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The Gene Marshall Collection: Bringing Back Hollywood's Golden "Daze"

Admirers of the Gene Marshall Collection transcend age, gender and ethnicity. It is not simply that these dolls are lovely, or that their costuming is unparalleled in the world of fashion dolls. Rather, it is the intangible that we find alluring-for to purchase one of these icons of 1940s nostalgia is to purchase a round-trip fantasy ticket to Tinsel Town at a time when Hollywood glamour reigned supreme.


This article is 18 years old and the Gene dolls are highly collectible and very popular even today. We found in the article interesting and relevant info that we would like to share with you.


BY JILL L. JACKSON


Gene Marshall doll
The Starlight Canteen Duo. Each doll limited to 2,500 worldwide. It's celebrity night at the canteen. Gene dances with the boys, Madra pours the coffee, Trent hosts the show in military regalia, then the three of them do a skit for the guys and gals.

Source: December 2002 • Doll World , Pages 28-33

 

Go ahead. Pick a costume, any costume. Read the story card attached. Instantly you are transported to the back lot of Monolithic Pictures, a fictional studio where a fictional cast of stars can be found anytime, filming its latest fictional drama for the silver screen.


Ah, there is Gene Marshall, the stunningly beautiful Hollywood starlet, with a heart to match. Everyone loves Gene. Well, everyone but Madra Lord. She's the sophisticated, glam­orous one over there. Madra has paid her dues and climbed over a lot of people to get where she is. She's not about to be upstaged by a newcomer like Gene. Oh, here comes Trent Osborn. He's devilishly handsome, don't you think? There are always rumors floating around Hollywood about him and some pretty, new face. Mmmm! There is Violet Waters, the newest star on the set. Not only is she lovely, but what a voice! Shhhh. The director has arrived. They're getting ready to shoot a scene.

"Quiet on the set," calls a voice. "Scene lV, take #1. Lights ... camera ... action!"


Gene Marshall doll
Winter's Romance. Edition limited to 2,500 worldwide. Gene is thrilled to light the big city's holiday tree, relishing the brisk East Coast weather.

Are you beginning to get the picture? Not only does the Gene Collection dazzle the eye with costumes reminiscent ·of a post­World-War-II Hollywood extravaganza, it imbues each doll with a distinct character and personality, and invites us to get to know them personally. It invites us to a private, front-row viewing of the Golden Age of Hollywood. So, if you missed it the first time around, now is your chance to share the dream.


It takes a lot of creative, dedicated people to produce Hollywood magic. Interviews with some members of the "Gene team" reveal this is true, even when the fantasy is mini

in scale, and made of vinyl.


MEL ODOM-THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC


Mel Odom is the talented artist who literally dreamed "Gene Marshall, Girl Star" into existence. I caught up with him at Blue Star Studio Inc., his New-York­ based company where he graciously answered some pointed questions.


Q. Mel Odom was already an important illustra­tive artist in his own right. Why risk it all for dolls?

A. I had been illustrating for 15 years and was get­ting a little bored. There would be passion involved with the creative process. I felt I could no longer bring that excite­ment to my work. It was time to incorporate other things I loved.


Q. Did you worry that the art world would cease to take you seriously as an artist?

A. No. Illustrating has always been considered an illegitimate child of art. I was used to that. In doing Gene, I had to incorporate my knowledge of art, fashion, movies, storytelling and photogra­phy. Gene is the hardest thing I have ever done.

At forty-something, I have become the poster boy for other artists and illustrators wanting to embark on a second-generation career.


Q. Why Gene, and the 1940s and 1950s?

A. I had been thinking about Gene for a Jong time. The1940s was a period of time in Hollywood unequaled for glamour and romance. It was a great influence on fashion and helped shape American history. I felt no one could do it better than I. If you know you can do something better than anyone else, you should do it.


Q. Can you describe the Gene Collection concept in one sentence?

Gene Marshall doll
Fascination. Edition limited to 2,002 world­wide. Violet poses for the cover of her first stereophonic album and finds a fasci­nating prop at the photo shoot to add to the mystery.

A. Gene is all about optimism. She reflects the best side

of Hollywood with none of the less glamorous aspects. She is an optimistic history of ourselves.


Q. What feelings do you want to evoke from people see­ing your creations?

A. Loosen up! Play! Gene is a toy for adults. When work is getting tiresome, I take a few minutes off. Often I pick up some toy and begin to play with it. I start to relax. That frees my mind and allows the creative juices to start flowing again.


Q. What sets the Gene characters apart from other fash­ion dolls?

A. Just that. They are characters. Each has its own dis­tinct personality. When designing for Madra, for example, we discuss whether Madra, with her personality, would wear that particular costume or color. Sometimes we love a cos­tume, but decide it really is something Gene would wear. The stories and dress have to be true to the character in order to create personalities.


