Raggedy Ann, a 54-year-old preschooler who has survived being plopped into a can of paint, tied to the tail of a kite and other storybook adventures, was rescued from yet another disaster yesterday by G.I. Joe, America's favorite toy soldier.
This time it was the dark forces of recession that threatened to do in the yarn-haired heroine of bedtime stories and toy boxes as they brought down the factory that makes Raggedy Ann dolls.
Just in the nick of time, G.I. Joe's commanding officers at Has-bro Industries stepped in and vowed to make Raggedy Ann dolls for as long as people will buy them. Related story, Page C9
The 215 people who make Raggedy Ann dolls at the Knickerbocker Toy Co. in Plainfield, N.J., were not so fortunate. They got pink slips for Christmas from owner Warner Communications Inc., which said it is closing the toy factory after Santa Claus makes one more run. Some of Raggedy Ann's playmates will wind up in the big toy box in the sky, but Raggedy and her "lifelong companion," Andy, are safe.
"Raggedy Ann is alive and well and living in Pawtucket, R.I.," said Marcy Gorman, who knew Raggedy Ann long before Gorman became a Warner public relations official.
The decision has brought more calls to Warner Communications than anything that's happened to the company recently, including a serious drop in Atari sales, said PR Chief Jonas Halperin.
"One reporter who called me up was crying. She said Raggedy Ann was sitting on top of her word processor, watching her write the story," Halperin said.
Warner plans to sell Raggedy Ann, Andy and $25 million worth of other toys to Hasbro, the Rhode Island toy company whose G.I. Joe is ranked as the No. 1 television-advertised toy this Christmas by Toy and Hobby World magazine.
"Raggedy Ann is a classic, a toy that could last forever," said her new stepfather, Stephen Hassenfeld, president and chairman of Hasbro.
Hassenfeld figures on selling half a million Raggedy Ann dolls a year, a lot even for a company that makes $100 million worth a toys a year, including G.I. Joe, Mr. Potato Head, Snoopy Brusha Brusha Toothbrushes and the Mickey Mouse Talking Telephone.
Hasbro is buying only the Raggedy Ann doll business from Warner Communications, a $2 billion conglomerate that owns everything from Atari and Warner Brothers Pictures to cable television systems and the New York Cosmos soccer team.
Raggedy Ann herself belongs to International Telephone and Telegraph Corp., which owns the copyright to the original Raggedy Ann storybooks through its Bobbs-Merrill publishing subsidiary.
The original Raggedy Ann once belonged to a little girl named Marcella Gruelle, whose father was a cartoonist for The Indianapolis Star in 1918. According to legend, Johnny Gruelle made up stories about his daughter's homemade doll when Marcella was dying of an infection caused by an unsterile tuberculosis innoculation.
Half a century later, nearly two dozen Raggedy Ann books are still in print and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls sell at $4 million a year. In a lifetime of childhood stories, Raggedy Ann has been vilified by snooty china dolls, dragged half to death by dogs and attacked by a rooster. More than once she wound up hanging on a clothesline to dry and in need of new stuffing after popping her stitches.
Raggedy Ann's enduring popularity is one of the elusive mysteries of the toy business, Hassenfeld said. "Raggedy Ann is lovable, it's pure, it's sweet, it's just about everything I would want my daughter to have in bed with her," he said.
But what is it that makes a rather ordinary floppy doll with white pinafore and bloomers, striped stockings and a heart embroidered with "I love you" into one of the all-time hits of Toyland?
"If we could come up with an answer, there'd be a lot more of them," says Hassenfeld.