In 1964, the well known Madame Alexander Doll Company added a 12″ fashion doll to their line of fabulous couture dolls. This was most likely to compete with Mattel’s (by then, famous) Barbie doll. And, because Brenda Starr had a long strand of styleable hair, I suspect to compete with American Character’s Tressy doll whose appeal was hair that grows!
While it is unclear why Madame Alexander chose the Brenda Starr character as a model for her 12″ fashion doll, we do know that the doll herself was not quite a match for the bold and sexy 1950’s comic strip character of the same name. However, Dale Messick, creator of the Brenda Starr comic strip, did make a few appearances promoting Madame Alexander’s Brenda Starr doll.
For those of us who collect vintage fashion dolls, Brenda Starr may not seem so appealing at first. She does not have the perfect figure of a model. No, indeed. Her long torso and rather wide shoulders are almost disproportionate. But, she did have legs that bend at the knees and open/close eyes! These features gave her a more life like appearance and pose ability!
Her face was quite demur but a bit on the child-like side. I think she would have sold better with a more sophisticated look. Even if Madame had thought to give her facial screening like that of her very successful Margot/Cissette! But, I digress...
Brenda was sold in an illustrated cardboard box and was available in her lace chemise, or in a complete outfit. Little is documented on all of the outfits that were available at the time, but all of her clothing has the “Brenda Starr” /Madame Alexander tag sewn on the back and oddly enough, on the outside of the outfit.
There was a gift set available as well which included Brenda in a red sheath, wig, comb and curlers, hair pins, hair styling instructions and doll stand. All beautifully packaged in a window box!
These photos from a completed auction on Ebay.
While the idea was grand (for Madame to have a 12″ fashion doll on the market) Brenda Starr did not sell well. Poor sales and licensing costs, in effect, were her downfall. After only one year on the market, her name was changed to Yolanda, but this proved to be ill fated as well.
Most Brenda Starr dolls were available with red hair -more strawberry blonde than flaming red. Very rare, was a brunette doll, one example found boxed in her chemise in a doll shop in France, and a brunette sold dressed in a Cleopatra style gown! (Extremely rare and one of my prized possessions! )
Brenda Starr – “Cleopatra” from my own collection. Stock #916
Through collecting, I’ve found that dolls with blonde hair tend to be the Yolanda doll, although she too was available with the red hair. I’ve also noticed that Yolanda’s eyes are larger/rounder than the earlier Brenda Starr dolls. A good way to tell the different if you come across a doll that is not dressed. I am not sure why that change was made. Perhaps a marketing strategy?
Yolanda on the left VS Brenda Starr on the right
Madame Alexander’s Doll Fashion Parade of 1964 is the only booklet known that shows Brenda Starr and her fashions. The fashions are numbered and described, however, they were not named.
One known booklet from 1965 includes 3 dressed Yolanda dolls. Outfits were a Sequined Satin Formal, a Bridal Gown and a Pleated Formal Gown. Pictures in this booklet are black and white, so I am unsure of their colors, other than the bridal gown, which was white of course.
I have found the most common doll/outfit to be the red head wearing the wedding dress. Of course in 1964-1965 it was the sign of the times. Every little girl dreamed of some day being a bride.
The bride shown below is “Yolanda”.
Outfits for Brenda Starr were sold separately in blue boxes with solid covers, but also in boxes with windows so that you can see the outfit you were purchasing. I only know this because I have recently come across some Madame Alexander window boxes that state “Brenda Starr” and a clothing number! These were empty, so I’m still on the hunt to find out what #’s coincide with which outfits!
While some of Brenda’s fashions were quite couture, a few seem out of date and non flattering. You may over look them when hunting for her clothing especially if there is no tag present. One might look for details such as square snaps, or round white buttons (such is the case on the pink jersey top) and of course professional machine sewing. You may even see similar fabrics that were used for Cissette or other M.A. dolls.
A few outfits available for Brenda Starr:
As for hair play, I’m not a big fan of the one long braid hanging down behind her back. You almost certainly have to pile it up on top of her head in order for it to look like any type of stylish hair do. I also think her look could be softened with a bit of bangs rather than the center part high forehead look. I took styling her hair as a challenge to see how many different ones I could create with the hair Brenda Starr was given. You may notice from the photos of my dolls that each one has a different hair do. I have also customized a few girls with a bit more 60’s style makeup.
Brenda Starr wearing stock #921 – Blue cape style dress with corsage.
Brenda Starr wearing stock #905 – Green Floral dress – this dress originally came with green matching waist tie. I added the velvet bodice ribbon and matching hair ribbon.
Brenda Starr wearing stock #920 Gown with ruffled bodice and teal skirt. Fuchsia velvet sash at waist w/jewel. I added long gloves and pink shoes. Her face updated with blue eyeliner/lash liner and heavier brows.
Yolanda wearing stock # 910 – Watercolor sheath. I love this print! I believe it came in several shades. Originally came with matching waist tie.
Yolanda wearing unnumbered red sheath. Sold on the giftset doll w/wig #975, but I believe that was the giftset number. This sheath may have sold separately and belong in one of my empty boxes! May have come with matching waist tie. This one has a little gold leaf brooch!
For now, I am sharing dolls from my personal collection and some documented stock numbers. I’m sure I have only scratched the surface of uncovering the many secrets of the Brenda Starr/Yolanda doll. There’s really not enough documented information about her, but that’s what keeps the hunt thrilling! Another bit of interesting finds was this hand painted Yolanda (no open/close glass eyes)! One can only speculate that they may have been trying to rework the Brenda Starr doll and this may have been a prototype! ? Lucky is the winner of this gal!
Dressed Boxed dolls : #912 – Lounging Outfit, #915 Pink dress/lace trim #930 Bride Doll
As a vintage fashion doll collector, I am delighted to know that Madame Alexander threw her hat into the ring of competition and created a fashion doll that still peaks our interest today!
If you have any knowledge about this short lived fashion doll, please feel free to share!
Yours in collecting, Maryann
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