Neal Rubin: All dolled up, Simone Biles takes silver in Detroit
I liked the Simone Biles doll, but experience has taught me that I am not a 9-year-old girl.
I was hugely impressed with the Prince doll, too, but that was a case where consumer expertise was even more crucial: Would a little girl want to play with a deceased pop star with flocked-on facial hair?
That was up to my fellow judges to determine at what I’ve come to think of as Dollapalooza — the annual doll-dressing competition of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund in Detroit.
The Goodfellows will distribute 34,000 Christmas packages this year to 4-to-13-year-olds in Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, River Rouge and Harper Woods. About 10,000 of those parcels of generosity and cheer will contain dolls.
The dolls, subcontracted by Santa Claus to some offshore factory, show up at Goodfellows headquarters wearing only briefs and shoes — but the girls don’t see them that way on Christmas morning.
By then, every doll has been fully clothed by one of thousands of volunteers who heed the Goodfellows’ 102-year-old motto, “No kiddie without a Christmas,” and take it a few steps and stitches further.
Some of the outfits are purchased, which is fine. Some are sewn, crocheted or otherwise crafted in ways I couldn’t master if you locked me in a fabric store for a month with Martha Stewart.
The 150 most impressively attired dolls will be on display through Nov. 30 in the lobby of the Comerica Bank at 411 Lafayette. The judges’ task Monday was to decide on a Top 10, and from that group a Top three.
It should be mentioned that the Goodfellows always spend money they haven’t finished raising. To help them along, visit detroitgoodfellows.org or drop a check to P.O. Box 44444, Detroit, MI 48224.
It should also be mentioned that judges Sophia Virga, 10, of Warren; Jayla Forest, 13, of Farmington Hills; Lauren Koski, 11, of Rochester; and Tori Pomeroy, 12, of Sterling Heights, are all young women of exceptional grace, taste and distinction.
Remember, it’s a toy
The best-in-show we decided on was a white-hatted, denim-skirted, leather-booted cowgirl crafted by one of a large cohort of dressers from Comerica. Third place went to Debbie Adams of Taylor and Michigan.com with a Disney character named Stitch.
The silver medal, a rarity for her, went to Ms. Biles, as created by Kristine Phillips of Canton.
Prince was an impressive enough work of art that he rocked a Top 10 finish: long purple coat, brocade pants, white ruffled shirt, purple shoes, guitar.
The dresser was Nadine Lonergan, 61, a neonatal nurse practitioner from Allen Park who distributed 50 dolls this year among her equally warm-hearted colleagues from the Providence Hospital facilities in Southfield and Novi. Lonergan’s Super Bowl-version Lady GaGa also was a finalist.
“I liked the guitar and the details,” said judge Lauren of Prince. “But I don’t think a girl would want to play with a boy” — and especially a boy with a pencil mustache.
“My thing is to do lookalikes,” Lonergan says — Aretha Franklin a few years ago, Rosa Parks, Michael Jackson.
Whether she’s turning out a Nicki Minaj or Queen Elizabeth, “I try to make it easy to dress and undress, so it can be played with.”
Beauty in eye of beholder
Amen, says Phillips, a retired nurse.
She won first place in 2013 with a pink-and-green fairy and put a green-haired fairy in this year’s Top 10. Along the way, “I figured out how to attach the wings to the outfits, so they don’t get broken.”
Her leotard-wearing Biles looks simpler, but the red-and-blue Olympic uniform with white accents includes hours’ worth of glued-on tiny crystals. The gold medal around her neck hangs from a Rio 2016 lanyard.
Phillips, 58, took second last year with a French horn player. Her all-time favorite was probably a Michelle Obama in her inaugural gown, but it didn’t make the Top 10.
“What are you going to do?” she says, and she laughs. It’s not as though the young judges or the recipients are going to check the precision of the hems.
These are playthings for little girls — and in a few weeks, one of them will unwrap Simone Biles and do backflips.