Q. What is your favorite part of creating each year's new collection?

A. Going to the Picture

Library and checking out photographs from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, looking for ideas for costumes. Then I like to go to the fabric shops. Most of the good fabric shops in New York are all in the same district, so you can just go from shop to shop, almost like bar hopping. It's really fun to go with some­one who shares my enthusi­asm for beautiful fabrics and design. Sometimes a piece of cloth is the beginning idea for a costume.


Q. Who sifts through all the ideas to determine the few chosen for each year's collection?

A. The Gene Team-a very talented group of people who

work with the collection, and ultimately decide which products are the most viable.


Q. What do you envision for Gene in the future?

A. Gene's story in animation. Her story really is a fairy tale, and like other enduring fairy tales, it contains life lessons and characters we can all identify with. That's already in the works. It's what I had as an ultimate goal from the very beginning. As a child, I lived Disney and still watch a lot of cartoons.

Gene Marshall doll
Torch Song. Edition limited to 3,000 worldwide. Violet is fea­tured in a television spectacular in a scene set in a 1920s speak­easy, and is a hit in homes from coast-to-coast.

Q. Who do the characters, Gene, Madra, Trent and Violet, represent to you?

A. They are sort of composites of early movie stars. Gene is

meant to represent an entire generation of movie stars. She has Loretta Young's eyebrows, Lisbeth Scott's hairline, the shape of Ann Southem's face, Lana Turner's lips and Gene Tierney's eyes.

Madra is who you would get if you put Betty Davis and Joan Crawford in a blender, along with just a smidgen of Lucille Ball, and puree. She is demanding, forceful and a little insecure, so she always needs to be the center of attention. There is also a humor­ous edge to her and a flair for the dramatic. These traits come out in some of her flamboyant costumes.

Trent is a combination of Errol Flynn and Cary Grant, with a touch of Ronald Coleman. I wanted him to look like a man who was outspoken enough to have gotten his face slapped once or twice. He had to be a little bit of a rogue to be able to hold his own with Gene and Madra, both very strong characters.

Violet Waters is a smooth blend of Lena Hom and Dorothy Dandridge-beautiful and sultry, with a voice to match. Their music, like Ella Fitzgerald's, was a gift to the world.


Q. ls it true you used your own feet as models for Trent's?

A. (Laughter.) Yes.


Q. You have been described as charismatic, shy, flamboyant, fun-loving, driven, exacting, empathetic, boyish and sexy. How would you describe yourself?

A. Focused. Self-disciplined. The person I am now, artistical­ly, and the things I enjoy peaked at about age 8. I loved illustrat­ing, fashion and cartoons, which I thought of as drawings coming to life. I loved them then, and I still do.


Q. What would you like people to know about you that they may not already know?

A. I have great friends, a lot of them from my school days and he Baptist church I went to. My mother says I'm very lucky to have such good friends. My friends say I am the luckiest person they know. I have to agree with them.


JIM HOWARD-DESIGNER TO THE STARS


Jim Howard is one of the fashion designers on the Gene Team. He started as a fashion

illustrator for such well-known names as Neiman Marcus and Saks. He is a self-confessed movie buff, and sews the prototypes for most of his own designs.



Gene Marshall doll
Moulin Noire. Edition limited to 2,002 worldwide. Madra is the toast of Paris in a special nightclub appearance-and when she takes an admirer under her wing, she proves that no translator is needed when it comes to the language of love.

Q. How did you come to work with the Gene Team?

A. I first met Mel at a party given by a mutual friend, but lost track of him when I moved. While visiting a museum, I saw these gorgeous dolls. I thought they were vintage. As it turned out, they were Gene dolls done by Mel, and he was due in Albuquerque soon for a signing. I went, and stood in line with everyone else. Needless to say, Mel was surprised to see me.

I started doing one-of-a-kind, re-dressed Genes on my own. Eventually, I was asked to do some for the Gene collection.


Q. Which is your favorite costume, and what was your inspiration?

A. I really enjoyed doing Starlight Canteen. I can still recall the

Hollywood Canteen from old movies. I also remember my sister hosting the State Door Canteen in Houston when I was young.


Q. What do you do when you aren't working?

A. I've always had a passion for antique dolls, so I have been doing reproduction antique dolls and costumes. I completed an entire wardrobe for a 27-inch Gaultier, including wigs, hats and shoes, for the United Federation of Doll Clubs competition.

I am also hosting the 2002 Gene Convention in Albuquerque in October.


Q. Do you do anything just for fun?

A. Dolls are just plain fun. I am amazed that I am having this much fun with a second career at my age.


Q. Since you broached the subject, just between the two of us, what age are you?

A. 71.


BORAM KIM-DIRECTING TRAFFIC AND MAKING TOUGH CHOICES


Boram Kim is Product Development Manager for the Gene col­lection. When I first spoke with Kim, she was researching Marine officers' dress uniforms. It seemed the original Major's uniform worn by Trent Osborn in Starlight Canteen was not quite con-ect. After much futile hunting, it was decided, for the sake of authenticity and production schedules, to demote Trent to Captain, an easier uniform to reproduce. Kim and I had a great time fantasizing scenarios to explain his fall from grace, finally deciding he probably was caught casting a flirtatious glance at the Colonel's daughter.



