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I’ve always loved dolls, other imitation people, and imitation people parts: puppets, clowns, ceramic and wooden faces, mannequins, dummies. I’m not much of a collector, but I have a small family of Mardi Gras masks and harlequins. I have one of those ceramic hands, too, which qualifies, I think, as a part. I’ve always wanted a life-size mannequin, but fear holds me back. What if I walk past her and she winks? Or I just think she winked? Or I’m alone in the house and someone clears her throat, and that someone wasn’t me?

About dummies: Though I never met him, Howdy Doody used to be my neighbor! Television pioneer Buffalo Bob lived just a few doors down from me, and he kept Howdy Doody in a glass case suspended from the ceiling. After Buffalo Bob’s death, a custody battle over Howdy got going, and Howdy had to live for a while in a bank vault, but that’s another story for another day. Why am I telling you this? I guess because living near Howdy Doody (who lived in the house Buffalo Bob called “the house that Doody built”) was one of my few brushes with celebrity, and I wanted you to know about it. Why else?

I can also claim I got a peep at editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow at the World Fantasy Convention several years back. If you read any of the fantasy-related genres, and if you aspire to write in that area, you surely know about Ellen Datlow’s annual series THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR, in recent years co-edited with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, as well as her innumerable anthologies of ghost, vampire, fairy, and trickster tales. In POE: 19 NEW TALES INSPIRED BY EDGAR ALLAN POE, "Publishers Weekly" says "she has assembled an all-star line-up and chosen inventive stories whose quality are certainly an extension of Poe's tradition of excellent weird fiction."

She’s won multiple World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, Locus, Hugo, and International Horror Guild Awards; the Shirley Jackson Award, as well as others too many to name, all recognizing her extraordinary contribution to the fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror genres. The Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool contains holdings of The Ellen Datlow Papers that include correspondence files from her days as fiction editor of "Omni Magazine," "Omni Online," and "SciFiction." Take a good long look at her website.

Ellen Datlow gathers the weird like a witch gathers the wind, so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn she collected weird dolls, doll heads, and assorted parts.

Take a look at the online photos of her collection: A doll’s head—one eye glassy and another one missing--springs up like a weird weed from a potted snake plant. See the rubber doll with three faces? Ellen has provided a separate page of same for all you three-faced doll enthusiasts out there. A Kewpie doll, pink little arms spread wide, stands yoo-hooing! in front of a sampling of Ellen’s many awards, as long-faced H.P. Lovecraft looks on. And you’ve got to love the chicken head lady! Look at her with that string of pearls around her neck. She’s holding a sequined purse, too. That snazzy chick is resting up, getting ready to step out tonight!

I contacted Ellen, and she agreed to tell me a little about her doll collection.

Sherry Austin: Ellen, I’ve always wanted to know why dolls have such a hold on some of us. I feel there’s some deep psychological or metaphysical significance there I can’t articulate, so I’m hoping you’ll do it and save me the effort. But first, do you actively search for your dolls and parts, or just wait for one to speak to you, to reach out and grab you? Where do you find them?

Ellen Datlow: I started out with a very few dolls of different types. I traveled to New Orleans a lot in the 80s (for conventions) and each time I went I’d buy a few interesting voodoo dolls. It seemed that each year, a different style would be popular. As you can see in my voodoo doll gallery, the dolls can be very elaborate.

I’ve always loved flea markets and antique malls and visit both whenever I can, out of town, especially in places I’ve never been before. One time in my wandering I found a plastic three-faced doll—that is with a head that turns by means of a knob on top and moves from a crying, sleeping, or awake baby face.

I hadn’t ever seen one before and didn’t know they existed but I thought it was just….so….weird. It was another few years before I found another—again in an antique mall—a little Eskimo girl, this one rubber, I think (or maybe plastic). Then I found myself looking for such dolls whenever I went antiquing but also on eBay—mostly the latter to see what was available. There really aren’t that many “models" of three- faced dolls around. I think I have the ones I want. I accidentally bought one on ebay that was a big cloth one about three feet tall—I gave her away –that’s not what I wanted at all.

I love bisque dolls and doll heads. I have a lot of them. I don’t find them creepy at all, but beautiful. Many of those I bought on eBay before they got too expensive. A few dolls or doll heads (or parts) have come to me as gifts from friends who know my taste.

