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500 LITTLE FRIENDS GRANADA HILLS COLLECTOR SEES HISTORY, ART, HUMOR IN DOLLS.

Byline: Rick Coca Valley News Writer

Midge Gisel has a lot of dolls. In fact, the last time she counted she had more than 500 in her collection.

There are vintage Kewpie and Barbie dolls, and a talking John F. Kennedy. There's even a figurine of former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman donning a wedding dress.

But there's only one doll Gisel says she'll never part with: a 1906 Hilda from Germany, the oldest in her collection.

Truth be told, it would be more than difficult to persuade the Granada Hills resident to get rid of any of her dolls. And that's great news to San Fernando Valley doll aficionados who will soon have a chance to see a nice sampling of the collection.

On Saturday, March 11, Gisel will show about 50 of her dolls at the Bolton Hall Historical Museum in Tujunga. In her presentation, ``Dolls A to Z,'' Gisel uses the letters of the alphabet to teach audiences about the history of some of the dolls in her collection.

Born in Glendale and raised in Burbank, she was part of a child song- and-dance group, the Rubenetts. Gisel, 76, also worked in the classic ``Our Gang'' comedy series, which featured child actors.

Besides providing her with singing and dancing lessons, Gisel's doting mother made sure she had every new doll that came out. For Gisel, an only child at the time, the dolls became her companions.

In the 1970s, after her own children had grown, Gisel took doll-making classes and learned to make her own porcelain dolls, even creating the mold and shaping and sanding the fingers. As her own collection grew, Gisel became an expert of sorts, reveling in researching the history involved in making dolls.

Gisel said that the ancient Egyptians were among the first doll makers.

``The first dolls were basically for adults,'' Gisel said, explaining that the ancient Egyptians used them as miniature models for clothes.

Gisel owns some Civil War-era replica dolls that are simple forms, made out of handkerchiefs. She said the soft fabric made these dolls popular with parents, who commonly referred to them as ``church dolls.''

``If you dropped them in church, they wouldn't make any noise,'' Gisel said.

Gisel's dolls come from all over the world and reflect many different cultures. Some have great monetary value; some have little or none. Gisel said she has never met a doll she didn't like.

She has done her ``Dolls A to Z'' presentation for women's clubs and other organizations, and she uses the showmanship she developed as a child performer and later as a professional clown. Gisel worked as a clown into her 60s.

Today she does volunteer work. As president of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society, she conducts tours at the Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills. She also volunteers at her church, New Life Church of the Nazarene in Northridge.

Gisel's only daughter, Tamara Wirtz of Simi Valley, also collects dolls. Gisel said her granddaughter Carleen Wirtz and great-granddaughter Shani Petty also enjoy the dolls that Gisel shares with them. Gisel said she'd like to bequeath most of her dolls to many female descendants when she dies, but there's a slight problem.

She has nine grandsons.

``Hopefully, one of them will have a wife who wants dolls.''

The March 11 ``Dolls A to Z'' presentation at the Bolton Historical Museum will be from 1 to 4 p.m. The museum is located at 10110 Commerce Ave. in Tujunga. For information, call (818) 352-3420.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) For Midge Gisel, 76, dolls have been companions since she was a child performer, playing backstage or on a studio lot.

(2 -- color) A Victorian lady in lace is among more than 500 dolls owned by Gisel, who will show some in a Tujunga museum.

Rick Coca/Valley News
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Title Annotation:Valley News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:642
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