NEW YORK — They had it coming, as the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail might say.
Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been immortalized by the doll maker Robert Tonner as their counterparts from the movie, “Chicago,” Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, in 16-inch plasticine, sold exclusively at F.A.O. Schwarz for $159 each.
This story first appeared in the October 16, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s not the first time Tonner has done a movie doll — he made a Kate Winslet with a suitcase of outfits for “Titanic” in 1998 — but he says the “Chicago” project is the most “edgy,” at least for the typical Tonner doll collector.
“We’re known as a fashion doll company. We do little girl dolls and baby dolls and, well, these are basically murderesses,” Tonner explains over a Kobe beef burger — not the kind of lunch you’d expect from a doll maker. “But I loved the movie and the costumes and the fact that there was a blonde and a brunette.”
Roxie and Velma are the most technically advanced dolls Tonner has made thus far. Their body mold cost upwards of $50,000. “I really wanted to get the idea of them being dancers. They’re very poseable.”
Tonner got his start in the fashion industry working as head designer at Blassport. But in 1992, he decided that he was “just really burning out.”
“When fashion was getting worse and worse for me, it was really a flip of the coin: Do I want to start a fashion company or a doll company? This is the stupidest reason I ever made a decision for, but I didn’t know how to get patterns graded. In actuality, you just call somebody and have them do it. But I thought, ‘No, I’m going to do dolls.’” He started in the bedroom of his upstate New York house and used a kiln in the garage.
It’s not as if he’s left the fashion business behind, either. His star dolls, which include Tyler Wentworth, a fictional fashion designer who took over the business from her Aunt Regina, along with her friends, Sydney (“She’s the hot one right now,” says Tonner), who heads the Chase Modeling agency, and Esmé, a black model at Chase, can wear all sorts of interchangeable outfits, from a linen day dress with butterfly embroidery to a lightweight fake suede pants-and-skirt set in tickled pink.
“For the first time this season, we did sportswear,” Tonner adds. “And we do a full-scale fashion show at fashion week. I just invite the toy fair buyers because they never get to see fashion shows any other time. I make all the clothes life size and then we use real models. Everybody wants a ticket — we’re the event at Toy Fair. It’s a hoot.”
Miramax has asked Tonner to make dolls for some of its other films, including “Ella Enchanted,” a kind of “Shrek-meets-Cinderella” story hitting theaters next spring. It will be Tonner’s largest-scale line and will sell at Toys ‘R’ Us. “It could change the landscape of our company, but it’s more a merchandising thing. ‘Chicago’ I love. ‘Chicago’ I can get into.”
The film company also has approached him about the upcoming Anthony Minghella movie, “Cold Mountain,” for which he’d make another Zellweger and a Nicole Kidman. “If you think about it, it’s Civil War period. There’s a rich girl and a poor girl. It’s perfect for dolls.”
And though he’d like to make another Zellweger for “Down With Love” — “It sounds like I’m making all the Renée Zellweger dolls, but that’s not what I’m trying to do” — there are some places where Tonner draws the line.
“Miramax asked me to make dolls for ‘Pulp Fiction,’” he explains. “But Uma Thurman has black hair and wears a white shirt and black pants. I mean, that’s not a doll.”