's Greg Elderkin Interview with Margaret Burgess,
Supervisor, of the Cameo Doll Factory

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Smethport History-    Did you know Joseph Kallus?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes.

Smethport History-    Personally?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, I was manager there for two years, and worked there for 10 years, all together.

Smethport History-    What was it like when you first started working there?

Margaret Burgess-    Well, he came there and started working there in about 1935 with the factory, and I went to work there in about 1960. I worked there till it was sold in about 1970. He sold it to Strombecker in Chicago, but he wasnít satisfied with the work there so he took it from there and moved it over to Milton-Bradley, in Springfield, New York.

Smethport History-    Ok, thatís where New York comes in.

Margaret Burgess-    And then it was there for a few years and then he sold to a lady in California; Anaheim, California.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    And then in the process, of it being sold, he was killed by a hit and run driver in New York City. He lived in New York City and he would go there every so often.
  (Joseph Kallus had homes in both Florida and NYC)

Smethport History-    Thatís too bad.

Margaret Burgess-    He had started these Kewpies, through Rose OíNeill.

Smethport History-    Kewpies?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes. The Kewpies were one of the things that he was known for, making the Kewpie dolls. And Rose OíNeill had drawn them and he took the paintings and the pictures and made the Kewpies. She is the one who started it with ìScootlesî she made the Scootles and he got the franchise from her and then started modeling the Kewpies.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    And they were made and put in molds. They used the pink vinyl, but when I worked there, they used to make them with composition, years ago.

Smethport History-    Hmm.

Margaret Burgess-    But then in later years they were all made of vinyl. The vinyl was put into the molds and baked for a few minutes and put in water to help to cool them.

Smethport History-    I was reading among the material that I have, that vinyl was the basic doll material that all the dolls were made out of.

Margaret Burgess-    Yes.

Smethport History-    And after a while the dolls would have defects, there would be bubbles in the material and the ladies found ways to correct that.

Margaret Burgess-    Well, it was the men and the machines that would take care of that. Then they were taken out of the molds, and the ladies would put them together as they were on the assembly line.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    Along with the Kewpies, he made the Miss Peeps and the Scootles. And at one time he made Popeyes.

Smethport History-    You said Popeyes. Really?

Margaret Burgess-    Yeah, he made the Popeyes. They were made of the blue vinyl.

Smethport History-    Oh Ok.

Margaret Burgess-    You probably donít have any pictures of the Popeyes.

Smethport History-    (chuckle) You know in all my research that Iíve done I neverÖ

Margaret Burgess-    You probably have a lot of information right there.

Smethport History-    That opens up a whole new door thatís really neat to know that Joseph Kallus and his company made those.

Margaret Burgess-    Then they made a Margie doll. But the Kewpies and the Scootles were his best sellers.

Smethport History-    Uh-Huh.

Margaret Burgess-    And they were sold all over to mail-order department stores. Western Auto bought the Miss Peeps. He had designed the Miss Peeps himself. In fact he told me himself that he would go into the hospitals in New York City with a gown on and sketch pictures of new born babies and take the pictures and design the Miss Peeps. That was sold in diapers and white ducks. Yeah, a lot of those were sold to Western Auto.

Smethport History-    Yeah. I knew that he and Rosie OíNeill worked together and came up with the Kewpie doll.

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, the Kewpie and the Scootles

Smethport History-    Yes. I knew they had Kewpie cartoons, the Kewpie-ville,

Margaret Burgess-    Every year, in Branson Missouri they have a Kewpiesta, people come from all over the United States and Japan to attend this Kewpiesta, its three days long.

Smethport History-    Have you ever been to one?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, twice.

Smethport History-    Really?

Margaret Burgess-    Yeah. They bring the dolls there and they have the best ones picked and they sell them and work with each other. Itís in April of every year.

Smethport History-    You said that you knew Joseph Kallus personally; did you know Rosie OíNeill?

Margaret Burgess-    No, she was never in Port Allegeny.

Smethport History-    Ok. So with your specific position, what all did that include?

Margaret Burgess-    Well from the time the dolls were made, they went on different lines. Three or four girls would assemble them and some would put the arms on the bodies, others would arms, the head and the legs on them on the assembly line. They were washed and dressed and went down the assembly line, then they were packed.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    There were about 25 people that worked there all together.

