Thursday, March 24, 2016

Margaret Springs to Life

The Margaret O'Brien Doll

Margaret O'Brien was a famous child actor in the early part of the last century. In 1944 she received a special child's Oscar for her role in Meet Me In St. Louis and Madame Alexander saw an opportunity. Beatrice (Madame) Alexander felt Shirley Temple was being exploited by her family and said as much publicly. Therefore, when Shirley's popularity skyrocketed and Shirley Temple dolls were selling like hotcakes, the Alexander company couldn't very well produce their own without looking awfully hypocritical! They did make a doll called "Little Colonel" with a face obviously modeled after Shirley Temple, but they didn't produce it for long and today it's a very rare and valuable doll.

Margaret O'Brien

The Margaret Doll

Margaret O'Brien presented an alternative, a beautiful, popular child actress to immortalize whose parents Beatrice Alexander had not publicly chastised. So, the Madame Alexander company created and sold "Margaret O'Brien" dolls in composition from 1946-1948 with a few different eyes and hair color combinations and in various sizes. The auburn hair and green hazel eyes of this doll was a combination produced from the beginning. The "Margaret" face, as the mold was known, became one of the company's most popular face mold as was used for many different composition and then hard plastic doll characters through the 1940s and 50s.

The doll before restoration

Someone taped her waist.

There was a weird plaster substance applied to some lifted areas.

An area of deep crazing

At first glance Margaret didn't look too bad when she arrived. She had some tape residue and some actual tape stuck to her torso and some lifted areas in her composition. She had all over alligator type crazing. Her wig is original and still styled, however, and her eyes are clear with no shattering. I thought it would be a pretty quick restoration. Shows how much I know! I cleaned Margaret and sanded the tape residue and tape off her body. The usual procedure for repairing the lifting composition is to remove the large areas of lifting, sand the edges smooth, and apply epoxy to refill the lifted areas, then sand and paint it. When I went to remove the lifting on this doll, however, I realized there was some kind of weird plaster type stuff in the cracks under the lifts. Evidently when the composition started to lift up someone "fixed" it by trying to plaster it and then tape the original paint shell back over it. Margaret had been restrung and had a bad lip paint touch up job in the past so I know she had some amateur repairs. Sigh.

The repaired doll

The Alexander mark

When I tried to sand away the lifted areas the plaster stuff started crumbling, taking the composition material with it. I became alarmed, so I stepped back. I sanded down as much as I could and removed as much of the plaster as would come away safely. Then I repaired the areas with epoxy to stabilize them. I was not able to get the repairs as smooth as usual, however, due to my worries about the composition crumbling. The doll is fine and sturdy now; the repairs just aren't as nice as I'd like. Luckily that area is covered by clothing and Margaret looks lovely otherwise.

The restored doll
Once I finished the lifted areas and the deep crazing inside the thigh I was able to conceal the all over crazing pretty easily. I touched up the lips, since they'd been touched up previously with the wrong color. I repaired a tiny crack over one eye and touched up the eyeshadow over the cracked area. Otherwise, all the face paint and hand and knee blush is original to this doll, pretty rare for a doll of this age! Her hair just needed to be looped back up as it was originally, and she was ready to dress.

The doll wears a reproduction outfit from 1998.

The outfit is tagged.

Margaret has an eyelet crinoline.

I stabilized this hole so it won't expand.
I acquired a Margaret O'Brien outfit made for the porcelain reproduction dolls Madame Alexander made in 1998. That Margaret doll was 16 inches and my original doll is 18 inches, so the clothes are snug. I was able to make them work, and the outfit is the exact right style for the Margaret O'Brien dolls of the 1940s. To rework the set, I had to replace the shoes with similar but larger ones. I put a hook and eye in the back to keep the waist snaps closed and covered it with a satin ribbon sash.The crinoline slip elastic was loose, so I took it in. I stabilized a hole in the panties with Fray Check so it won't get any larger. Voila! Margaret is ready to move to her new home. You can find her and many other lovely dolls in my Atelier Mandaline stores on Etsy and eBay. Through Monday I have dolls on sale in my eBay branch. On Etsy use the coupon code INSTAFAN at checkout for 10% off everything in the store.

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