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12 Hair-Raising Facts about Troll Dolls

iStock (background); eBay (trolls)
iStock (background); eBay (trolls)

Troll dolls—like witches or choker necklaces—seem to make a comeback every decade or two. And while children of the '90s might remember collecting the wild-haired, naked dolls with gemstones for bellybuttons or topping their pencils with the miniature figures, children of the '60s were collecting their own versions. And now, with the new Trolls movie hitting theaters this weekend (and that Justin Timberlake song still rattling around in your head), it’s time for everyone’s favorite potbellied, grinning fuzz-tops to rule the toy aisle once again.

1. THE FIRST TROLL DOLLS WERE WOODEN.

Danish fisherman Thomas Dam was very often out of work, but he had a talent for carving figures out of wood. Though he initially carved little gifts for his children, his wife recognized the monetary potential in his hobby. She encouraged him to sell some door-to-door, which turned into a job making larger Christmas displays for a department store window in 1956. Customers began asking to buy the trolls from the displays, and before long, Dam was spending all of his time carving troll dolls to sell. Soon after, he opened a factory and switched to the more economical method of making the bodies out of rubber stuffed with wood shavings. By the end of the ‘50s, he was selling more than 10,000 trolls in Denmark each year.

2. DAM'S TROLLS WERE ROOTED IN SCANDINAVIAN FOLKLORE.

Dam dolls from the 1970s. vintagecobweb.com via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While trolls range from large to child-sized in various fairytales, their primary characteristic has always been their extreme ugliness. In their mythology, they often live under bridges or in the mountains, they spend their time tricking humans out of their money, and they’re always hideous. But Dam managed to take the usually ugly features—wrinkly faces, bulbous noses, oversized ears—and turn them into tiny, oddly adorable figurines. And since, according to Scandinavian tradition, nothing bad can happen to a person who is laughing, Dam thought of his charmingly unattractive little trolls—which he named Good Luck Trolls—as chuckle-inducing talismans. "They were so ugly," Dam once said, "that you couldn’t help but laugh, and when you laugh, luck follows you."

3. THEIR HAIR HAS ALWAYS BEEN UNRULY.

Even Dam’s first trolls had the wild, crazy hair that has become their trademark. The Icelandic sheep’s wool used was dyed three colors—white, black, or orange—and glued on the tops of the dolls for a bushy, exaggerated mane that Life magazine called "strangely soothing to the touch." And though the company eventually switched to synthetic hair that stood even more upright, Dam said production demand for the dolls was so high in 1964 that he had to buy Iceland’s entire wool harvest that year. 

4. DAM HAD A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR.

Dam seemed to know he had a damn funny name (it’s pronounced more like "dahm" than the American "damn"). Once his trolls took off, he named his toy-making company Dam Things, and the highest quality of these trolls became known as Dam Dolls. One design even went by the name Dammit.

5. THE LARGE MAJORITY OF TROLLS ON THE MARKET WEREN'T DAM'S DOLLS, THOUGH.

A vintage Wish-nik troll. via eBay

By the early 1960s, trolls were a huge international trend. Dam rapidly expanded his distribution network, opening factories in New Zealand and Florida. But because of their immediate success, and due to Dam’s lack of a copyright, knock-off trolls showed up on shelves all over America. Competing companies put out troll-esque dolls with names like Wish-niks, Fauni Trolls, and Lucky Shnooks. According to The New York Times, "the Dam Company earned only a small percentage of the estimated $4.5 billion made from Trolls throughout the world."

6. ONE DAMMIT DOLL HAD AN AUDIENCE WITH THE PRESIDENT.

Amelia Earhart made headlines in 1932 for becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and it took 31 years before pilot Betty Miller became the first woman to earn that title for the Pacific. Her only company for the arduous flight? A Dammit doll. Following her historic flight, Miller was invited to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy, and she brought her trusty troll doll with her.

7. TROLL DOLLS WERE THE ORIGINAL BEANIE BABIES.

When the troll takeover of America hit, it hit hard. The Chicago Tribune reported in a 1964 trend piece that "bring your own troll" parties were "'in' among the teenage set," and many of those devotees grew up to be major collectors. A West Virginian woman named Paula Dolog—alias: "The Troll Princess"—told her local newspaper in 2009 that she’d collected so many troll dolls over the course of 45 years that she had "trolls that haven’t seen the light of day in years." Other devotees told stories of picking up trolls to cheer ailing family members, only to begin collecting them in earnest soon after. And when the '90s wave took hold, 29-year-old Lisa Kerner put together a pre-internet Craigslist of sorts called Troll Monthly Magazine, intended to help collectors sell and trade the dolls. Scouring resale sites today will still bring up all manner of troll dolls, from a 1950s stuffed Dam doll going for $225; to themed dolls, like this vintage Viking troll for $175; to a terrifying Lucky Shnooks doll from the '60s.