Gene Marshall doll
To Have and To Hold. Edition limited to 3,750 worldwide. It may only be a movie, but Gene's parents get misty-eyed when they see her walking down the aisle in this fabulous 1940s wedding gown.

Q. Bo ram, I'm told you are the "needles and pins" of the Gene team because you "hold together all the different aspects of a new project." Would you agree?

A. Well, I wear a lot of hats. Primarily, I act as go-between for the different entities involved: Ashton Drake Galleries, Gallery Marketing Group, the factory and members of the Gene team. But as you know, I never know what the day is going to bring.


Q. I'm told you have to make the hard decisions. The rest of the team can let their imaginations run wild, but you must decide if the project is viable. Is that true?

A. Nothing is really a one-person decision. I think of myself as a negotiator.


Q. What is the most unusual problem you have encountered?

A. (Laughing) I think I'll plead the fifth on that one.


KIRK SWANK-WORDSMITH

Gene Marshall doll
Top of the Morning. Edition limited to 3,750 worldwide. Trent looks dapper as the groom-a role he's played many times!

As head writer for the Gene Team, Kirk Swank spins the inven­tive web of dialogue that allows the Gene characters to speak to us. A theater major in college, he has performed in a number of theater productions, including Professor Harold Hill in the Music Man, and Major Stanley in the Pirates of Penzance.


Q. Kirk, what part of working with the Gene Team do you least enjoy?

A. Deadlines, but they are also some of the most exciting

times. There's nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing.


Q. Which comes first, the stories or the costumes?

A. Usually the costume or character comes first, but some­times we work backwards.


Q. Where do you get your best ideas?

A. In the shower, when it's least convenient.


Q. The name Kirk Swank could easily be a Gene character. With your theatrical background, if you were to place yourself in a Gene scene, what part would you play?

A. I would be the kind of goofy

second lead. I'm always joking around, and I don't have that really handsome movie-star look.

Gene Marshall doll
Playing the Field. Edition limited to 2,002 worldwide. Trent shows up in England for the 1953 Coronation Cup polo match, dressed and ready to step in for the American team.

Q. Which is your favorite project?

A. We staged a radio show with the collectors at convention, along the lines of the shows done by Bob Hope for the armed services troops, where he jokes around with different movie stars. We called it The Les Moore Show. We wrote scripts for each char­acter then got volunteers from the audience to come up and play their paits in front of a microphone. They really did a great job. The collectors ai·e wonderful.


Q. Your favorite source for infor­mation?

A. The Chicago Public Library. It has a great system that can be tapped into by computer. We call the library the tallest building in Chicago because it has the most stories. (Sounds of both of us groaning.)


Q. Tell us a secret that most people don't know about the Gene collection.

A. I'm not sure I should tell this, but I'm one of the characters in the Gene story, even though you don't see me. I'm Buddy Lewis, the songwriter. I wrote the sheet music included with Violet Waters, Swing Time Serenade.


JOAN GREEN-BREATHING LIFE INTO THE DREAM


No behind-the-scenes story would be complete without a few words from Joan Greene. Joan has recently changed positions to pursue other endeavors, such as her newest book, In Search of the Teddy, but for eight years she was the acknowledged "heart " of the Gene Team.


Q. Joan, when did you start work­ing with the Gene project?

A. At its inception in 1994. We began with some of Mel's sketches, and ideas of who he wanted Gene to be, and took them to reality.

Gene Marshall doll
Dark Desire. Edition limited to 3,000 worldwide. Madra chats with a fan about a courtroom scene in The Lady or the Spider, in which she's on trial for the mysterious murder of her second husband-or was it her third?

Q. How did you go about that?

A. The dolls and costumes were to be produced in Asia. The company was accustomed to making simple things like molded plastic water pis­tols. They had never done anything of the quality we wanted. I had to teach them virtually everything, from rib­bon embroidery to chain stitches for real hooks and eyes (no metal or hook-and-loop tape) and French seams for stockings. I had to teach them some of the lost arts.


Q. What was there about Gene that sparked your enthusiasm and loyalty for the project?

A. The story, "small-time girl makes good." It is very similar to my own. I could relate to it, and I wanted her to succeed.


Q. Of which project are you most proud?

A. The Young Designer of America Program. One of our win­ners now has designs exhibited in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Another received an art design schol­arship. And one of our winners, who is legally deaf, now has a design being worn in a Broadway play.

We changed people's lives.


Q. Biggest flop?

A. Misjudging the difference between what collectors tell you they want, and what they really want. They say they want costumes of everyday clothes like they wore, but what they buy are the fancy ball gowns.


Q. Who dubbed it the Gene Team?

A. Ashton Drake in 1996.


Q. What would you like to leave as your legacy to the Gene Team?

A. That I helped make the Gene Marshall Collection a brand. I helped get it off the ground. Mel brought us a dream ... I helped breath life into it.


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