February is here, and today is Valentine’s Day. While many couples surprise each other with stuffed bears and boxes of chocolates, us Disney fans are a little unique. Instead of teddy bears, we prefer Mickey Mouse plush, and no ordinary chocolate will do! Our developed taste buds prefer the creamy chocolaty goodness found at The Ganachery. But have you ever wondered how the popular Mickey Mouse plush came to be? As an inquisitive Mouseketter, I sure have, and boy, is it an engaging story.
Mickey Mouse’s premiere in Steamboat Willie (1928) took the world by storm. Not only was Steamboat Willie the first cartoon with synchronized sound, it also introduced audiences to an affable mouse who would dominate film screens for many years. At this time, a young seamstress named Charlotte Clark (nee Carolyn Geis) was making a living in Los Angeles by selling home-baked and home-crafted goods throughout Hollywood. Seizing upon the immense popularity of Mickey Mouse, Charlotte Clark sought to craft a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll as none were available on the market. Having no luck finding a Mickey Mouse pattern from which to work, Clark engaged the help of her young nephew, and aspiring artist, Bob Clampett, to research material on Mickey Mouse. As the story goes, armed with his sketch pad, Clampett went to his local movie house, The Alexander Theater in Glendale, California, and sketched Mickey Mouse while repeatedly watching Mickey Mouse shorts. (There is some debate as to whether the name of the theater was The Alexander Theater or The Fox Theater).
From Clampett’s drawings, Clark was able to prepare a sewing pattern and the first Mickey Mouse doll was crafted in 1930. Upon completion, Clark showed Clampett’s father who was so impressed by the quality and workmanship that he took the doll to The Walt Disney Studios (which was called Walt Disney Productions in the 1930’s) to obtain permission from Walt and Roy Disney to continue doll fabrication. The Disney brothers were immediately enthralled by Clark’s charming Mickey Mouse recreation and she was swiftly hired by the brothers to produce dolls for promotional purposes and as give-a-ways to friends and special studio visitors. Clark was also allowed to sell the complete dolls for profit at specific local Los Angeles retail stores. Encouraged by the success of her Mickey Mouse dolls, Clark also began to craft Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Donald Duck. In fact, Clark even made a prototype 16 inch Pinocchio doll!
When a picture of Walt Disney and a Mickey Mouse Clark doll appeared in a magazine the response was explosive. Disney fans all over the country were clamoring to get their hands on one of these unique dolls. Soon, supply could not meet with demand, no matter how many dolls Clark was able to make per week. Always the enterprising entrepreneur, the Disney brothers were quick to find a solution. After searching other manufacturers, they realized no one but Clark could reproduce the Mickey Mouse plush dolls with the expected quality and attention to detail. Therefore, the Disney brothers rented a small one level house next to the Hyperion studio complex where Clark and a team of six women produced the dolls. Known as the doll house, Clark supervised the seamstresses and they were able to construct a staggering 300 to 400 dolls per week. (This breaks down to roughly 58 dolls per seamstress!)
Despite these steps to ensure enough dolls were being made, Clark and her team of talented seamstresses were still unable to meet demand. In response to this problem, the Disney brothers released the pattern to the public via the McCall Pattern Company in 1932. Pattern number 91 cost approximately 35 cents and gave the buyer patterns to create either a medium or large Mickey Mouse plush doll. Given the fact that the pattern could be bought, how is one able to tell between a real Clark doll and one made by a talented homemaker? Firstly, many Mickey Mouse (and friends) dolls made at home via patterns from retailers often featured a collection of fabrics and colors. These were often leftovers of fabrics used in the home to create clothes. In comparison, true Clark dolls featured felt sculptured faces, silk/satin embellishments, and intricate black embroidery floss stitching (now know as “Clark Stitching”). In addition, all Charlotte Clark Disney dolls featured an embroidered tag that stated “A Charlotte Clark creation made especially for Walt Disney, copyright W.D. Productions.” These tags were often were sown onto the characters foot/shoe.
To this day, Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse dolls are a highly sought after Disneyana collectible. Every now and then, a Charlotte Clark Disney doll will appear on auction and the bidding is always fierce and high! Last year, Van Eaton Galleries presented Collecting Disney: An Exhibition and Auction in which a Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, and set of three smaller Disney Clark Dolls were all auctioned. Each auction garnered more than $7,000 per doll. However, this is chump change compared to a very special, 18 inch Mickey Mouse Clark Doll that was sold in the same auction. This one featured an original Walt Disney autograph and inscription, and was valued between $50,000 – $75,0000!
Erin Stough has always loved Disney, but the magic of the parks truly captured her imagination during a mother-daughter trip in 2001. The obsession began and Erin hasn’t looked back! When she isn’t devouring Disney related books, Erin spends time with her wonderful (and patient) husband and super pup Milo.