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Rubin: A guy and dolls and Stevie Wonder, in miniature

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The annual judging of the Goodfellows dolls is a useful reminder of how much artistic talent there is in the world — and how much there isn’t.

Neal Rubin, left, Victoria Pomeroy, Mickenzy Crowder, Micaelah Crowder and Jayla Forest rank the dolls.

It’s also a reminder of how old some of us are getting, and how the world looks when it’s viewed through fresh eyes.

Along with four far more qualified and photogenic young ladies Monday, I helped determine which 10 of this year’s 8,000 dolls were the most impressive of all.

The dolls arrive from the factory wearing only white briefs and shoes. By the time the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit distributes 34,000 Christmas boxes to wealth-impaired kids in Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Harper Woods and River Rouge, volunteers have blessed every doll with an outfit and possibly a personality.

More than 100 of the very finest examples will be available for viewing and gushing over through Dec. 2 in the picture window at Comerica Bank’s Michigan headquarters, on Lafayette and Cass in Detroit.

It’s a new gawking site, made available through longtime Goodfellow and Comerica executive vice president David Duprey.

As Duprey watched the judges cull the herd, it struck him that you could lock him in a room for a month with all of the raw materials and all he would create was a mess.

“I’d have a beard,” he said, “but the dolls wouldn’t look any different.”

Fortunately, there are doll-dressers with greater vision, and girls to appreciate their work.

Narrowing the field

The expert panel Monday included Jayla Forest, 12, of Farmington Hills; Victoria Pomeroy, 11, of Sterling Heights; and Micaelah and Mickenzy Crowder, 12 and 8, of Dearborn Heights.

First, we trimmed the field to 32 finalists. (If your doll is in the window and you’re wondering if it was in that group: yes, it was.)

Then we kept paring until we had 10 exceptional dolls to accessorize with blue ribbons. After that, through careful and courteous negotiation, we came up with a top three.

For the record, the unsigned third-place doll was Mickenzy’s favorite. She likes baseball, and it had clothes and a hair bow featuring the Detroit Tigers’ colors and Olde English D.

Kris Phillips’ runner-up wore a dress with a sheet music print and a string of pearls, and carried a French horn.

Winner Diane Drumm fashioned the Goodfellows logo into fabric and used it for a natty skirt and vest. While the adults wondered about the technology, the girls simply decided that it looked sharp and would be enjoyable to take off and put back on.

If you know Phillips or Drumm, please do the wave today as they walk past. Cheers are also in order for the employees of Comerica, who dressed more than 1,000 dolls, along with the generous staffs of DTE, the IRS, Blue Cross and more.

Prize-wise, it was an off-year for crocheted gowns the circumference of a sombrero, but a good year for accessories.

One finalist not only wore ice skates, she carried her shoes in a bag. A Native American in buckskin from her boots to her headband lugged a baby in a papoose.

Basically, judge Jayla said, it’s about “which ones are the most fun to play with and which ones are the coolest.”

Who’s that again?

The adults on hand all loved a Stevie Wonder doll with dark glasses, beaded braids and even a harmonica.

The kids basically didn’t know Stevie Wonder from Stevie Nicks, the New York Knicks or Nick at Nite, though Victoria said she had read about him in music class.

While you’d expect the doll with the Goodfellows logos to appeal mostly to grown-ups, the girls chose it without undue prodding.

Drumm, 57, the magician who created it, willingly gave away the secret: you can buy 81/2-by-11 fabric sheets that fit into a printer.

A retired city of Detroit records supervisor living in Harper Woods, she’s been dressing dolls for 38 years.

“I’m just paying it back, or forward, or whatever you call it,” she said.

The oldest of five kids from the east side, she received Goodfellow packages when she was in junior high school, thanks to an astute counselor named Mr. Sandler who recognized the need.

“I never forgot that,” she said — and whoever winds up with her doll won’t, either.