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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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SWEETHEART OF A DOLL: FAMOUS PROTOTYPE TURNS UP AT AUCTION

SWEETHEART OF A DOLL:  FAMOUS PROTOTYPE TURNS UP AT AUCTION
The Mary Pickford doll. Sold for $34,000. Photo courtesy of Theriault's
Say you’re a doll buff, and you have a chance to own the most beautiful doll you’ve ever seen. There’s only one like her in the world.

That’s the sweet bind collectors faced at Theriault’s May 18, 1996 auction in Annapolis, Md. Bidders knew in the end it would only require keeping a hand up long enough for the hammer to fall at $34,000.

If a doll can be a legend, then the Mary Pickford doll is one. In the same way legends lend an extra dimension to possibility this doll emerged from rumor to reality.

Mary Pickford, touted as “America’s Sweetheart,” dominated movie screens in the early-20th century. The Canadian-born American actress received an Academy Award for her 1929 performance in “Coquette.”

Selling the Pickford doll began with a routine house call and a cloth doll being consigned for auction by a private owner.

“Oh, by the way, would you be interested in an old family heirloom? It’s a Mary Pickford doll,” she said.

Up to then, the dolls existence was pure hearsay. She even showed up complete with a family tree: a letter from Mary Pickford describing the doll’s design specifications, resumes for possible artists, meeting notes, two additional heads, original glass negatives, photographs showing the doll’s construction in varying stages, marketing plans, and interviews with toy department heads from Wanamaker’s, Marshall Field’s, Lord & Taylor and Best & Co.

From a provenance point of view, it doesn’t get any better than this. The doll plus all the pieces to her past were complete. So, what happened? Why wasn’t the doll manufactured?

It seems Mary never found the perfect face for her doll. She sent good friend and advertising executive Walter Fry to Europe to supervise the construction.

Six noted artists competed for the project. One of them was Paul Manship. Each artist sculpted the actress with the precision of surgeon’s eye. All were rejected.

In 1923, Mary wrote to Fry asking him to come home. She was scrapping the project. Fry came back with all of the documentation including the only finished bisque-head model ever made.

Lilly Baitz, a German artist who enjoyed a reputation for creating theatrical dolls, sculpted the model. This model, Fry believed to be the best. The German firm Simon and Halbig created the likeness.

“People came from around the country just to see this doll,” said Luke Blen of Theriault’s.

The Mary Pickford doll joined together two types of collectors, those collecting Hollywood memorabilia and those collecting rare dolls.

“I know that sometimes a doll can be too rare, and scare some people off,” said Florence Theriault.

“But I know that won’t be the case here because of the incredible amount of documentation accompanying her.” The Mary Pickford doll went to a private dealer in California.

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