American Character was founded in 1919 by brothers Jacob and Max Brock, with their partner Ed Schaefer. The company was one of the leading doll manufacturers in America for the next several decades. Collectors value the company’s composition dolls, but their hard plastic and vinyl dolls of the 50s and 60s, such as Sweet Sue, Toni, Tiny Tears, Tressy and Betsy McCall, are American Character’s enduring legacy.
The company’s early dolls were either all-composition, or had a composition head and limbs on a cloth body. The earliest dolls are marked “Aceedeecee” on the back of the head. Beginning in 1923, they began using the trade name “Petite,” and many of their compo dolls are marked and tagged with that name. Their popular baby dolls included Bottletot, with one hand molded to hold a bottle, and the smiling Happytot.
In 1929, American Character acquired the rights to make the Campbell Kid dolls, and produced an adorable version for a few years. Puggy was another all compo character made in the late 1920s. He is 13″ tall and has plenty of personality. Puggy’s Girlfriend (pictured below) was made from the same molds as the Campbell Kids.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, American Character remained successful, with little girl dolls including Sally Joy and Carol Ann Beery, a celebrity doll representing the daughter of Hollywood actor Wallace Beery. Sally was very similar to Effanbee’s popular Patsy family dolls. She could be purchased with either molded hair or a mohair wig, and in an all-composition version as well as one with a cloth body.
American Character also made rubber dolls during the 1930s and ’40s. Most of these dolls have not survived because rubber degrades over time. Rival dollmaker Effanbee won a lawsuit against American Character in 1935 over the company’s introduction of a rubber drink-and-wet doll. Ed Schaefer left the company in 1939 to start his own firm making rubber dolls, and a second generation of Brock family members joined the team.
Despite the lawsuit and the challenges of production during World War II, the company continued to develop drink-and-wet babies, and in 1950 they debuted their most successful doll to date, Tiny Tears. Not only could this doll drink and wet, she could cry too! She was made with a hard plastic head and rubber body from 1950 to ’58; and with a hard plastic head and vinyl body from 1959 to ’61, in several sizes. The earlier dolls had molded hair or a caracul (baby lambskin) wig, later on she had synthetic hair rooted into a vinyl skullcap inset into the top of her head. Various vinyl versions of Tiny Tears were made in the 1960s.
Hard plastic Sweet Sue is another iconic doll made by American Character during the mid-twentieth century. She was produced in sizes ranging from 15 to 31 inches. Early dolls had mohair wigs but most dolls have synthetic hair. Some dolls have various American Character markings on the back of the head, but many are unmarked, which is a source of confusion and consternation for collectors. Vinyl head versions of Sweet Sue were made as well.
Sweet Sue Sophisticate was the grownup version of Sweet Sue. Made in 14, 20, and 25 inch sizes, she had a mature figure and feet shaped to wear high heeled shoes. American Character’s version of Toni is nearly identical to Sweet Sue Sophisticate. She was made in four sizes from 10 to 25 inches. The 10 inch version had many extra outfits which could be purchased separately. Toni was a tie-in to Gillette’s Toni Home Permanent and came with a Playwave kit to style her hair.
Betsy McCall started life as a paper doll in McCall’s Magazine. She became three dimensional with Ideal’s vinyl version in 1952. In 1957, American Character began producing Betsy in an 8 inch hard plastic version. She was hugely popular and had many extra outfits available. Following the success of the 8 inch Betsy McCall, American Character produced a 14 inch size with a vinyl head in 1958. This version was only available for two years. There was also a 20 inch Betsy with flirty eyes; 22 and 29 inch dolls with a different face sculpt; and a 34 inch companion-size Betsy. None of these larger dolls had extra outfits like the original tiny Betsy.
Toodles was a name that American Character used over and over for baby dolls. There was a rubber version in the ’30s and a hard plastic version in the ’40s; but the all vinyl Toodles, made in several different versions in the 1950s and ’60s, is the one most well known today. She was a drink and wet baby, but lacked the crying feature of Tiny Tears. Later on there were infant, toddler and little girl versions of Toodles.
