Doll Farce

A Virginia company expropriates a chunk of civil rights history with South Florida roots

Yvonne Heather, president of Collectible Concepts, insists she's selling the doll legally. She questions whether Mattel has the rights. Collectible Concepts specializes in reproducing dolls such as Thumbelina and Mrs. Beasley from the television show, Family Affair, Heather says. She contends the firm paid Mattel about $10,000 to reproduce Sara Lee, adding that she still owes the company another $50,000-$60,000 as part of the licensing agreement. In December 2001, Heather says, she sent Mattel a copy of Saralee, and Mattel approved it. "They knew it was going to be marketed," she says. Because it took a while to create the reproduction, Heather says Collectible Concepts was able to manufacture only about 700 dolls before the licensing agreement expired. "We are in trouble," she says, when asked about the toy's financials.

The Creech family found out about the replica when one arrived in the mail as a gift to Sara Creech. Heather says that a dealer in the Orlando area saw the press release on Saralee and told her that Creech was still alive. "I thought the doll was very nice and that she would be excited," Heather says.

But Creech doesn't believe that Saralee looks like the original. And the promotional material that accompanied the doll incorrectly stated that Creech had been a social worker. Rather, she worked on racial issues in Belle Glade as part of the city's Inter-Racial Council but owned a florist shop and an insurance business for her livelihood.

Prompted by Creech, Bourque called Collectible Concepts. Heather told her that Saralee was made in China. To create a model, clay was fitted over an original Sara Lee to make a mold. That is why the features are flatter and the replica is smaller than the original.

Asked about the claim that the doll was made from Burlingame's models, Heather responded: "It says that? The material that comes from us?" Reading the press release, Heather pronounced Ralph Bunche (pronounced "bunch") as "bunchy." When she reached the part of the flier that claims Saralee was made from Burlingame's models, she acknowledged the mistake. "That's wrong," she said.

Bourque says she asked Heather several months ago to correct the information. "I was never told what to change it to," Heather complains. Heather says she has about 20 dolls left. She will either destroy them, she says, or donate them to charity in Sara Creech's name. Of the 700 made, 500 Saralees were provided to Ashton-Drake Galleries, a direct-marketing toy firm. (Mattel spokeswoman Jensen says her company has been told Ashton-Drake no longer sells Saralee, but as of last week, the doll was still available from the company.)

Saralee is also marketed by several other companies on-line and is featured on doll-collecting Websites.

As an African-American doll, Saralee isn't bad, Bourque says. It's just not authentic. "It's clearly not a white doll. They made an effort but just not a very good effort," she says. "I think a proper reproduction might have been and could have been a good thing. Once they found out that Aunt Sara didn't approve of it, it would seem that acquiescing to Aunt Sara's wishes regarding the doll should be considered."

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