“I Feel Good” James Brown doll
Auctions are about more than just antiques. They’re also about kitsch, and what can be more kitschy than a singing James Brown doll.
Such a doll showed up at an auction I attended last weekend with its molded black hair, fake leather vest, black pants and shirt, and screechy voice singing the 1965 hit “I Feel Good”:
“I feel good. I knew that I would, now. I feel good. I knew that I would, now. So good, so good. I got you.”
I was waiting for the doll to do the James Brown bow-legged dance and a split, but that was just too much for a plastic figure. It just stood there, and sang that same song over and over again until I pressed the on/off button. The doll is so not James Brown; the Godfather of Soul would never sing without moving his feet.
The doll was a version of many that I’d often seen on display and performing outside some novelty shop at the mall. Sometimes they were animatronic humans; sometimes they were animals with no voice (except for that singing fish) but with some trick up their sleeve.
The 18-inch (or 19½” or 20″, depending on what you read) doll had an over-sized head and small body, with the initials JB on the brown vest. One site noted that it sang “I Feel Good” for 58 seconds and its lips moved with the words. The doll at auction had some issues: Neither its body nor its mouth moved. It only moved its head from side to side.
This version of the James Brown doll was made by Gemmy Industries Corp. of Texas at the suggestion of Brown’s attorney, according to a 2002 article on cigaraficionado.com. The company also makes clown fish, fake gold fish, the singing Big Mouth Billy Bass, a singing and dancing hamster, and an animated George Bush, Ray Charles, Bill Clinton and Louis Armstrong, among others.
Surprising to me, there was a lot of chatter about the James Brown doll on the web: sales, YouTube videos, questions about how much it’s worth, how to repair it, and more. Here’s some of what I found:
Brown himself owned several of the dolls. They were among the James Brown Collection, more than 350 of his personal items that were sold at Christie’s auction house in New York in 2008. They included clothes he performed in, musical instruments, jewelry, furniture and more from his South Carolina home. The items in the collection sold for $857,562 – much less than the $2 million expected.
Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006.
The doll became an internet hit for several years when host Jeff Stelling catapulted it to to fame on the British show Soccer Saturday. Every time soccer star James Brown of Hartlepool United scored, Stelling pulled out the doll and pushed its button. When Brown left the team, the famous doll was sold on eBay to benefit seven charities.
The doll reached a high bid of more than 157,000 British pounds (more than $238,000) in November, but the bids were found to be false. The doll was put up again on eBay with a “Buy It Now” price of $1,500. In January, a local businessman stepped in, bought the doll for $1,000 and then donated it back to the town for resale – or to be raffled off, as town officials decided.
A community radio station in Maine auctioned off a doll that had been signed by Brown and delivered to the station by his manager. This doll, which wore a silver cape and black suit, sold for $135 in 2011.
A number of people on the web wondered what the doll was worth. Not much because they were mass-produced. Two were being sold in their original boxes on amazon.com for around $127 each. One of those sellers even mentioned that the dolls were “extremely rare,” which I seriously doubt. The aficionado.com article mentioned that the doll originally sold for $34.99.
On eBay, the dolls sold for $7 to $112, but most did not get a single bid.
When the doll came up for bids at the auction, the assistant pressed the button to start it to singing – both out of curiosity and to spark heated bidding. Only two people were interested, though. The doll sold for $15 to an absentee bidder.
Now if I can just get that song out of my head …