She's just cut out that way; Kingfield woman keeps paper dolls
alive through her publications
by Ardeana Hamlin
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - Bangor Daily News
Copyright 2005 Bangor Daily News, used with Permission.
When I was a child in the 1950s, I adored paper dolls. I was especially fond of Katy Keene comic books where, in each issue, I would find paper doll pages of Katy and her friends Bertha Bumples and K.O. Kelly, her archrival, Gloria Grandbilt, Randy Van Ronson, Errol Swoon and Sis and Billy.
I was such an admirer of Katy Keene that I would save my money until I had hoarded 50 cents. I would "send away" for large-size versions of Katy Keene paper dolls. They came all the way from California, and I would haunt the post office, peering into Box 81, which my family rented, in hopes of seeing the manila envelope in which Katy Keene paper dolls arrived. I would run home, grab the scissors and sit down at the kitchen table to cut out the doll and her wardrobe that ranged from whimsical dresses lavishly adorned with butterflies to a ho-hum pair of slacks. It never occurred to me that this wardrobe was only paper, so formidable were my powers of imagination.
In Bingham where I grew up, I had three places where I could purchase paper dolls: Hill's Variety Store, which sold magazines and newspapers, Moore's Rexall Drug store and Miss Murray's store, where, in addition to paper dolls, she sold handkerchiefs, doilies and other things of that nature. I only went to Miss Murray's store if I felt brave and had exhausted the resources of the other two stores.
Miss Murray hovered. She was ever alert to little girls like me with grubby hands who might besmirch her merchandise, or who only wanted to look and not buy. She had a somewhat cool manner that to my little-girl mind seemed vaguely sinister.
I would point to the paper doll book I wanted. She'd take it from the table where it was displayed and show it to me. I would glance at the price. If I only had 10 cents that week and the book of paper dolls was 25 cents - high end for the likes of me - I'd ask to see paper dolls that cost 10 cents until I finally decided on the one I wanted and could afford.
Then Miss Murray would collect my dime, slide the book of paper dolls into a tan paper bag, fold down the top edge and hand it to me with great ceremony. I always remembered to say "thank you."
After I grew up and paper dolls receded not only into my past, but into the history of playthings children no longer wanted to own, I thought paper dolls lived only in a cardboard box under my bed - I still have all the paper dolls I ever owned - or in antique shops.
What a delight it was to discover recently that paper dolls are "alive" and well, living on shelves and in filing cabinets in the small office in the corner of the cellar of a house in Kingfield. Some are tacked to bulletin boards. Some are fastened into loose-leaf binders. Paper doll movie stars from the 1940s and 1950s, wearing swimsuits, strike glamorous poses. Pages of elegant dresses, ensembles and gowns to fit the paper dolls delight the eye, fire the imagination and await the collector. For a moment, I thought I'd entered a time warp.
Here, in 1991, Jenny Taliadoros, 39, the daughter and granddaughter of paper doll artists, found her niche. This is where she publishes Paperdoll Review, a magazine for those who collect paper dolls; Paper Doll Studio News, a magazine for paper doll artists; and the Paperdoll Review catalog, where collectors may find reproductions of paper dolls they knew and loved as children - such as Katy Keene, Airline Hostess and Pilot, and movie star paper dolls such as Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day.
"Paper dolls," said Taliadoros, who grew up in Michigan, "is a way for collectors - or anyone - to connect with memories of childhood. It's a wonderful connection."
Taliadoros ought to know - she is the daughter of Judy Johnson and the granddaughter of Helen Johnson, both paper doll artists. She was 10 years old when her mother began drawing paper dolls. She remembers coloring sheets of her mother's black-and-white line drawings of paper dolls and playing paper dolls with her grandmother, now in her 80s and still drawing paper dolls.
"It was an escape into the mystery of glamour," she said of her childhood.
The movie star paper doll parade in the Taliadoros cellar office includes Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and Carmen Miranda drawn by Marilyn Henry; Marilyn Monroe, Mae West and Grace Kelly drawn by Tom Tierney; and Betty Grable, Shirley Temple and June Allyson from B. Shackman and Co., which publishes reproductions of vintage paper dolls.
"Movie stars and paper dolls just go together," Taliadoros said. In the days before television and computers, paper dolls were a way for Hollywood to keep movie star faces in the public eye. Paper dolls functioned as advertising - although they didn't really sell anything. They did, however, serve as a reminder to girls and their mothers to go to the movies to see their idols on the silver screen.
Papers dolls, according to an article by Judy Johnson posted at www.opdag.com, have roots in Japan, as far back as A.D. 900, where a purification ceremony included a folded paper figure. By the 1700s in France, jointed paper dolls called pantins were the darlings of society and royalty. In the United States, McLoughlin Bros., established in 1838, became America's largest publisher of paper dolls. The company produced Dottie Dimple, Lottie Love and Jenney June paper dolls.
Good Housekeeping and many other magazines printed paper dolls in the late 1880s and early 1920s. Many women who are now grandmothers remember how eagerly they looked forward each month to McCall's magazine and its Betsy McCall paper doll, which debuted in 1951.
In the 1950s, a book of paper dolls was often available for 10 or 25 cents in small town drug and grocery stores - an easily obtainable and affordable toy for little girls.
Today's paper doll audience tends to be retired women between the ages of 50 and 70, Taliadoros said. These are the women who remember playing with paper dolls and going to the movies every week to see films, such as "Casablanca," "Anchors Aweigh," "Sunset Boulevard and "Roman Holiday," starring their favorite Hollywood glamour queens.
Many paper doll artists, Taliadoros said, have backgrounds in fashion design. Her desire to give paper doll artists "a reason to create" culminated in Paper Doll Studio News magazine. "Most paper doll artists," she said, "have been drawing since they were children." But publication venues where they may feature their work are few.
For that reason, this year Taliadoros edited and published "Paper Doll Artists Gallery" featuring 22 original paper dolls by 22 artists, including one from Denmark and one from Germany.
"It had never been done before," she said.
"A huge part" of the appeal of paper doll collecting, Taliadoros said, is education. "Historical events affected fashion," she said, and paper dolls, whether vintage, or reproduction, are a way to learn fashion history in a visual way. An example of that, she said, is the American Girl paper doll series.
Although Taliadoros is not a paper doll artist, she said there is "something nice about handling paper."
"Paper dolls," she said, "need to live on. We don't have tons of publishers cranking them out." Many adults today want to bring children back to more organic ways of being, she said, and paper dolls are a good vehicle for that.
"New audiences for paper dolls," she said, "are being created by TV channels that show old movies. These days young people watch movies of the 1930s, '40s and '50s."
To learn about paper dolls and Taliadoros' publications, visit www.opdag.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Ardeana Hamlin may be reached at 207-990-8153, or e-mail email@example.com.