Monday, April 28, 2014

They Came from Hell: the strangest dolls in advertising

I apologize for this, but I had to load it up-front to get you used to the flavor of this post. My obsession with old comic book ads knows no bounds, and on my recent trawl I found some pretty good ones - push-up bras made of baling wire, memberships to secret mystical societies, ads for starting your own frog ranch, circuses for a dollar starring a performing "actual live" chameleon, etc., along with classics like Grog Grows Own Tail and the chihuahua in a teacup plaintively asking, "Will you give me a home?"

But I ruthlessly cut these out of the mix when I saw the number of creepy doll ads. Like clowns, there is something inherently squickish about the doll as an object, human yet not human, and often grotesque even in its supposed cuteness. "Lifelike" is the word that comes up again and again to describe a lifeless object.

I won't get into "reborn" dolls either, often made of rubbery silicone so that their arms and legs jiggle and quiver. Some of these actually have heaters in them, heartbeats, and miniature sound systems to emit baby noises (though Edison obviously got there first). No one wants to think about the next innovation.

I've written about these incredible '60s artifacts before, but there's an update which shocked me. I used to wonder about this ad, how they could ever get away with it, and what "Lilliputian cuteness" meant (I wasn't into Swift at age eight). I tried to picture a hundred rubber dollies a few inches high, but after a while the whole thing was shoved away in a back room of memory.

Then, the wonder of the internet led to this revelation:

Someone had actually ordered these, all those years ago, and kept them in their original box. These reminded me of those little plastic ornamentations you find in cocktails, only thinner, more toothpicky. And yes, it looks as if there's quite an array of them, but the thing is, calling them "dolls" is a real stretch. Apparently in one incarnation, they came with paper clothing, but it's hard for me to imagine how that would work.

And then I found this. . . 

This is obviously the same product, but all of a sudden they're five bucks! The type is too small to read, but presumably they had dropped the Lilliputian bit. I have no idea what year this version came out. But it's ripoff times five.

There's a whole category of moving dolls, the type that emit the most godawful grinding-gears sound as they inch along. 

Some of these look like cheats. I think you have to stand behind this one and "walk" it, so it's incapable of independent movement. And any doll that costs 50 cents - I don't know. Maybe, like the 100 dolls for a dollar, she's really only an inch high, a prototype version of nanotechnology.

Botteltot just has such a strange name. You'd think the manufacturer could come up with something better, more descriptive, such as Cindy Pees-a-lot. And I just don't get Toodles. Nobody costs 44 cents, with a 19-cent "layette". Maybe, like the Walking Doll with the checkered skirt, she came with boxtops from Joy Liquid - or whatever. 

We don't have to know what the text means, which is good, because I don't. The sad purse-mouthed expression on Grasitas's face kind of says it all. And that sure is a strange diaper.

Noma the Electronic Doll is manufactured by Effanbee, which somehow makes me uncomfortable. Noma was the brand of our old Christmas lights, the ones that used to electrocute you or give you third-degree burns. Though the ad gives the impression that Noma walks, she doesn't. But she prays, which is maybe a good thing for everyone.

Does this doll resemble Regan from The Exorcist, or Carrie, or - Good God! Feel my ribs? Hear my voices? Somebody call Stephen King.

Here is a ventriloquist's dummy - always a staple of the Twilight Zone series of the '60s - who not only talks (in your own voice, of course) but SMOKES. And he's under three bucks,so what can we lose, except maybe sleep?

And here is Sandy, endowed with Rubber Wonderskin and hair you can "wave", along with the usual accoutrements (bottles with rubber nipples, etc. - though with hair like that, she can't be the right age for diapers). Someone must have believed this advertisment would attract Mommies enough to want to shell out four dollars (C. O. D.!) to scare their daughters half to death.

The Edison Talking Doll was a flop. It stopped talking after little girls had cranked it a few times, and once the public saw its inner workings, they were too creeped out to want it. The whole concept was flawed from the beginning, but I don't think it mattered to Edison. It was just another way of getting attention for his REAL phonograph, which he stole from a guy in Germany. The Berliner Talking Doll just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press


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