"Hill Street Blues" star Clinton Derricks was already
a collector of black memorabilia when he strolled into an antique shop in
Hollywood in 1984 and saw something he'd never laid eyes on before: a golliwog
doll, still in its plastic wrapping.
"What's that?" Derricks asked. "That's a golliwog,"
the storekeeper said, and thus began a collection for the actor-singer that
today encompasses hundreds of golliwog items.
Clinton Derricks - celebrity
author of "Buy Golly!"
His immersion into golliwogs culminated last year in the
publishing of a book he wrote titled
"Buy Golly!" "My
apartment in Hollywood looks like a museum," Derricks said with a laugh. "I've
got dolls, toys, books and ephemera on shelves, on walls, everywhere. It's very
ordered and tasteful."
The golliwog doll actually began life as a storybook
character created in 1895 by Florence Kate Upton, a writer living in New York
before returning to England with her family. Her first book, "The Adventures of
Two Dutch Dolls", was an instant hit with kids in Great Britain. But it was a
character based on a doll Upton owned as a child that became the star. She
named the doll on a whim:
"He fell into our hands when we were children," Upton wrote.
"He came from an American Fair, and in those days he was nameless. I picked him
up in my studio, and without even the idea of a name passing through my head, I
called him 'Golliwogg'" (The second "g" was later dropped.) She would go on to
write a dozen more books, all with Golliwog in the title. That's how popular he
Golliwog was a caricature of the American black face
minstrel performers of the time. Derricks said the argument could be made that
Upton meant for him to be more gnome-like, but the golliwog's features
round eyes, thick lips, fuzzy hair and broad grin fed into a racial
prejudice that was endemic in Victorian Edwardian Britain. A flood of
golly-related items only perpetuated that.
By the 1960s, the golliwog and other similar emblems were
seen as symbols of racism. They faded from shelves for the most part, although
a handful of companies still make the golliwog dolls and related items today -
mostly as modern-day relics of another time and place (one best left in the
past, many would say). Over the years, though, millions of golliwog items were
Many of those items have found their way into Derricks'
collection, thanks in part to an acting gig in London that resulted in his
living there for more than a decade (1985-1996) and permitted him to shop for
vintage gollies right where they were born. "I gobbled up everything I came
across at first," he said. "Later on, I got a bit more discerning, but I was
very much into the history and lore."
Among his prized items are first-edition copies of Upton's
books, including the first one in the series; an original Merrythought doll
from the 1930s (Merrythought produced golliwog dolls in Britain for years and
still makes them today); an original golliwog doll from Gamages' department
store in 1902 (where they were first sold); and a 1913 doll from Atlas
Manufacturing, another maker.
A group of three golliwogs are particularly prized for their
uniqueness: a soldier golliwog dressed in British khaki uniform (quite rare); a
girl golliwog (not many of the dolls were depicted as girls); and a third doll,
with blue jacket, red trousers and red bow tie. "They were made around
1910-1912," Derricks said. "I bought them at auction in London. They're
beautiful vintage pieces."
He also has an original Allwin doll from 1924 (Allwin, or
Richards Son Allwin, was another primary player back in the doll's heyday).
"It's a Ringmel green golliwog, made of felt, with an orange nose," Derricks
said. "It looks a little like a clown." He also has many badges, placards and
advertising signs from Robertson's, a jam maker that used the golliwog as its
mascot for over 20 years.
Once, in London, Derricks scored a coup over actor and
fellow collector Whoopi Goldberg. "I saw a pair of Chad Valley (another
manufacturer) dolls on tricycles, and I asked the shopkeeper how much. He told
me he was holding them for Whoopi Goldberg, I told him it might be anybody's
guess when she'd be back in England. He eventually saw things my way and sold
me the pieces."
Most of the items in Derricks' collection are older, vintage
items and one-of-a-kinds. He has it all insured (for an undisclosed amount),
but has no idea as to its aggregate worth. "I know what I've spent over the
years, and it's quite a bit, so I'm sure it's valuable," he said. He added
golliwogs have caught on as collectibles in other countries notably the
United States, Australia and even Japan.
Derricks has other collections, too. He owns three vintage
pedal cars; jukeboxes from the '40s (two Rock-Olas and a Seeburg); several
carousel horses; vintage watches; and vintage cars and motorcycles, to include
a 1968 MGC sports car, a 1967 TVR "kit car," a 1949 Citroen Legere, a 1970
Italia Spyder once owned by the actor Lyle Waggoner, and a 1964 Matchless
Derricks poured through books and other material at the London Library,
Pollock's Museum and the London Toy Museum all in England. He also
became familiar with the fabrics, buttons and other materials that went into
making the early gollies. "Much of that material was destroyed, or went into
two war efforts," he said. "That's why they're so rare today."
About Clinton Derricks
Clinton Derricks was born May 15, 1959, in Knoxville, Tenn.
His father was a Baptist minister and his mother was an aspiring concert
pianist before joining her husband in the church. Clinton (along with his twin
brother Cleavant, who would also go on to enjoy a career in acting and music,
and sister, Gwendolyn) grew up in Knoxville, Jackson (Tenn.); Beloit, Wis., and
As their father took on ministries in different parts of the
country, the family moved with him, and it exposed young Clinton to many
influences and levels of acceptance and racial prejudice. He said the prejudice
he and his brother encountered in Washington, D.C., was far worse than anything
he experienced in Beloit, Wis., which is predominantly white. "We had a rough
time in D.C." he said.
Acting wasn't on his mind when he enrolled at Federal City
College in Washington, D.C., in the mid-'70s. He was (and still is)
artistically inclined, and selected studio art as a major. But he had always
sung in the church choir and grew up around music all his life, so when an
opportunity came to audition for a role in a touring company version of "Don't
Bother Me, I Can't Cope," he took it.
He got an understudy role and was encouraged by the cast
members who told him he was a gifted talent who could act and sing. Inspired,
he left school and moved to New York City, where he came under the wing of
producer-director Vennette Carroll. She was so helpful in getting Clinton's
career started he considered her a second mother and often uses the name
Derricks' stage credits include appearances on Broadway ("I
Have a Dream", "Dreamgirls", "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God"), British
theatre ("Time", "Miss Saigon", "Grand Hotel") and television ("Introducing
Dorothy Dandridge", "Sanford", "Hill Street Blues", "Highway to Heaven", "The
Steve Harvey Show"). He just concluded a stage production in Los Angeles, a
tribute to Ruby Dee.
Projects in the works include a possible to return to the
British stage (he didn't want to jinx it by naming the play). Meanwhile,
Derricks stays busy restoring carousel horses, playing the guitar and saxophone
(he's trying to master both) and maintaining his golliwog collection. He plans
to write another book, this one about the many black and white celebrities who
collect black memorabilia.
Fans of Clinton Derricks may write to the star c/o Jan Ross,
Gollyfest, P.O. Box 1634, Mill Valley, CA 94942. The e-mail address is