I was so cut-out for this. I remember calling dibs on my mother’s McCalls magazine, anxiously thumbing my way to Betsy McCall. Every month beginning in April, 1951, the adventures of the two dimensional pre-teen were shared with readers. Every little girl envied her wardrobe almost as much as her whirlwind adventures. Manual dexterity was required to extract her pretty clothes from the page with scissors. Almost every women’s periodical offered a paper doll, one of the earliest being Ladies’ Home Journal in which children would crayon the color. Celebrities were celebrated on paper, from Queen Victoria to movie stars. From Lettie Lane and Polly Pratt to Dolly Dingle, the cut-out friends would be stashed in shoeboxes for rainy day play. Printed paper doll sets were reserved for the affluent during the Victorian era when the colorful lithographic sets by Raphael Tuck and the McLoughlin Bros. were selling for a hefty fifteen cents.
Hours of make-believe are enjoyable because one chooses the characters and events just as they are desired to be. A friend of mine refers to imaginative play as “Theatre of the Mind”. It is the reason for a book being more intriguing than the movie. On lazy summer afternoons when the box fans were humming, my sisters and I would illustrate our own paper dolls and mount them on cereal box cardboard. By tracing their silhouettes we could custom fit tabbed dresses of our dreams. Speaking for them, we would act out spontaneous escapades. My mother was once mortified to be addressed in a grocery store for her daughters’ assumed entitlement to cut out paper dolls that were taunting us from a wire spinner alongside sticker and coloring books. I can still visualize the flimsy plastic scissors and paper scraps all over the floor.
Maybe this summer, we should turn off the childrens’ television and video games for a spell and entice them to the beautiful world of “just pretend.”
May your dresses be as pretty as Betsy’s and your make-believe world become a reality!