Recently, one of my friends who collects realistic-looking baby dolls spent over $100 on one that was advertised as looking so real, it was guaranteed to make people think it was a genuine newborn. In fact, the doll in the photo in the advertisement resembled an actual living, breathing baby.
In retrospect, it probably was.
What my friend ended up receiving was a package from China (even though the company’s address was listed as being in New York) that contained a cheap plastic doll that looked as if someone had won it at a carnival after hitting a balloon with a dart.
I really could empathize with how she felt, mainly because of something that happened to me back in the 1950s…when I was an impressionable young child.
And it still causes me trauma to this day.
I blame it on those evil, deceiving comic-book advertisements that crushed thousands of children’s spirits back then. After all, if you can’t trust an ad in a Little Lulu comic book, then what can you trust?
I probably sound overly dramatic, but I feel justified.
Growing up, I loved dolls so much, I couldn't get enough of them. My dolls all had names and I treated them as if I were their mother. I talked to them, sang to them and slept with them. And on Christmas Eve, I even hung up stockings for them so Santa would fill them...(enter devious chuckling here).
So when I was about nine years old and saw this advertisement in the back of one my comic books, my eyes grew as big as saucers and my heartbeat increased.
I ran to my mother, who was watching her soap opera, and waved the comic book in her face just as Patty was about to confess something shocking to her mother on TV.
“Please, Mommy!” I begged. “Can I get these dolls? I really, really, really want them!”
My mother took the comic book from me and scanned the ad. She then read the details as I held my breath and stared, not even blinking at her.
There was no way she could refuse, I told myself. I mean, a hundred dolls made of Styrene (whatever that was!) for only a dollar? Where else could you buy dolls for only a penny each?
Granted, a dollar was a lot of money back then. It could buy 20 full-sized candy bars, or admission to a double-feature movie, including a box of popcorn and a box of Milk Duds.
But heck, that wasn't nearly as exciting as having a hundred dolls!
“I don’t know..." my mother said, frowning, after she'd finished reading the ad. "You know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true…it usually is."
“But look at them!” I said, beginning to feel desperate and pointing at the ad. “They have dancers, cowboys, babies and clowns! I could play with them and make my own town!”
“That’s not a real picture of them, though,” Mom said. “It's only a drawing. So you don't know what the dolls really look like.”
When she saw my look of disappointment, she finally sighed and said, “You’ll have to save your allowance. Once you have a dollar, then I’ll send away for them for you, OK?”
My allowance was only a quarter a week, so to me, saving a whole dollar seemed as if would take months, maybe even years.
That night, when my dad got home from work, I showed the advertisement to him – mainly because I knew he was a soft touch. Within five minutes, I had a dollar bill in my greedy little paws.
And as promised, Mom sent for the dolls. Every day after she did, I practically stalked the mailman. I was on summer vacation from school, so I was able to keep a close watch on the mailbox.
Finally, after my patience completely had run out, the mailman delivered a package to me. But instead of the squeals of delight I’d anticipated would be my reaction, I only stared silently at it. My expression was one of total confusion.
The package wasn’t even the size of a box of tissues. How, I wondered, could 100 dolls possibly be in a box that small? One doll, maybe, but no way could 100 ever fit in there.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. When my mother and I opened the box, it contained mostly packing material. The dolls were in a plastic bag about the size of a modern-day sandwich bag. When I saw the actual dolls, I burst into tears. In my naïve little mind, I had envisioned them as being actual dolls wearing real dresses and colorful outfits.
But all of the dolls and their outfits were made of the same pale-pink plastic and were so tiny, they looked as if they had come straight out of a gum machine. And they all were standing on bases, which hadn't been shown in the original ad.
My mother didn’t look too pleased either. She frowned at the bag of dolls and said what I knew she was going to say but had hoped she wouldn’t…"I told you the ad sounded too good to be true. But honestly, I'm really sorry I was right.” She arched a brow at me and forced a smile as she added, “Maybe we can have fun painting their outfits, though. How about that?"
I was much too upset to be interested at that point. I didn’t ever want to look at those cheap, plastic, gum-machine dolls again. They, in my opinion, didn’t even deserve the honor of being called dolls.
Still, the advertisers in the comic books didn’t care or have any conscience, because they continued to dupe young kids for years. My cousin, for example, not long after I received my crappy dolls, begged his parents for this log-cabin playhouse he saw advertised in the back of a comic book. When they said yes, he practically danced a jig, he was so excited. He even told a bunch of his friends that after it arrived, they could come play “Davy Crockett” in it with him.
What ended up arriving, however, was a large manila envelope that contained a folded, thin plastic sheet with a picture of a cabin printed on it. The instructions said to drape it over a table and then crawl underneath the table.
My cousin didn't even want to show his face in school after that, he was so humiliated. I honestly felt sorry for him.
But on the other hand, at least I had someone to commiserate with.
That is, until I saw the ad for sea monkeys...
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Sally Breslin is a native New Englander and an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: email@example.com