The company continued to innovate and experiment in the 1960s. Whimsies were all vinyl novelty dolls that were aimed at older kids and teenagers. They were produced in 1960 and ’61. A total of 17 different styles were made, including Annie the Astronut, Freddy the Friar, Trixie the Pixie and Wheeler the Dealer. Another doll, Hedda Get Bedda, is similar to the Whimsies, except that her head rotates with three different faces: a sick face, a sleeping face, and happy “all bedda” face.
During this period American Character also produced Little Miss Echo, a 30-inch talking doll who worked by means of a tape recorder in her chest. Sally Says, Babie Says and Babie Babbles were other talking dolls made by the company.
Tressy, introduced in 1963, was American Character’s answer to Mattel’s Barbie. Tressy had a unique feature – “growing” hair that could be made longer or shorter by means of a T-shaped key inserted into her back. Like Barbie, Tressy had extra oufits and a little sister. Tressy’s friend Mary Makeup had very pale coloring that could be enhanced with colored pencils. Tressy was very popular and is commonly found today, although her extra outfits and playsets are harder to find.
In 1965, American Character introduced their line of Blue Ribbon dolls, which were not advertised on television, so could be offered at a lower price point. Pouting Penny and Butterballs were part of this line.
They also experimented with unusual types of dolls during this decade. Popi was a Barbie-sized doll with a “pop-apart” torso to make her easier to dress. Her molded vinyl wigs enabled her look to be changed quickly. A vinyl figure of Topo Gigio, a character mouse from the Ed Sullivan Show, was also introduced. A line of action figures from the tv show Bonanza were the last items produced by American Character.
The company name was changed to American Doll and Toy Corp. in 1960, although they continued to use the American Character trademark; they also did business under the name American Miniature Doll Corp. during this same era. By 1968, they were no longer in business. Some of the company’s molds and trademarks were sold to Mattel and Ideal.
For more information, read Judith Izen’s excellent book. Click the image below to view it on Amazon.
The Flintstones was an animated television show that ran in prime time from 1960 to 1966, and has been re-run almost continuously since then. It spawned several spinoff shows and movies. The show featured a stone-age family and their friends dealing with the everyday life and concerns of mid-20th century America. Pebbles, daughter of main characters Fred and Wilma Flintstone, was introduced in 1963, near the end of the third season. Originally, it was planned that Fred and Wilma would have a son, Fred Jr., but the head of marketing for the production company convinced the producers to change it to a girl, because “girl dolls sell a lot better than boy dolls.”
The Ideal Toy Corporation made several different versions of Pebbles, but this 14″ baby with vinyl head and limbs and peach-colored cloth body was the first. Pebbles has rooted red hair and painted features, with side-glancing gray eyes and an open/closed smiling mouth. Her left hand is bent backward. At the top of her head, Pebbles’ hair is rooted in a circular pattern, around a bald spot, and gathered into a ponytail holding her plastic bone in place.
Pebbles wears a cotton flannel diaper held on with safety pins (yes, we gave children sharp objects back then!) and a leopard-print dress with a small bow at the neck. She originally came wrapped in a yellow flannel blanket edged with leopard-print binding.
Dancing Cheerleader and Scrambling Quarterback dolls were made by Horsman in 1967. They were officially licensed by the two major league football organizations at the time – the American Football League and National Football League. (The two leagues merged in 1970.) The dolls were dressed in team colors with the logos on the Cheerleader’s sweater and on the Quarterback’s helmet.
The dolls are 6 inches tall and made of vinyl with a key wind mechanism in their backs. They have painted brown eyes glancing slightly to the left. The Cheerleader has rooted dark blonde hair and her right hand is molded to hold the team’s pennant. The Quarterback has painted hair and his right hand has a hole in it through which the football is attached on a plastic peg. Their outfits are flocked fabric without edge finishes. They close in the back with a single donut snap. Their shoes are mounted on a plastic disk which helps to keep them stable while they move. I haven’t seen one in action, but I’m guessing it’s more of a vibrating shuffling than a “dance” or a “scramble.”
The Dancing Cheerleader and Scrambling Quarterback were sold in display boxes which are shrink wrapped. The back of the boxes list the teams in the same League, but both dolls were available for both leagues. These dolls are sought after by football fans and collectors as well as doll collectors and collectors of wind-up toys.
