Paper Doll (song)

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"Paper Doll"
Song by The Mills Brothers
Songwriter(s)Johnny S. Black

"Paper Doll" was a hit song for The Mills Brothers. In the United States it held the number-one position on the Billboard singles chart for twelve weeks,[1] from November 6, 1943, to January 22, 1944. The success of the song represented something of a revival for the group, after a few years of declining sales. It is one of the fewer than forty all-time singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide.

Harry Mills recalled that he and his brother Herbert did not initially like the song, although their brother Donald did. However, Harry said, "as we went along rehearsing it, we got to feeling it".[2]

The song has been named one of the Songs of the Century[3] and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[4] Many artists have recorded it, including Bing Crosby for his album Songs I Wish I Had Sung the First Time Around (1956), Frank Sinatra for the album Come Swing with Me! (1961) and Pat Boone for his album I'll See You in My Dreams (1962).[5]

In 1975 British comedians "Don Estelle" and "Windsor Davies" released a comedic version of the song. Davies and Estelle were actors in the successful sitcom "It Ain't Half Hot Mum". It reached number 41 in the UK Singles Chart in 1975. Much like their earlier cover of "Whispering Grass" the record was sung in character.[6]

It has appeared in various films and in the British television miniseries The Singing Detective.[7] Four lines of it are sung by Rodolfo in the first act of Arthur Miller's play A View from the Bridge. It is also referenced in stage directions of the third scene of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Film appearances[edit]

Author and inspiration[edit]

The song was written in 1915 (although it was not published until 1930) by Johnny S. Black,[15] whose greatest success would come with his song "Dardanella",[2] which sold 5,000,000 copies in a recording by bandleader Ben Selvin in 1920, and a further 2,000,000 copies of sheet music. Black died in 1936, six years before his second greatest success, "Paper Doll", swept the country.

Black was apparently inspired to write the song after he was jilted by a girlfriend. The author Jack London Riehl wrote that Black was "a pianist, who augmented his income by boxing. His girlfriend ran off with another boxer, and he wrote this song, which began, 'I'd like to buy a paper doll that I can call my own ...' and ended 'I'd rather have a paper doll to call my own than have a fickle-minded real live girl.'"[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David A. Jasen, A Century of American Popular Music (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 155.
  2. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 1, side A.
  3. ^ "Songs of the Century". 7 March 2001.
  4. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Award".
  5. ^ "". Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Stephanie Zacharek, "A Singing Detective Plays It Again", New York Times, 20 April 2003.
  8. ^ Don Tyler. (2007). Hit Songs, 1900-1955: American Popular Music of the Pre-Rock Era. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 9780786429462. p. 271
  9. ^ Gail Lumet Buckley. (1986). The Hornes: An American Family. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 1-55783-564-0 p. 191
  10. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  11. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  12. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  13. ^ The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, "The Mills Brothers Archived 2008-10-15 at the Wayback Machine".
  14. ^ "Internet Movie Database". Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  15. ^ David A. Jasen, Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 199.
  16. ^ Jack London Riehl. (2012). Heart and Soul: An Inspiring Collection of Light Verse on Life, Love, Faith, and the Military. iUniverse. ISBN 978-1-4502-3182-4. p. 61