s childhood in the mid 1940’s. The magazine cut outs have a charming quality to them and are better preserved, but they really have no monetary value, either.

The next generation may not care about the time my mother spent cutting out, naming, and detailing the “lives” of her silent playmates. They may not care about the time I just invested in preserving those precious memories of my mother as a girl and of my childhood spent staring longingly at said dolls.

They probably won’t even care that I’m afraid if I damaged or destroyed the paper dolls, my mother would come to me in the night, full of temper.

I saved them because I can. I saved them because they’ve survived 76 years already. I saved them so I can show them to my own granddaughters (I hope).

But mostly I saved them because fear of being haunted by a mad Scotswoman is real.

 

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My mother wrote the names on the back in pencil. They weren’t movie stars (to my knowledge), but were the teen-age girlfriends. (Left-Right: Nan, Betty Lou, Janet, Shirley, Marianne, Babs)

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Why is one paper doll face down, you ask? I just wanted to show how much my mother really cared about these. The little girl doll (daughter to the vivacious blond mother doll) has been taped and tooth-picked back together. This was a fun set: the mothers and daughters had matching suits for every occasion.

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One wedding party. There are two wedding parties in Mom’s collection. This one even has a Parson.

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Two sets of teenagers who obviously liked to hang out together in large groups and one more wedding party (on the right in the bottom photo). I believe the teens were all about being Debutantes and going to some fancy Ball or Senior Prom. These dolls didn’t attract me as much as the Movie Stars or the Cabaret Girls.

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I think it is fair to say, the Cabaret Girls were the favorites. I don’t know what order they are in, but their names are: Janis, Tina, Cecie, Babs, Fay, Mimi, Lea, Jeanne, and Nan (Nan is missing her right hand). They had the swankiest dresses and little shocking outfits for the 1940’s girls that they were.

My grandmother was probably scandalized by the Cabaret Girls.

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Inside the box with the paper dolls is this cigar box.

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And inside the cigar box, is this box. These were the Strictly Forbidden Paper Dolls, the ones we were never allowed to handle.

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They were cut out of magazines and catalogs. My mother kept lists of their names, who was married to who and what children belonged to what couple. Sometimes, typed names were crossed off where she changed her mind and renamed a paper doll. The spelling is terrible, so my mother must have been very young when she compiled these genealogies. (My mother did not misspell many words as an adult.)

Jeffery Ren Burt 27  – Marlene Vilee 24 Prodestant (sic). (They are, apparently, a couple.)

Daniel Goodjoy 25 – Linda Lou Costellas 18 Prodestant (sic)-Catholic. (My mother liked crossing denominational lines. My Baptist grandmother must have truly arched her eyebrows!)

One sheet is dated Sept. 15, 1946. Mom would have been 14. All the dolls have first-middle-last names. They have ages and histories.

For instance, Willard Joseph Winston, Prodestant, 45 was “killed in fire”.

Juanita Marie Winston, Catholic, 21 was “adopted”.

Gordon Paul Costellas went by “Gordie”

I handle this box with reverence. These are different that the others who are glamorous and can change clothes. These dolls are stuck forever in the outfits they are wearing. They are thin slips of paper with advertisements and magazine articles on the flip side. They are the dolls we were never allowed to touch, the favorites of all my mother’s childhood, and the ones who hold more memory of her than the other dolls do. After all, the other dolls have known many hands. These have known two hands.

I need to find a better way to store these treasures, but I hesitate to remove the last ones from their two boxes. They are safe there, hidden from pudgy little hands and light that fades their ink. And if I stick my nose deep into the box, I imagine I can still smell stale cigarette smoke on them.

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