Doll-ing for Dollars

Alyce Faye Cleese created this doll for the Girls Inc. benefit.
Courtesy Photo

When it comes to dolls, Montecito doesn’t toy around. Village resident Ty Warner, for example, parlayed some beanbag dolls into three South Coast golf courses, two Montecito high-end hotels, and one beach club-along with a few billion bucks in the bank.

With the understanding that dolls aren’t just child’s play, Montecito’s artists and celebrities have lined up with enthusiasm to submit some one-of-a-kind creations for a November 30 Girls Inc. benefit art-doll auction. The event will be held at the Contemporary Arts Forum from 6-9 p.m., and tickets are $85. Montecitans are always game to play, especially when it come to a good cause, so it was no surprise to hear that Peter Clark, Ann Diener, Ginny Speirs, John Cleese, and his wife Alyce Faye Cleese have been inspired to create dolls for the benefit.

J'Amy Brown

“Dolls let you dream the impossible,” explained Mrs. Cleese, a psychotherapist and author. “I came from a poor background. When you have nothing, imagining something is more important than anything.”

Cleese used her imagination to create a story to go along with her Girls Inc. creation. “Her name is Starlight Starbright, and she is dressed to go to the ball,” Cleese said. “I want her to have all she wishes for tonight.”

To make sure Starlight starts off her adventure on the right foot, Cleese enticed longtime friend and London fashion designer Tomasz Starzewski to be the doll’s co-creator. Starzewski was at home with the ball gown assignment, as he has dressed more than one real-life doll for a ball, including Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York; Maggie Thatcher; Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; and Diana, Princess of Wales. Starzewski chose royal purple threads for Starlight, and gave her jewel-encrusted, light-as-a-feather dancing pumps.

So what is this fascination with dolls that has grown men reduced to dressing miniatures? Carved from wood, bundled from straw, sewn from fabric, or cast in fragile porcelain, dolls have found their way into the souls of most human cultures. Often passed on from generation to generation, dolls are thought to have existed in even the most primitive civilizations, and religious icon dolls have been retrieved from ancient Greek and Roman temples. We humans, it seems, are drawn to create small representations of ourselves.

“Who doesn’t love a doll?” asked The Independent‘s psychology writer Michael Seabaugh. “For both men and women, dolls are useful because they are objects we can control and, in doing so, we learn how to be real humans.” Doll dominance, Seabaugh said, allows us to experiment with human relationships. We can learn nurturing and social role-playing in an imaginary and safe place. But, he said, letting go of dolls is part of the reality. “It is important to be able to move on from the transitional plastic object that dolls are and relate to the real thing-something that many people are unfortunately unable to do,” said Seabaugh.

In one infamous doll-ditching story, an unfortunate Montecito doll owner went, we suspect, from the dollhouse to the doghouse. It happened on August 24, 2004, when some horrified motorists driving down East Valley Road noticed a human limb hanging out of a trashcan. They immediately called 911 and, fearing the worst, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department sealed off a portion of East Valley Road for a three-hour homicide investigation. In the end, investigators determined the only thing trashed and dead was an anatomically correct, $10,000 sex doll!

The unnamed perpetrator was probably attempting to quietly rid themselves of doll dependency, but their efforts instead ballooned into news headlines, and the story remains, years later, one of Montecito’s most amusing toy tales. The case was closed, because playing with dolls isn’t a crime, but Montecito has always considered the incident one of our most glaring episodes of foul play!

Hopefully the only headlines coming from the doll auction for Girls Inc. on November 30 will be about the thousands raised to help young girls develop into empowered women.


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