Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Art of Playing Dolls



Do little girls actually play dolls anymore?  I know that my daughter didn't, but then again, she has always been very grounded in reality and not much given to flights of fancy.  I was heavy into doll playing, from about the age of 5 or 6 up through near puberty. Not baby dolls, mind you, too dull.  Shirley Temple and Betsy McCall were the dolls I played when I wanted girlish heroines, and Barbie when I wanted someone older. My sister and I got matching Shirley Temple dolls one year for Christmas.  One of them was dressed as Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm, complete with gray and white striped overalls with a straw hat.
The other was dressed as Heidi, and wore a dress with a red skirt.  They both had lovely ringlets, but we soon remedied that.  It didn't take long before the curls were gone, each doll sporting a new haircut.  We never named them.  They were stock players in our daytime dramas, and their names and personalities would change depending on the situation.  My Shirley ended up with short hair, so she usually played a boy's role.  She lost her hair in a bathroom incident.  I had taken her into the bathroom with me, and had rested her against the space heater for a minute...or two.  It didn't take long for the heater to turn her hair into a melted, matted mess.  My mother, in a fit of pique (she had a lot of those back in those days), took a pair of scissors to her, and she wound up looking quite butch. We had a small Betsy McCall doll. She was made of a brittle plastic, and did not have the typical plastic joints, although her knees did bend.
After a while, her legs were so loose that they practically dangled from the hip sockets.  So she became the perennial invalid.  Enraptured as I was at that age with the story of Heidi, she became our Clara, confined to an invalid's bed converted from an old Easter basket. Our friend Carol from down the street played with my sister and me most days.  Carol was a great doll player.  Her dolls' characters were always the brattiest and the bitchiest.  We didn't even have to ask her to make them bratty and bitchy - she just did it  naturally.  Her characters' cruelty to the invalid Betsy always roused our ire.  When we switched it up and played with the Barbies, the melodrama was kicked into high gear. (I had a classic ponytail Barbie, at least she started out that way. Ever the curious one, I thought she would look better wearing long blonde tresses like Mary Travers.  Imagine my horror when I discovered that her hair was only rooted around the hairline, leaving a huge bald spot that covered almost her entire head.  I was finally able to twist her locks into a tight bun that I affixed with a straight pin to the top of her skull. No collectors' item there.)
Carol provided the love interests - one Ken doll
and one GI Joe borrowed from her younger brother.
GI Joe was uglier than Ken, but what he lacked in appearance he made up for in agility.  Oh, the infidelities and the intrigue! I don't think anything good or useful came out of those experiences, and our mothers would have probably been both horrified and amused had they taken the time to listen to us.  Fortunately they did not. (Thanks to ebay for the pix! Sorry, Joe, I hate to embarrass you with the full frontal nudity, but it was the only way to display your superior physique.)