In Memoriam: Neil Estern

The father of beloved doll line Patti Playpal died July 11, 2019. You may not know the name, but I know you’ve seen his dolls, especially if you’ve followed this blog for a while. Neil Estern, born in 1926, is best known for his sculptures; his most popular being the pieces in Washington, DC’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Specifically, he’s called out for being the sculptor of the controversial and iconic Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fala sculpture, where Roosevelt is seen sitting is his wheelchair, donning a long cape.

According to Neil, “My sharpest, clearest reminiscence of F.D.R. is a person in a cape, towards the top of his life, directly weak and but sturdy, in failing well being and on the identical time the hero.” While I haven’t seen this in person, the pictures clearly show a level of detail in Neil’s work that isn’t always seen.

But why talk about him here on a doll blog? Well, while you may not know of his professional sculpture work, I know you know his iconic doll sculpts, most of which were created for Ideal back in the 60’s. For instance, did you know Neil Estern is basically the father of Patti Playpal?

Along with his wife, who designed the early outfits for Patti Playpal, Neil was tasked with creating a lifelike 35″ tall sculpt (head to toe) for Ideal’s new hard plastic companion doll. And man, did he do a great job! One of the reasons Patti Playpal is still as beloved today as she was back in 1959 is that she’s one of the prettiest life sized dolls around. The sculpt is realistic and childlike with an innocence about it that not all doll artist have achieved. There’s no way around it, Patti Playpal has character and that character is a huge reason she’s loved by collectors to this day.

He didn’t stop there, though. Before he retired from toymaking to become a full time sculptor, he also worked on the Patti Playpal family (Peter, Penny, Suzy, Johnny and Bonnie). You’ll also see his craftsmanship in Saucy Walker, Terry Twist, Bizzy Lizzy, Real Live Lucy, Thumbelina, Newborn Thumbelina, Bye Bye Baby, Daddy’s Girl, Little Baby Lost, Tubsy, Katie Kachoo, Miss Ideal, Baby Crissy, Kissy and one of my personal favorites Giggles, to name a few.

Needless to say, playline dolls from the 60’s wouldn’t be the same without Neil’s handywork. He had the ability to create endearing dolls that ‘kids at heart’ still remember and collectors of today still cherish.

What’s your favorite Neil Estern doll? Let us know in the comment area!

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