"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 was.
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 mass-produced.
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
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
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 trials motorcycle.
To research "Buy
Golly!", 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 Washington, D.C.
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
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
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 Clinton Derricks-Carroll.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.