Smethport History-    And your section would assemble the dolls or was it the whole factory together?

Margaret Burgess-    It was the whole factory together, it was just a small place.

Smethport History-    Was it hard with the war, World War Two?

Margaret Burgess-    Well, I didnít go to work there till 1960. I donít know if it was there in Port Allegeny during WWII. I think it was after the war that it openedÖ No it was open during the war, if the war was in the 1940ís.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    I know one time they said that the dolls were being made in Germany, because there was a ship that sank with some dolls on board on their way to America from Germany.

Smethport History-    I remember reading in the material that they were also made in Germany, back then, too.

Margaret Burgess-    They were also made in bisques, but we made the vinyl ones. No, we never made any in the bisques.

Smethport History-    Yeah, the bisques were made inÖ

Margaret Burgess-    Germany.

Smethport History-    Oh, Ok. I was thinking it was Chicago too.

Margaret Burgess-    No. nothing like that was made in the later years.

Smethport History-    Oh.

Margaret Burgess-    When they were made in Chicago, it was just what we had here, and from there they went to Milton-Bradley. Yeah, it was just the vinyl.

Smethport History-    You had mentioned that the Kewpie dolls were your most famous products and something about the Popeye doll.

Margaret Burgess-    Yes.

Smethport History-    What other dolls were there?

Margaret Burgess-    There was the Margie doll, then there was the ìPlum dollî, earlier before I had went there.

Smethport History-    Now what was the Plum doll?

Margaret Burgess-    It was a big doll. Mary might be able to tell you about that doll. She worked there longer than I did. I had went there in 1960 and worked there till it closed in 1970.

Smethport History-    Didnít it burn down?

Margaret Burgess-    Well that was before the factory was on Railroad Avenue. Yes, there was one in the upper end of town.

Smethport History-    In Port Allegeny?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, then it burnt down and it was moved to Railroad Avenue.

Smethport History-    Ok. Did you know of any problems that the company had of, say another business, like dolls makers, try to steal that idea?

Margaret Burgess-    No. Not that I heard tell of.

Smethport History-    It wasnít like that back then?

Margaret Burgess-    Nope. He was the only one who made the Kewpie dolls. They were made in all different sizes, from 7 inches, up to 27 inches.

Smethport History-    My mom has one. Iím not sure if it has the Rose OíNeill stamp on the back.

Margaret Burgess-    Yeah the stamp. Some years after, the J.L. Kallus was put on the back also.

Smethport History-    I remember as a little kid looking at those dolls. It was comical because they looked like little dwarves and their eyes were big with a small quaint mouth. They looked like a fairytale character.

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, thatís more or less what it was. That was her dream. She worked on them and sketched them and sculptured them. Then Mr. Kallus took over from there and started making them and selling them.

Smethport History-    So he was an artist?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes He was an artist along with doing that. I have paintings at home of what he used to do.

Smethport History-    Really? Thatís neat! So would your lady friend, what is her name..?

Margaret Burgess-    Mary.

Smethport History-    Would Mary have some pictures?

Margaret Burgess-    I donít know, but she was a good hand for taking notes down, and she could give you some more information, over the years, like when the fire was.

Smethport History-    Yes.

Margaret Burgess-    She said she looked up the notes she had.

Smethport History-    Yeah.

Margaret Burgess-    She had painted there for years, I also had painted for a little bit, but I didnít like it.

Smethport History-    I like to draw, but painting was never one of my strong points. Once I get going though, I can paint a little, its not that great, but I really like to draw.

Margaret Burgess-    Yeah.

Smethport History-    Thatís neat. Are there any more people that contributed to the company?

Margaret Burgess-    Yes, but they are all dead, a lot of them are. Most of them that had run the assembly line are gone. The girl that worked in the office is gone.

Smethport History-    Thatís too bad. Iím sorry. Is there anything else that you can think of that you found fascinating or interesting about working there or is that pretty much it?

Margaret Burgess-    That pretty well covers it.

Smethport History-    Well, It was good talking with you and thank you for your time.

Margaret Burgess-    I hope that any of it can help you.

Smethport History-    You mentioned a couple of dates that I can put down, and I can compare with Mary.


Transcribed by Greg Elderkin from the meeting on 10/9/02 with Margaret Burgess in the Lakeview Senior Center of Smethport Pa.

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