Interview With Mel Odom

Mel Odom stands before some of his Gene Marshall dolls at FAO Schwarz on 2/14/07

Interview With Mel Odom

The internet has provided us with a chance to have a virtual interview with the talented and handsome Mel Odom, creator of the Gene Marshall line of dolls. For those who are not familiar with this line, it was retired one year ago and went out with a bang! I was lucky enough to attend the final convention celebrating the life, times and friends of this gorgeous doll. 

Although I came to appreciate Gene and to meet Mel long after they became popular, the more I know the more respect I have for his creativity and the amazing dolls he created.  Ashton-Drake, the first company to produce the line came through with an enormous amount of fashions and an extraordinary selection of furniture and accessories which are, to this day, cherished by collectors. Integrity Toys/Jason Wu, the final producers of the line, manufactured gorgeous fashions with the most amazing shoes, jewelry and other tiny details. It’s almost hard to believe that doll clothing could be so beautiful and so finely made.

Most importantly, Mel is known by all to be a kind and humble man. I am honored to have been granted this opportunity.

For this virtual interview, I have asked collectors to submit their questions.

—It’s been a year since Gene’s retirement. What has she been up to? Does she see Madra and Trent on a regular basis or have they all gone their separate ways?

A- I always figured Gene would move to Italy and live a very private life with occasional forays back into the spotlight.  I think she would have always considered Hollywood her hometown though, and certainly gone back for visits and her friends.  I think her friendship with Ivy would have always been there, perhaps with Ivy spending time with her in Italy.

—Do your doll characters ever populate your dreams?

A- It’s strange, you’d think they would, but no.  I think I spent so much ‘real’ time with them that they’re exhausted as a subject for my subconscious.  I wish they would.

—Are there characters you’ve imagined who never made it into the vinyl life? Which one(s) would you like to have seen produced? Would there have been another male?

A- I would have loved to create a Cora Harper doll.  She was the gossip columnist in my book.  I thought she was such an endearing character but her proportions (short/round) made her an unlikely character for doll-world success.  We tend to like our girls thin and pretty.  I wanted to do a doll of Eric Von Sternberg as well, he was pretty dashing and we could have used the same body as Trent.  He wore a monocle and would have been very fun to design.

—Do you miss the designing, the production and the unveiling of a new Gene? Do you miss the fans, doll shop shows and conventions?  Or was it easy to let go of?

I still see clothes in movies or magazines and think ‘That would be great for Gene or someone’ so I do miss having a place to go with that impulse.  The research was always fun.  The business part of it is pretty stressful so I can’t say I miss the unveiling.  I was always on pins and needles when that was going on. I do miss the collectors and talking with them about dolls or their lives, that part was a pleasant surprise for me.  My illustration career life was very solitary compared with the public person I became for Gene.  That person was my father’s personality kicking in and allowing to me to be at ease by not thinking of the people as a crowd but as individuals.
 I don’t find much of anything easy to let go of, but I did feel it was the right time and the right thing to do.  Trust me, I’d thought about it long and hard before I decided.  I’ve had no regrets, let’s put it that way.

—Did you ever consider how high Gene's star would shine when you first thought of producing a doll? Did you think your creation would gain world wide fame, spanning several decades and many different roles?

A- I always thought she’d be a success.  That’s the only way I could excuse the years of work that went into creating her.  I really thought she’d change things, and she did.  She was created by an artist expressing something really personal, and I think the people got that.  I was very much an open book about how much Gene mattered to me.  That was her blessing and her curse.  People would say negative things about ‘product’ and I’d react (inside) personally. That’s an unusual thing to deal with in business.

—If there were to be another Gene would she be as an ultra-limited resin or porcelain doll possibly hand-painted by yourself? (The person who submitted this question admits that this is his wish.)

A- No, I think she’s perfect in the material she’s in.  As a boomer baby, I LOVE plastic toys, some of my favorite toys of all time were plastic.  My experience with resin is limited but resin doesn’t really thrill me, it’s seems brittle, and I really don’t like porcelain.  Porcelain for modern dolls is just sort of cynical.  It’s making something artificially precious when the original material is actually better, more durable and even prettier.  As for painting the faces, I would never be able to paint them to my satisfaction.  I’m not good at painting little faces, too clumsy.  I always drew the faces for the factory.  That I can do.

—Is there ANY interest on your part in creating another Diva who will take our breath away?
Have you been approached by any manufacturers?

A- I’m working on a new doll now, but I’m not sure she’s a diva.  She’s not that character.  I’ve done the diva thing, I think better than anybody.  Madra was certainly a diva.  She was probably the most fun to design for, because she was such an over-the-top character.  Nothing was ever too outrageous for her.  She was also really beautiful, which gave her some power with the outrageousness.

I’ve been approached about bringing Gene back but didn’t like the picture I had in my mind of how she’d look.  They were planning on a different material and style of body.  Gene’s body is almost as recognizable as her face and I think she was perfect just as she happened.  I would love for a manufacturer to approach me.  I’d show them my new thing.

—Will  you ever write a tell-all book about your time in the doll biz?

