At 81, Artist Still Playing With Paper Dolls

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For more than 30 years, Tom Tierney has been the pen behind some of the country's most popular paper doll books. The books feature celebrities like Joan Crawford, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, and politicians including Ronald Regan and Barack Obama. Host Scott Simon talks to Tierney, the king of the paper doll artists.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

The Second Annual Texas Paper Doll Party will be held today. Tom Tierney will be center stage. For more than 30 years he's been the pen behind some of the country's most popular paper doll books. His books feature celebrities including Joan Crawford, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, and politicians including Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

Mr. Tierney joins us now from Smithville, Texas.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. TOM TIERNEY (Paper Doll Artist): Well, thank you for calling.

SIMON: Is everybody always flattered when they become a paper doll?

Mr. TIERNEY: Most of have. I've gotten thank you notes from people like Jackie Kennedy and Jimmy Carter and several of the movie stars that I've done. So yeah, I've never really had any - I've certainly never had any lawsuits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, can you - forgive for my imperfect understanding of paper doll law. But can you make anybody you want into a paper doll?

Mr. TIERNEY: Oh, there are interesting laws like presidents, church leaders, anyone who's been in a jail for a year, are public figures, and so they're fair game. And for a while, some of the stars like Elvis Presley, their heirs or whatever had their names trademarked. So you couldnt use their name because you were infringing on a trademark.

But actually I've never really had to worry about it because a lot of people find it an honor to be a Tom Tierney paper doll.

SIMON: But in order to make somebody a paper doll, dont you have to depict them in their underwear?

Mr. TIERNEY: No, you dont have to. You could put them in a swimsuit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIERNEY: Or you can put them in leotards or tights. Or, you know, like I did a George Washington. In those days, most men didnt wear underwear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIERNEY: The lining of their...

SIMON: Ouch.

Mr. TIERNEY: ...clothes were their underwear. And so I was not privy to George Washington's underwear. But I did a lot of research and I found the underwear of the period and used that.

SIMON: Do you treat yourself to thinking there's any historical significance in the clothing that you put on your paper dolls?

Mr. TIERNEY: Oh, yeah. I've done a lot of historical paper dolls. I've done all the way up from Julius Cesar, and Napoleon and Josephine, and Louis XIV, and even Henry VIII and all of his wives, and...

SIMON: Julius Cesar wore togas, right?

Mr. TIERNEY: Pretty much all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIERNEY: Yes. You had every day togas. You had dress up togas. Senators were the only people who were allowed a purple trim on the edge of their toga. There were different status symbols.

SIMON: Now, at this Paper Doll Party, what goes on at a Paper Doll Party?

Mr. TIERNEY: Most people that come to Paper Doll Parties obviously are collectors or dealers. And so usually theyll bring some of their own paper dolls and things they want to trade or sell or whatever. And we have people flying all the way down from New York and all the way over from California -from Hollywood, to come to that one day event.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Tierney, happy Paper Doll Party.

Mr. TIERNEY: Okay, thank you.

SIMON: Famous paper doll illustrator Tom Tierney, speaking with us from his studios in Smithville, Texas.

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