LITTLE did cartoonist Johnny Gruelle realize on that dreary day in 1914 that he and his daughter would create one of the world's most beloved dolls and launch a multimillion-dollar industry. In accounts later told to numerous magazines and newspapers, Gruelle remembered he had a deadline to meet. A political cartoon was due. One try after the other was torn from the drawing board. He braced for another try when Marcella, his pretty, fragile, 12-year-old daughter, skipped into the study.
Johnny usually resented interruptions when he was working, but he adored Marcella. Her presence was never considered an interruption.
``Papa,'' said Marcella, ``look at the doll I found in the attic today.''
``Oh,'' smiled Johnny, ``she must be one of my mother's old dolls.''
``Grandma's?'' Marcella smiled. ``I wish her doll had a face!''
``Let's give her one,'' Johnny said. Grabbing a paintbrush from the red pot, Johnny swiped a smile and a nose on the doll's featureless face, opened his desk drawer, and, fingering through the litter of pins, clips, and rubber bands, found two old shoe buttons, which he attached as eyes on the doll's face. Marcella clapped her hands in delight.
``And,'' added Johnny, ``she has something to tell you.''
``What?'' asked Marcella.
Johnny lifted the doll's dress and painted a heart on the doll's broad chest. He printed ``I Love You'' under the heart.
``I love her, too,'' cried Marcella. Then she frowned. ``What is her name, Papa?''
``Name? Name? She does need a name,'' Johnny agreed. ``We could call her Alice Benton Gruelle, Grandmother's name.''
Marcella shook her head no. ``Grandmas always wear pretty dresses.''
Then Johnny reached for a volume of James Whitcomb Riley's verses, which Johnny's father, Richard Buckner Gruelle, had illustrated.
``Look,'' he pointed out various poems and illustrations. ``Here are some poems by Mr. Riley that Grandpa did the drawings for.''
``I like 'raggy Man! He's raggy like my doll,'' Marcella pointed out.
``That's true,'' said Johnny in serious agreement. ``She's a raggedy Annie.''
``Raggedy Ann!'' exclaimed Marcella.
``Raggedy Ann sounds exactly right for her,'' Johnny said.
After that Marcella took Raggedy Ann wherever she went, even to bed. Sometimes when Marcella could not fall asleep, Johnny made up stories about what Raggedy Ann did when Marcella was asleep.
Johnny originated the idea that Raggedy was patiently waiting for Marcella to go to sleep so she could have some adventures of her own in the dining room, kitchen, or backyard. Marcella dropped off to sleep, happy in the realization that she was providing the opportunity for Raggedy to have some fun.
During the pre-Christmas season in 1919, when the first Raggedy Ann books were put on display, an enterprising bookstore owner placed a Raggedy Ann doll in the window with the display of books. She was dressed in red striped stockings, flouncy white apron, and flowered frock (beneath which resided the fat heart labeled ``I Love You''), smiling her brushed-on smile and staring ahead from two shoe-button eyes.
Customers were fascinated with the doll. Orders poured in. Raggedy Ann dolls and Raggedy Ann books were launched into big business. The first edition was sold in two months. (It has now sold more than 150 editions, 5,000 books per edition.)
A few months later, while Johnny was working in his studio, a small package was delivered to him. With the package was a note from an elderly lady. The note said she had seen Raggedy in a store window. She recognized the doll. It was exactly like the one she and Johnny's mother had played with when they were little girls. The lady went on to explain that they were neighbors, and Alice Benton had left the doll. This was the doll she was sending him.
Johnny tore open the package. There lay a worn boy doll, obviously Raggedy's twin brother! The next year Raggedy Andy joined Raggedy Ann in a book entitled ``Raggedy Ann Stories.''
Books for children came in rapid succession after that, giving Johnny Gruelle international recognition.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Raggedy dolls are two of the most popular dolls ever created, not just in America, but all around the world. Year after year the dolls remain the same, red and white striped legs, touseled yarn hair, simple clothes, and shoe-button eyes.
Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy are still growing in popularity and are loved by children as one generation fades into the next. Each new member of the Raggedy Ann family is created with Johnny Gruelle's conviction in mind. His stories for children should never cause fright, excuse malice, glorify mischief, or condone cruelty.