If you are a mid- to late-boomer, you probably remember troll dolls, the weird-faced creatures with crazy hair that stood up. They were around in the mid-60s and reappeared each decade after until the 1990s. The story is, though, the original maker was copied and most of the imitators commandeered the eighties and nineties. It was boomers who had the best access to the originals.
Now Disney has decided to take up the troll doll banner and will be releasing a Trolls movie this coming week. You can already see the blitz of toys and collateral merchandise growing on TV commercials in anticipation of what they must believe will be a blockbuster franchise.
As early as the 1930s, Thomas Dam, a Danish fisherman and former bricklayer and baker, created the doll for his daughter one Christmas because he couldn’t afford a present. He fashioned the doll from his imagination, carving the face and body out of wood, with inset glass eyes and sheep skin pieces for hair. Clothes were sewn for the doll, increasing its already unique qualities. Other people saw the doll and asked Dam to make one for their children. By 1959, the doll was being manufactured by the Dam Things Company and sold in Europe. It was made from rubber filled with wood shavings, but retained the original sheep skin hair.
Trolls originated in Norse mythology hundreds of years ago. They became part of the legends of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Trolls were a non-human race that have been depicted as everything from human-like dwarves to., more often, giants. They resided in caves and dark places near stones, and were known for their skillful work with stone and metal. They sometimes have magical powers attributed to them, and could be oafish and evil or cunning and devious, but rarely were they ever helpful to humans. In most stories, trolls would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.
The troll doll, called a Dam Doll, made its way to the U.S. in the fall of 1963 and was an instant success. Called Good Luck Trolls, they were produced by the millions in a wide range of sizes, from three inches high to more than a foot tall. The body was made of plastic and the hair, now a synthetic product, was dyed a variety of colors, most often bright orange or blue. The dolls appeared clothed in a variety of outfits or could be sans apparel. Boomer girls would brush the troll’s hair like they did with their Barbie dolls. To the best of Mister Boomer’s recollection, his sister did not have a troll doll. Nor did Mister B have any incarnation of troll paraphernalia.
Mister Boomer recalls seeing them everywhere, from the small ones inside gum machines to the popular six inch models (which did not include another four or five inches of hair) at the discount stores. Whole mythologies grew around the dolls, from assigning them sinister properties to calling them good luck charms. Older boomers had them hanging from keychains and car rearview mirrors.
Many companies copied the troll and sold them in a vast array of products, from coloring books to comics; dolls to TV shows. There was an attempt to bring back trolls in the 1990s, but it failed to catch the interest of the public. In 2005 Dam Things reclaimed control of the copyright and shut down the operation of its many imitators. In 2013 Dam sold the rights to use the troll image and name to Dreamworks, which was later purchased by Disney, paving the way for the upcoming movie.
Did you or someone on your family jump on the troll doll fad, boomers? Did you find them cute or ugly?