The Dancing Cheerleader is pretty much the same doll as Horsman’s Mini Dancer, except that Mini Dancer doesn’t have her right hand molded to hold an object.
Beatrice Alexander Behrman, or “Madame Alexander,” as she became known, grew up in the doll business. As the daughter of Maurice Alexander, a Russian immigrant who opened the first doll hospital in this country in 1895, she learned to appreciate the beauty of dolls from her early years. Her father’s teachings stayed with her into adulthood, and seeking a professional and artistic challenge, she founded the Alexander Doll Co., Inc., in the 1920’s. She went on to become the leading lady of the doll industry as she guided a company famous for the beauty and high quality of its dolls and their clothing.
Early Alexander dolls were cloth and composition. They had big hits in the 1930’s with their licensed Dionne Quintuplets and Sonja Henie composition dolls. During this period they also introduced characters from literature, including the Little Women series and McGuffey Ana. In the late ’40s, they turned to hard plastic and their Margaret and Maggie face dolls were the epitome of the well-dressed little girl.
From the very beginning, Madame Alexander focused on producing the highest quality, most beautiful doll clothing in the world. The same molds were used over and over again, with the costume and hairstyling creating the character of the doll.
The 8 inch Alexander-kins were introduced in 1953, and became the Alexander Doll Company’s most enduring product. Many were sold under the name Wendy or Wendy Ann. A year later a walking mechanism was introduced. From 1956 to 1965, the dolls were produced with jointed knees.
Alexander initiated the modern era of the fashion doll with the introduction of Cissy in 1955. In the company’s catalog for that year, Madame describes her as “A Child’s Dream Come True.” Elise, a doll with jointed ankles to enable her to wear low or high heels, was introduced in 1957, and in 1959, 10 inch Cissette joined her “big sisters” as Alexander’s newest fashionable lady. All of these dolls had extensive lines of extra clothing and accessories which could be purchased.
In addition to the high-heeled dolls, Alexander produced some of their most enduring child dolls in the 1950s. Babies Kathy and Little Genius were produced in several sizes, and little girl Kelly was dressed in beautiful, classic styles. The Little Women dolls that had always been big sellers for Alexander got an update with the introduction of pre-teen Lissy.
In the 1960s, Alexander introduced a number of new dolls with unique head molds, including Brenda Starr, a slim teen fashion doll to compete with Mattel’s Barbie, and Coco, a new 20 inch high fashion doll. While these dolls had a fairly short production run, the company also introduced some new faces which would become classics in their line. The 21 inch Jacqueline doll was one of these. Initially a representation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the mold was later used for the Portrait Series of lady dolls which were produced for decades. 14 inch Mary Ann and 12 inch Janie, both little girl dolls, became mainstays of the company’s line as well.
Also in the 1960s, the International Series using the 8” Alexander-kin molds were introduced. They became Alexander’s most popular line, and are still being produced today.
The 1970s and ’80s saw Alexander staying the course, with few innovations, producing the beloved babies and children, characters from classic literature, and ladies in Portrait gowns that had always done well for them.
Beatrice Alexander sold the company in 1988, and passed away two years later.
In the 1990s, the company went through a challenging period. They were the last of the major doll manufacturers still located in the United States, and had difficulty competing for collectors’ dollars. In 1995 the company was sold to an international banking group and production began to be moved overseas.
In the 1990s and 2000s, many of Alexander’s classic dolls were reintroduced, some as reproductions of the original styles, and others with a new modern look.
Beatrice Alexander was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2000.
The company has changed hands a few more times in recent years, and is currently owned by Kahn Lucas, a girls’ clothing manufacturer.
Today the Madame Alexander Doll Company specializes in baby dolls for children, including Huggums and Pussy Cat, first introduced in the 1960s, and a line of Lee Middleton babies; and collectible 8 inch and 10 inch dolls using the Alexander-kin and Cissette molds.
The World of Barbie Fashions by Mattel, Book 3 is dated 1966. It includes Color Magic and Twist ‘n Turn Barbie dolls; Casey; and Black and White Francie dolls. Several of Barbie’s 1600 series and 1400 series outfits are pictured, along with the 1700 series Color Magic outfits. Francie and Casey’s 1200 series outfits and Fashion Paks are illustrated. The back cover offers a subscription to Barbie magazine.