A- Well, I hope I’m going to still be in the doll business so I don’t think I’ll be writing any tell-all soon. LOL   And really, I’m not sure there’s a story there, or maybe it’s just a very personal story.  Early on Gene helped me go through some things I might not have been able to if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with a project I truly loved.  She came from the heart.

—Do you have interest in having a coffee table book with your many beautiful illustrations, many of which inspired the Gene doll?

A- I would love to do a gorgeous big book on Gene.  Trust me, I have a LOT of images for a book like that, dating back to the original drawings.  I kept a scrapbook the first year or so before I got so busy I didn’t have time for the scrapbook. LOL.  I think it’ll happen in time.

—How do you feel about dolls yellowing over time? 

A- Well, nobody wants that to happen, but the deal with vinyl is certain chemicals that are used to help to keep it flexible.  They’re mixed in with the materials that make up the color and texture.  The materials are mixed by humans and as a result vary.  And you don’t know till sometimes years later that there’s a problem.  It’s a drag, but a constant possibility in manufacturing.

—Is it true that there was a "Smiling Gene" sculpt?


—What Genes do you currently have on display in your home?

A- I play with Plum Role the most, she’s always out.  And my ‘Mel/Trent’ is standing around.  I take different dolls out and play with them for a while or look at them, and then put them away again.  I live in an apartment in New York rather than a house with a doll room.  My doll room is my studio.  And these dolls standing around in my studio kind of oversee my new projects, and give me examples of what is possible.  I love my dolls, I think they’re truly wonderful, and treasure having been the one who got the inspiration to create them.  They’re my children in a (crazy) way.   I have lots of antique dolls in my studio too.  And I always think of them as the grandparents to my dolls, in the lineage of fashion dolls.  As you can tell, I love dolls and fine them profound and moving. 

—Are there questions you believe should have been asked? What are they?

A- I think you’ve covered it!  Thank you for this opportunity.


I want to thank Mel for his time and thoughtful answers.

Thanks, too, to other collectors who sent in questions: Becky Moar aka Becky in Upstate, Mary Dessert aka Mary in CT,  PrncssPJ, Ernesto Padro-Campos, Amanda Turnock, Carolyn Tattersall Teachman, Steven Casey, Linda Kriegbaum.

If you didn't get to ask a question, you can put it in the comments section and Mel might answer.


Technical Difficulties

Due to technical difficulties, the interview with Mel will be delayed for a few days. We're working on it.

La Boutique and Purse of the Month for June

 Every month the talented sisters Diana and Janet present 1/6 scale handmade handbags that pay homage to designer bags. Along with those tiny treasures, they create fashion ensembles. This month's bags are in the style of Emilio Pucci and there are two "Elite" ensembles to die for!

Bags are, of course, available separately and you can have your choices created for larger dolls as well!

Links to the bags and the fashions:




Body Size Comparison of Tonner Dolls

Carol of Dreamcastle Dolls took this helpful photo of Tonner dolls so we could see the comparison of body types.

Reminder: You can click on the image to see a larger version.

Visit Dreamcastle Dolls by clicking on ME.

On the Boards: A Silk Gown by Debbie of Fabulous Frocks

Doesn't look like a real model in a gorgeous gown? The fashion is a custom made silk dress by Debbie of Fabulous Frocks. The model is a repainted Ava Gardner doll on a Jamieshow body. Spectacular!

Fabulous Frocks Home Page


Fashion Doll Agency Releases FDA Magazine No 1

Picking up the pace to match their last spectacular OOAK collection, the guys at FDA have begun an online magazine which is also available to download in PDF Version. This first issue covers news, style, Fashion Doll Festival 2011, Guest Ernesto Padro-Campos, the biography of collector Marsha Weaver and much more. Lots of pictures will make you very happy, envious or both.

Ernesto Padro´- Campos
Marsha Weaver

She Sells Sea Shells

I saw this outfit on an Evangeline a few months ago and hunted it down until I found the designer, Connie Lowe of Marbled halls. Luckily for me, she still had a few that she is selling directly at a 50% discount off retail.
I purchased "She Sells Sea Shells" seen on Everlasting Evangeline below and another of her outfits called "By the Sea."  Outfits were $75. each on sale.

 The outfit comes with many pieces including the dress, hat, pantaloons, anchor necklace, stockings and shoes. In addition, a bag of shells, a metal pail and shovel and the black and white umbrella are part of the goodies! I added the red flowered umbrella which is a Madame Alexander Cissette accessory.

 Evangeline is wearing a wig which comes from Timeless Evangeline, the  newer basic vinyl EG.

 This is Connie's own photograph of "By the Sea," the other fashion I purchased.

Connie specializes in OOAK and LE items with an antique-y look. Please visit her website!
You can contact Connie at bullwinkle2001@hotmail.com.
Check out the Marbled Halls website at http://www.marbledhalls.com/


Honoring Those Who Have Died Serving in the US Military

A brief background on the origin and meaning of Memorial Day:

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. 

Two wonderful doll photos posted today highlight this remembrance.

From Valerie in Chicago:
The sailor on the right is vintage from the 1960's, middle is vintage doll, replica outfit and vintage accessories, on the left a GI Joe Club doll from the 90's.
From Pamnaz:

Gene, Trent and Gene