Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vinyl Records, Vinyl Fashion Dolls and The Cha-Cha-Cha!

Yolanda "Tongolele" Montes with her signature raven hair and white love lock standing
along side my Abbe Lane "The Lady In Red" doing a duet accompanied by the
world famous Xavier Cougat Band.

      My parents had a pretty awesome vinyl record collection they had accumulated from the late 50s, 60s and 70s. Back when television consisted of 3 channels (ABC, NBC and CBS….I know kids…NOT KIDDING. Plus, there were NO remote controls. You actually had to get up and turn the knob to one of those 3 channels...Channels 10, 7 or 4 respectively) a lot of our family time in the evening before, during and after dinner consisted to listening to these latin Boleros, Cha-Chas, Salsa, Rumbas and Merengues. 
Abbe Lane album accompanied by the famous
Tito Puento was in my parents collection.
    These records had a particular quality to them that DVDs or BluRays today don't have. First, there was that scratchy sound that the needle made when you first put it down on the vinyl in the bland spaces before the music engraving started. It was almost like a two second white noise interlude introduction to the music you were going to look forward to hearing. It gave you time to anticipate the sound that would soon be invading your ears, mind and soul. I remember my parents, as a young couple (mom 23 and father 26) dancing to some of their favorite songs as a dinner of black beans, rice, plantains and picadillo (ground beef sautéed with caribbean spices and a bit of tomato paste) cooked on the stove while I had playtime in the bath. I could see them from the tub while they danced and watched over me from the hallway across the wash room. Life was pretty wonderful then. I was very much loved and I knew it for sure, and all those experiences were accompanied by this ongoing soundtrack of wonderful my cultures music.
Abbe and then husband Xavier Cugat were the inspiration
for Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. The sassy redhead and the
Cuban band leader....ring a bell?
Now, as an artist (and very small child) I think I loved the album covers almost as much as I loved the vinyl records that came inside of them. They were vibrant technicolor pieces of art and photography (or sometimes a combo of both). But, in particular some of my favorite were of those that featured the sexy chanteuses of the time. My parents had a record called "Havana 3am", which growing up in a Cuban household played pretty much on a loop every day and especially on weekends. It featured band leaders like Ttto Puente, Machito (The Cuban Count Basie) and Xavier Cugat (who incidentally was the inspiration behind the Ricky Ricardo character that Desi Arnaz played in "I Love Lucy"). But, even though those men where the ones that produced and arranged the music, it was the "girl singers" that sometimes sang on the songs featured on the cover in elegant and well fitted gowns that caught my imagination. That's the first time I saw Abbe Lane and women like her and just simply fell in love. 
To start, Abbe with fair skin, light eyes and titian red hair looked just like my mother on her record covers. She was curvy and had the voice, that too a child was something between an sexy siren and an angel. Singing songs like "Me Lo Dijo Adela" and "Whatever Lola Wants", I was hooked from the the beginning. To me that was womanhood in its most perfect incarnation. Then there was also Tongolele (Yolanda Montes) who with her shoulder length raven tresses and signature white lovelock creating a curl in the front, was my other absolute favorite. She was known as "La Mujer Pantera" which translates into "The Panther Woman". She was fierce in every sense of the word. She had the kind of hourglass figure that I saw on all the women in my family and could move her backside to a rhythm that could charm any snake (especially those of the "trouser" variety). Although, later on I found out she was known more for her dancing, she was featured on many of these LP vinyls and movies of the time. 
So when I started collecting and designing dolls, I found myself understandingly inspired by those women on the album covers of my childhood. I wanted to recreate miniature replicas of these strapless, skin tight, mermaid style dresses and couldn't help but be drawn to any fabric with a leopard skin print. These ladies were my first muses in the glamourous world of OOAK (one of a kind doll designing) when I was working exclusively on Barbie. 
Since then my tastes have evolved. Although, I wanted to have an homage to these ladies in my collection and recently I was able to obtain two dolls from the Fashion Royalty line that fit the bill perfectly. Last year's IFDC convention doll was a dead ringing in my eyes (after a few revamps) to Tongolele and although everyone saw Rita Hayworth as the inspiration to the "Lady In Red" that wowed everyone at the FR Convention in L.A. last October – I immediately thought of Abbe Lane. So, above you see the restyled and slightly modified versions of those femme fatales now in my ever expanding collection. I placed them (via Photoshop) in front of a Technicolor photo of the Xavier Cugat Band (BTW: Cougat was also Abbe Lane's husband at the beginning of her career) with a big Copacobana neon sign in the background (yes, The Copa, as it was regularly referred to as, really did exist in Cuba's Downtown Havana and was not just an imaginary place where Lola was a showgirl imagined by Barry Mainlow). 
Yolanda Montes "La Tongolele"
The sensational and gorgeous Abbe Lane!
I hope you enjoy these dolls and a walk down my childhood's memory lane. Every time, I walk into my doll room now and see them, I can imagine my youthful parents dancing to that fantastic music and that makes me smile.

NOTE: I wrote this blog 2 days ago before one of our beloved family pets Napoleon passed away. I've not been able to think straight much less get online to post this blog on my site until this morning. The last 2 days have been horrible (and I'm not exaggerating or being dramatic). I have never had to bury one of my pets and as a gay couple without kids of our own…our pets WERE and ARE our babies. I know that sounds stupid to some...but its the truth. I may sound like one of those crazy old spinsters that leave all the money in their inheritance to their pets, but the love that both Peter and I shared for Napoleon was deep and we were lucky to have him for wonderful 11 years (which is way passed the lifespan of a teacup chihuahua). Napoleon only brought joy into our life. He was quite, meek, noble, fun, sweet, adorable, loved to be kissed, snuggled and held on his back like a baby while he looked up at you...but most of all, what I will miss was how he looked up into your eyes with a look of pure love. He passed away like the little prince that he was quietly in his sleep from congestive heart failure. We were able to keep him alive through his prescribed medications for almost 8 months and although it was a bit of a chore....and now I'm so grateful for it. You see, every time he had to take a medicine we wrapped it in a small piece of deli meat which he loved and enticed him to eat his pills. I was mostly in charge of giving him his medication 3 times a day and every time I gave it too him he wagged his tail after I said the words "good boy" to him for taking his medication. My consolation now is that Napoleon knew he was loved by his daddies and that he knew he was "a good boy". 
"Popoleon" (was my nickname for him...
and Peter called Him "Nappy") and daughter
Frida sharing a nap at Christmas time on their
Santa bed. This is the last picture we have of
our little boy. I'm glad we got to have one more
Christmas together before God took him on
3 Kings Day - January 6th, 2014. 
Saying goodbye was heart wrenching and we are still grieving, but we still have our eldest female Kahlua Love Hewitt and Frida Von Tease (Napoleon's daughter) and they have lovingly licked our tears as we said goodbye to our little boy. I'd like to thank God for allowing us to have him in our life for so long and for keeping him for us until we see him again along with all our other loved ones on the other side.


  1. Love your memories and my heart goes out to you both for Napoleon. I understand that love you hold for him. Take care

  2. thank you so much for your kind words and sentiment. most people don't understand grieving this much for a pet...but we just can't help it...they are our babies. i appreciate those people that do understand and are sympathetic. xoxo, f

  3. I can't stop cying....I miss him too!! He was our angel and we were blessed with the time God gave us with him. We will see him again one day...I know it..

  4. thanks's been really trying for the last couple of days...but we are starting to make peace with it. Thanks for your kind knew you know how special he was. ;-) xoxo, f

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