The chicken lady gives writer Rick Bowes-- himself a bit of a doll collector but more an antique toy seller-- the creeps. He was with me when I found her. Her dress was covered in plastic fingernails—many have fallen off. Since I already have so many now, if I ever buy another doll or doll part, it has to be really special.

Sherry: I love chicken lady! Tell us the history of the dolls on your page.

Ellen: I bought the bird doll from Beth Robinson of strangedolls.net. He’s a chimney sweep.

At some point I started collecting Japanese Kokesha dolls (I think while visiting Eileen Gunn, who is into and somewhat expert in all things Japanese). For an example of what I particularly like, look at these.

In the 90s, a woman at the 26th street flea market (now defunct, alas) was selling a whole bunch of doll heads very reasonably and had some beautiful brown ones that I bought. Here’s one of them.

With that doll head above is a small plastic Japanese fisherman on his boat. I’ve found another Japanese plastic figure of the same type. They’re very detailed even though plastic, which is why when I’ve seen them cheap, I pick them up.

Spiderbaby is from Toy Story I think. I saw her at a friend’s house and coveted her. Finally found one cheap on eBay a few years later.

This lovely bunny was given to me by the friends who owned the spiderbaby I spied and coveted. It’s made of rusty metal baby doll hands, some kind of composite material, its legs are treebranches (you can’t see that in the photo), and it has little pink doll shoes on its feet.

These aren’t dolls but they’re figurines from occupied Japan (I collect a lot of those, too).

There are several sets of different animals playing instruments—you can see the monkeys—they’re about an inch high…there are others that are bigger but not as neat…I don’t collect the larger ones. When I see one cheap, I pick it up.

This is from Japan—it’s four heads set into cork--each head is the size of a thumbnail and the entire set is about 4 inches high.

A few of the doll photos are from shop windows or are not my dolls. I just realized it’s time to take some more doll photos—there are some interesting ones I’ve never photographed.

Sherry: You’ve received tons of awards, Ellen. For those who don’t know, describe the awards behind Kewpie.

Ellen: Most of the awards behind the kewpie (how can you not love kewpies? They’re so cute) are my Howards—the World Fantasy award named after and modeled after a caricature of H.P. Lovecraft created by Gahan Wilson. I’ve received 9 World Fantasy Awards for various anthologies I’ve edited and one special award—professional back in the mid-90s. Currently there are 7 on the armoire (where the kewpies are), one on top of a Japanese box on the floor (that I can look at regularly) and one that I’m still waiting for (since early November—it’s coming by camel from Canada! )

Sherry: What is the appeal of heads, of “parts”?

Ellen: I see them as art objects in and of themselves. No special significance.

Sherry: Well, dang! I was holding out for a long, convulted discussion! Of the many stories and novels you’ve read, do you recall any where the treatment of dolls was especially provocative, unusual or fun?

Ellen: Oh sure. There are lots of doll stories—in fact I’m hoping to edit a doll horror anthology at some point. Ramsey Campbell has written some doll stories: “Magic” by William Goldman, about a ventriloquist and his dummy. Richard Matheson’s story “Fetish,” about a fetish doll that comes to life with murderous consequences (made into a section of a movie as part of the Trilogy of Terror years ago).

Sherry: Why do you think some people are attracted to dolls, and others afraid of them?

Ellen: No idea. It’s never occurred to me that people are afraid of dolls. There are some very creepy baby dolls made to look as close to real babies as possible. I guess I find that kind of disturbing. Clowns now… I’m not afraid of them but I loathe them.

Sherry: What is it with you and dolls, do you think?

Ellen: No idea. I don’t think it’s dolls per se at all. A friend said that almost everything in my apartment has a face…he may be right. I mean not everything, but I do have a lot of critters (not just human dolls) with faces. I’ve got animal critters (the lovely chicken lady, the bunny sculpture on my wall, several other weird animal sculptures by my friend Richard). See here and here. And some gorgeous animal masks by his wife, my friend Mikey.

I also have a life mask of Howard Waldrop that I won in a charity auction many years ago, plus this wonderful bronze dodo by Clee Richerson, who also cast the Shrike for Dan Simmons.

But I don’t feel threatened by any of these things—maybe comforted?

Sherry: Yeah, I think I can see why. Finally, why do you think dolls have such enduring appeal? Is there some deep significance to doll collecting?

Ellen: I don’t think I’m your usual doll collector—I’m not into pretty dolls, just interesting ones. I just enjoy weird stuff.