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"The Dolly Sisters" Marionettes

"The Dolly Sisters" Marionettes

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Description (Brief)
These two dancing sisters were created and used by puppeteer Donald Cordry in his 1931 production of "The Dolly Sisters". Hand carved out of wood,the faces of the two sisters are beautifully painted with bold stylized features Both marionettes have red yarn hair and are wearing hats made of ostrich feathers. They are dressed in matching bright blue costumes,embellished with sequins and ruffles, beige tights, and blue high heeled shoes.
The story of the Dolly Sisters goes from riches and glory to despair.Identical twins Rosie and Jenny were born in Hungary (1895) , and emigrated to the United States with their parents in 1905. Talented Dancers and actresses , the sisters were considered to be as cute as "two little dollies", hence the name "Dolly Sisters" Their careers in American included performing their act in vaudeville and starring on Broadway with Ziegfield's Follies. Known for their elaborate and lavish costumes and accessories, and an outlandish life style tje sisters became a social phenomenon. They moved to England and then France. where they were courted by millionaires and royalty. But by the 1940s their looks had faded and their luck changed. One sister took her own life and the other died years later alone and in poverty.
Donald Cordry (1907-1978) was a well known and highly respected American artist, craftsmen and puppeteer of the 1920s and 30s. He was gifted with a great decorative sense and his craftsmanship was extraordinary.
Born in Minnesota, Cordry attended the Minneapolis School of Art from 1924-1929 and after graduation he went to work for the Board of Education. While his main job was to lecture and teach classes, Cordry took used the opportunity to create and perform his own marionette show with both hand puppets and marionettes.
From late 1930 to early 1931 Cordry joined the Rufus Rose Company, owned by Rupert and Margo Rose that played the school and college circuit on the East coast.
In the summer of 1931 he traveled to Mexico where he developed a life long interest and dedication to the arts and landscape of Mexico. An avid collector of ethnographic material for over 40 years, Cordry amassed a large collection of indigenous Mexican arts and crafts which he meticulously documented and researched. His passion also included Native American cultures, and in the mid 1930s he worked at the Heye Museum of Indian Art in New York City where he cataloged and researched objects for the museum.
(The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History owns a large collection of Mexican masks donated by the Cordry family in the early 1980s.)
After returning to Minneapolis in late 1931, Cordry started creating his own puppets. He formed his own company and performed shows until 1934. The Dolly Sisters and the Three Wishes were popular with young and old audiences alike.
In June of 1934, Cordry moved to New York and worked with Tony Sarg, a well known and established puppeteer in his own right, and taught classes at Sarg's Summer School. Cordry made a number of puppets for Sarg and toured with his company from 1934-1936.
By 1937 poor health forced him to give up puppetry and he moved to Mexico. He did however, continue his field research on indigenous peoples and later on published two books - Mexican Indian Costumes (1968) and Mexican Masks (c1980).
"The Three WIshes" was Cordry's final production before he moved to Mexico with his wife. The puppets and sets from this production were shipped in crates to Mexico and remained there almost fifty years. In 1982, his widow Dorothy Mann Cordry donated this collections to the Smithsonian which included not only the marionettes, but props made to scale and a fully operational puppet stage.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
Cordry, Donald
Cordry, Donald
Associated Place
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
fabric (overall material)
sequins (overall material)
overall: 24 in x 7 in; 60.96 cm x 17.78 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Dorothy Mann Cordry in memory of Donald Cordry
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Entertainment
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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