I was so pleased when Rich at Wide Screen World proposed this blogathon topic, because writers often get the short shrift when it comes to movies and television. Devoting an entire blogathon to a prolific writer like Richard Matheson struck me as a splendid idea.
Matheson had an long and varied career, writing novels, short stories, screenplays, and teleplays. Sometimes he adapted the works of others, often he adapted his own or created original stories for both the large and small screens. His writing mostly stayed within the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Yet within those genres, his work again was varied, spanning from straight-up horror to more romantic pieces, such as the time-travel drama Somewhere in Time–and my topic, “The Doll,” an episode of the 1980s anthology series Amazing Stories.
John Lithgow stars as John Walters, a painfully shy and lonely man who often finds himself at the shop of a dollmaker named Mr. Liebermacher (Albert Hague). He finally finds a reason to buy a doll for his niece’s birthday. Mr. Liebermacher encourages him to pick the doll who “speaks to him.”
Unfortunately, his niece is really too old for dolls and is disappointed in the gift. Taking the doll away, he promises her parents to buy her a new gift. He means to take the doll back but instead finds himself captivated by it. He calls it “Mary” and keeps thinking he knows her last name, too. He talks to her, even eats meals with her.
At last he goes to Mr. Liebermacher to ask if he used a model for the doll. Turns out he did–and her name is Mary Dickenson.
John makes an attempt to meet Mary, but is too shy and goes back home. The doll falls off the table–and somehow ends up with his car keys in her hands. He once again goes to her house and introduces himself to the woman who lives there (Anne Helm)–a somewhat older but still lovely version of the doll. To his surprise, she invites him in–and shows him she, too, had bought a doll from Mr. Liebermacher, that looks like a younger version of John. They realize that Mr. Liebermacher has somehow brought them together and agree to have coffee.
Usually, fantasy stories featuring dolls are darn creepy. This one could have so easily ended up that way. Two things keep that from happening: Lithgow’s superlative performance (it earned him his first Emmy) and Matheson’s sensitive writing. Lithgow makes you feel every bit of the character’s loneliness without it devolving into something stalkerish. In fact he’s quite funny trying to rehearse a speech before he goes to introduce himself.
It has been over 30 years since I saw “The Doll” when it was first broadcast Watching it again, I was surprised by how well I remembered it. It’s a great example of Matheson’s talent at telling a story with a big impact in less than a half an hour.