Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Madame Alexander and the Dolls of Oz

The dreams you dare to dream really do come true. This was certainly the case for Madame Beatrice Alexander who wanted to create beautiful dolls that would stimulate a child's imagination and be cherished for a lifetime. Eighty-three years later her dream lives on.

Madame Alexander's father Maurice was the epitome of the American Dream. He was born in Russia and learned the doll trade in Germany. He immigrated to the United States where he met and married another immigrant, Hannah Pepper. In 1895, Maurice opened the country's first doll hospital in New York City and later that same year "Madame" Beatrice Alexander was born in an apartment of the hospital.

Madame Alexander grew up watching the powerful bond between children and their dolls when tearful little ones would bring their broken dolls to the hospital for repair. No doubt an image that influenced Madame Alexander greatly as her very first dolls were unbreakable.

When World War I cut off the supply of dolls from Germany, Beatrice started to create her own cloth dolls and in 1923 the Alexander Doll Company was born. At a time when women weren't encouraged to go into business, Madame Alexander forged ahead and her company prospered. Also in 1923, FAO Schwarz became the first retailer to carry her dolls. Over 60 years later, FAO Schwarz would dub Madame Alexander the "first lady of dolls."

Over the years, Madame Alexander engineered many firsts in the doll world and won numerous awards for her designs.

Madame Alexander was often inspired by children's literature, history, and film. She seemed to have keen insight for knowing what characters would excite the public and continued finding innovative ways to recreate them time and again. The impeccable costuming, hairstyles and irresistible cherub-like faces have endeared Madame Alexander dolls to collectors from the company's inception and the designs get more elaborate with each passing year.

Among her first dolls was Alice in Wonderland, one of Madame's favorite literary characters. In 1933 Madame Alexander started a relationship with Disney that continues to this day and in 1937 a Scarlett O'Hara doll was produced based on the novel Gone with the Wind that was published the year before.

With the company's history of producing dolls of famous personalities and characters, it's no wonder in 1989 the Alexander Doll Company paid homage to the 50th Anniversary of the MGM film The Wizard of Oz with the release of a 14" vinyl Dorothy doll. Dorothy, dressed a blue jumper over a short sleeved white blouse with her dark hair tied in ponytails, looked like any little farm girl ready for adventure.

The following year an 8" 20th Anniversary Dorothy was made in a limited edition of 50 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Doll Cradle in Kansas. Oftentimes, the Alexander Doll Company creates very exclusive dolls as a token of appreciation for a retailer's continued patronage. In 1991, another 8" Dorothy was added to the Alexander Doll Company's Storyland Series.

Other characters soon followed and the Oz line has continued to expand over the years, eventually adding on such neglected characters as Miss Gulch, the Apple Tree, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Even Toto in 8" doll form, made an appearance at the 1997 Walt Disney World Doll and Teddy Bear Convention.

In the 8" doll line Dorothy wore costuming like that of her MGM counterpart while her three companions from the Land of Oz appeared to have jumped right off the storybook pages. The early Oz dolls were attired in enchanting designs and vivid colors that brought the familiar characters to life in a whole new way. In the late 1990s the Oz characters started to take on the look of the MGM film. Characters are added to and retired from the Oz line regularly to keep the line fresh and collectors on their toes. Some dolls are manufactured for only a year or less and others are made in small editions. The munchkins and winged monkey first introduced in 1994 and 1995 were such dolls with limited availability and have escalated in value and continue to be highly sought after.

The Oz dolls and all of Madame Alexander's dolls are a labor of love worthy of becoming heirlooms. Each doll is made by hand taking 2 - 3 weeks to complete. Hundreds of people work year round in the factory that has never moved from its original location in New York City. Extreme care goes into each doll from the face paint to the hairstyles to the minutest details like bows or lace on undergarments. These special nuances thrill doll enthusiasts and make Alexander dolls stand out in any collection.

The story of Oz has appealed to people of all ages for over 100 years. It's very likely that the Oz dolls of Madame Alexander helped endear the Oz characters to public consciousness and to children's hearts. Madame Alexander wanted to make dolls with souls and the Alexander Doll Company has been successful in capturing the souls and whimsy of the Oz characters.

Madame Alexander traveled over the rainbow in 1990, but her company continues to thrive with the Wizard of Oz dolls remaining perennial best sellers. I'm sure she and the beloved personalities that inspired their creation would agree there's no place like your home for Madame Alexander's dolls of Oz.