Play With 'Em Again, Sam

What's a Little Mother to do?
If she was dealing with Little Miss Echo, she probably chose to turn a deaf ear. Thanks to a tape recorder embedded in the doll's gullet, that chubby-cheeked chatterbox parroted everything Mommy said.

Far better to spend a little quality time with the "amazing" Smarty Pants. Billed as "the first doll in the world actually able to have a conversation with your child," this sparkling raconteuse put Chatty Cathy to shame by firing off zingers such as "You're tickling me" and "I have five little toes." (Should anyone doubt Smarty's highly touted intellect, the announcer reassured viewers that "she may not be as smart as some children, but she is the smartest doll in the world!")

Then, as now, it was a dumb doll indeed who had no gimmick. At the dawn of the Space Age, merely peeing in a diaper was no longer enough: Yesterday's doll of today (like Tressy) was also expected to sprout waist-length retractable hair from a hole in her scalp.

Not content to leave well enough alone, some dolls even took sick. "Look!" gasps a female narrator in the commercial for Baby Love and Care. "Her face is getting red! SHE'S GOT A FEVER!!!" (The "fever" could be broken by administering a "cold tablet" that deactivated the red light bulb inside the doll's head.)

Not to be outdone in the baby bedpan sweepstakes, a rival company introduced the ailing Nurse Nancy, a doll so frail she traveled with her own sick bed and medical supplies. In the commercial, the pitiful little patient coughs, sneezes, and whimpers, "I feel sick," while a giggling trio of incipient Nurse Ratcheds gleefully monitor her rapidly declining health. When the doll finally simpers, "I feel better now," the preteen medical staffers smile knowingly: How long can it be before their debilitated dolly suffers a relapse?

The terminally nostalgic Gallen, meanwhile, claims he never gets sick - of his toys, that is.

One reason may be that his collection is always getting a transfusion of new blood. "The toy companies are like my buddies," he says. "Now that they've seen me on TV, I get sent all the new stuff in the mail."

And with friends like that, who needs the big guy at the North Pole?

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