Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Her Shining Star Doll Encouraged Self-Esteem, Cultural Awareness, and Filled a Void

Photo from page 323 of Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins needs caption corrections:  This circa 1988 doll, Shining Star, was manufactured by Vous Estes Tres Belle. which means "You Are Very Beautiful"; the doll is approximately 25 inches tall; the clothing it wears is not original.
Shining Star, shown above, as featured in Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins (Collector Books, 1995), has been on my wish list since first reading a late 1980s newspaper article that featured the doll and the woman who created it, Ms. Vousette Miller.  The article was sent to me by a fellow doll enthusiast sometime during the early-to-mid 1990s.  I had it stored with other doll articles.  Unfortunately, a recent attempt to locate the article was as unsuccessful as my attempt to locate this elusive doll.  Shining Star's elusiveness is proof that those who might still own the doll, are unwilling to part with it.

My 20-something-year desire to own Shining Star resurfaced earlier this month after an in-box Facebook message from a woman who was the lucky owner of one as a child.  She could not remember the doll's name but requested my assistance in helping her find it based on description alone.  A portion of her message proved this unique doll had helped nurture a cultural awareness and perhaps planted some of her first seeds of self-esteem.   

Hello! I'm so hoping you can help me! When my sister and I were little girls, our aunt got us each a very special Black doll. She was about 12-14 inches tall, long hair, very pretty face. She came with three little discs: a red one, a blue one and I can't remember the color of the third. She had an opening in her back where the discs were inserted and played, which I've recently learned may have been called a "minifon" (but I can't be sure of that). When the discs were inserted, she would recite poems about Black women in history. Each disc had a different poem. This doll was my introduction to women like Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells. I've Googled everything I can think to Google. I've even contacted the proprietors of the National Black Doll Museum. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
I was determined to help this young woman identify the doll.  The fact that the doll "talked" narrowed things down a bit, but I was misled initially by the approximate height she provided.  After sending her a link to another talking doll, which was a best guess effort, I thought about Shining Star.  Even though Shining Star far exceeds 12-14 inches, I realized this woman was working from her childhood memory and her height estimation for the doll could be off.    I also knew if the doll had introduced her to women such as Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ida B. Wells, the creator of the doll had to have been African American.  This was not the case for the black talking doll by Colombo Doll Company, Inc. and its white counterparts.

I took a chance and sent her the image from Perkins' book (shown above).  After viewing the picture, she wrote:

The dress is throwing me off as I don't remember it looking like that. BUT her face, hair and hands look like my doll! Such a pretty face! And the records tied to her arm are what the discs looked like! Thank you so much!

Mystery solved.  Before our in-box messaging concluded, I admitted that I, too, desire to own Shining Star  and hoped we both found her, but my hope is that she finds her first.


Shining Star remained on my mind for a couple of days because I could not locate the newspaper article I sought to find.   I looked through my article files several times to no avail. I did find another article, from July 25, 1988, "Wishing upon a Shining Star" by Elisabeth Wurtzel, a then staff writer for the Dallas Morning News (DMN).  The only information I found on the Internet about Shining Star was her book of poems, Color Me Beautiful, Color Me Black, written by Vousette Miller, the doll's creator.

One thing led to another and I had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Miller by phone. We spoke for nearly a half hour about Shining Star, what prompted her to have the doll made, the void Shining Star filled in her life, and how well the doll-buying community received it.  I shared with her that I had wanted Shining Star for over 20 years and that I had received the in-box message from a woman who had owned the doll as a child who now desires a replacement.

During our conversation Ms. Miller said she did not own black dolls as a child.  She added that, as a child, she had never seen a black doll that looked like her, which is the reason she designed Shining Star.  She is a true example of the statement:  If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.  "Right" can be substituted with "by your specifications."  Word of mouth was the major method in Shining Star's success as it filled Ms. Miller's void and the void experienced by countless children who also craved dolls that were not just white dolls colored Hershey brown.  We both concurred that African Americans comprise a wide color spectrum that dolls during the 1980s and prior did not portray. 

In the Dallas Morning News article, referenced above, Ms. Miller is quoted to say that through the use of  discs and accompanying book, Shining Star is:

...a doll that would tell me things that I want to hear, tell me things that I like, tell me how wonderful I am.

The approximately 25-inch Shining Star is described in the 1988 DMN article as, "a black doll with Negroid features, long curly hair, caramel colored skin and a satin and lace dress.  When you push Shining Star's battery-operated button, her motor mouth spouts out inspirational poems of black pride written by Ms. Miller."

As a result of Shining Star's popularity, the doll sold out quickly.  Ms. Miller does not have additional quantities to sell.  When asked whether or not she plans to reproduce the doll, she indicated she has considered it because several others have recently made this request.  I asked her to keep me posted if she does because I know two very interested customers and I am sure there are a host of others. I am hoping our conversation will encourage her to reproduce the doll even if it is a small production. 

After my conversation with Ms. Miller, I emailed her the photo from Perkins' book and she emailed two articles to me that feature Shining Star.  (Neither article was the one I could not locate in my files, but I was thrilled to receive them.)  After receiving the Perkins' book image and reading the caption that indicates the doll is "all original," Ms. Miller sent an email reply to inform the doll in Perkins' book was redressed.  Photos of the articles she shared with me are shown below:

The lovely Ms. Miller is surrounded by several Shining Star dolls that resemble her.  What a delightful way to fill a void and instill self-esteem in children in the process.  (From The Washington Post, Thursday, March 23, 1989, courtesy of Vousette Miller)

A continuation of the above Washington Post article is shown below:

And finally, from a late-1980s Playthings magazine, Ms. Miller shared:

Princess Shining Star (another version of the original doll) was featured in a late-1980s Playthings magazine.  The photo caption reads:  From Shining Star Inc., Princess Shining Star recites poetry to teach modern day kids about such contemporary concerns as prejudice, learning to get along with parents, the importance of avoiding drugs and how to deal with strangers.  (Article courtesy of Vousette Miller.)
Update Added 10/25/2015
Author, Judith Izen, of Dolls of Our Childhood, shared the following brochure of Princess Shining Star that she picked up at Toy Fair during the 1980s where the doll was introduced to the market.

Princess Shining Star dolls and separately sold outfits are shown.  The nightgown, party dress, and school dress were sold separately.  Princess Shining Star was sold in the red dress and cape. Brochure courtesy of Judith Izen.



1 comment:

  1. Mystery solved indeed! You are the Jessica Fletcher of the doll world.

    The dolls very much look like their creator.


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