Silent Film “Movy-Dols”

In an earlier post, I talked about the genesis of the celebrity endorsement in the days of silent film. Of course, the brands and stars weren’t satisfied to stop with just a celeb endorsement. Merchandising would later be fully realized by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney, but even in the early days the stars’ likenesses proved to be a big draw — even in paper doll form.

We discussed the influence of Photoplay on the fan magazine industry, as well as the public’s relationship with the celebrity world, in a previous post. By the early ’20s, the magazine was the ruling movie publication, thanks, in part, to the sheer amount of star publicity photos included in each issue. But in 1919, the magazine decided to take this idea a step further and introduced “Movy-Dols.”

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These paper dolls were featured, in full color, on one page of the magazine. Each month would be dedicated to a different star with their own array of clothing. The reigning queen of the cinema, America’s Sweetheart Mary Pickford, was the first starlet to be featured along with outfits from some of her popular characters.

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Mary Pickford’s husband, the swashbuckling silent star Douglas Fairbanks, got his own doll.

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The queen of drama, Norma Talmadge, was also represented in paper doll form.

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Elsie Ferguson, largely forgotten today, was recognized with her own doll.

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And no collection would be complete without a paper doll for the king of silent film — Charlie Chaplin.

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The paper doll feature in the magazine was short-lived, but merchandising was far from it. It would only be a matter of years before actual dolls for each of the stars would find their way into the homes of fans and collectors.

New to our silent film series? Catch up with previous posts here.

Want to dive deeper into the world of silent film? Keep up with my posts over on Curtains or on Chicago Nitrate.