8. A SELF-PROCLAIMED TROLL QUEEN RUNS A TROLL MUSEUM.

In Alliance, Ohio, a woman named Sigrid calls herself the Troll Queen. She claims to be a huldra troll—the kind of troll that disguises itself to appear human—and has used her passion for the creatures to amass a collection of nearly 3000 unique trolls, setting a Guinness World Record. Sigrid (human name: Sherry Groom) has turned her love of the dolls into a weird and wonderful museum called The Troll Hole, which now houses more than 18,000 trolls and memorabilia. She gives guided, costumed tours once a day; there’s only a $10 troll toll to visit the Troll Hole.

9. TROLL DOLLS HAVE DONE POLICE WORK.

In a move called "Trolls on Patrol," the police department in Tarpon Springs, Florida bought 5000 troll dolls in 2003 and put them to work. The goal? To build relationships with area children. "It should bring some friendly interaction," police chief Mark G. LeCouris told the St. Petersburg Times at the time, noting that they wanted local kids to see police officers as approachable role models, and that their previous giveaways of items like junior police badges and "Say No to Drugs" bracelets had always been popular with kids. Police handed out the trolls at Halloween and at various community events. "They really put smiles on kids' faces," LeCouris said.

10. FOUR DECADES LATER, THE DAM COMPANY WON THEIR PATENT.

Even though Thomas Dam lost his creation to the public domain in America in the '60s, his company soldiered on in Europe. The '80s saw another wave of troll fandom, most notably when a New York-based marketing executive named Eva Stark decided to import large numbers of Dam's trolls and rebrand them as Norfin dolls ("Norfin" being a portmanteau of "elfin," "orphan," "Norway," and "Finland"; no word on why "Danish" or "Denmark" wasn't thrown in for consideration). Thomas Dam died in 1989, but new laws passed in 1994 allowed the Dam Company to sue copycat manufacturers. Eventually, they won the worldwide rights to the troll doll image.

11. EVEN WITH A MAJOR SALE, THE DAM COMPANY KEPT THEIR HOLD ON SCANDINAVIA.

After a misguided attempt to update the Troll brand (recreating them in the image of Bratz dolls in 2005 and calling them Trollz was a huge failure), the Dam Company agreed to sell worldwide rights—save Scandinavia, naturally—to DreamWorks Animation in 2013. "Trolls is one of those rare, proven and universally adored brands," DreamWorks’s franchise head, Shawn Dennis, said at the time of their intention to create a multi-platform marketing plan. Within the year they’d reworked the Trolls movie’s original concept, turning it into a musical comedy that would eventually bring on Justin Timberlake as the executive musical producer. That choice, at least, has already paid off—the debut song from the soundtrack, "Can't Stop the Feeling!", topped the charts in more than 15 countries when it was released.

12. HASBRO HAS RELEASED A NEW LINE OF TROLL DOLLS.

courtesy Hasbro

Not only do the trolls from the new DreamWorks movie have updated faces (the large heads and stubby bodies resemble the '60s originals, but the facial features are far less oversized—or wrinkly), they now also come with huggable plush bodies. And with so many of the Trolls movie characters getting both the plastic figurine and plush doll treatment, it seems only a matter of time before the collectors come out in full force again.

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14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.

1. JACQUELINE SUSANN DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE.

To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”

2. BARBARA PARKINS WAS “NERVOUS” TO WORK WITH JUDY GARLAND.

Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”

3. WILLIAM TRAVILLA BASED THE FILM'S COSTUMES ON THE WOMEN’S LIKES.

Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”

4. SUSANN THOUGHT GARLAND “GOT RATTLED.”

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”

5. PATTY DUKE PARTIALLY BLAMES THE DIRECTOR’S BEHAVIOR FOR GARLAND’S EXIT.

During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”

6. DUKE DIDN’T SING NEELY’S SONGS.

All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”

7. GARLAND STOLE ONE OF THE MOVIE'S COSTUMES.

Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”

8. A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FILM HID THE TITLE.

Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”

9. IT MARKED RICHARD DREYFUSS'S FILM DEBUT.


Twentieth Century Fox

Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”

10. THE DIRECTOR DIDN’T DIG TOO DEEP.

In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”

11. A STAGE ADAPTATION MADE IT TO OFF-BROADWAY.

In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.

12. JACKIE SUSANN BARELY ESCAPED THE MANSON FAMILY.


By 20th Century-Fox - eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.

13. PATTY DUKE LEARNED TO EMBRACE THE FILM.

Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”

14. LEE GRANT DOESN’T THINK IT’S THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE.

In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

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How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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