Buddy Lee Texaco doll

Kyle Dayton
Submitted by Kyle Dayton February 20th, 2011
Certifikitsch Winner

After being inspired by the Gas Station Bathroom ‘museum’ of Michael Ely, I decided to add to the theme with Buddy Lee. I wasn’t sure if this was kitschy enough to include in the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch, so I tried to delete it but couldn’t. I decided to submit it anyway since it’s one of my favorite dolls in my advertising collection and wanted to share it here. If it is kitschless it will never be in the Museum, so here goes…

From 1920 to 1962, Buddy was the official mascot of the H.D. Lee Company (Lee Jeans, et al). In the beginning he was made of breakable composition material, but from 1949 on (which includes this Buddy) was made of hard plastic. The composition Buddys stand 12 1/2″ tall, while these versions are 1/2″ taller.

Buddy Lee was originally created as a display doll to promote Lee clothing. The Lee Company encouraged those businesses to sell the Buddys when they were finished using them for display, but public demand became so great that eventually Lee Company provided dolls for them to sell. By 1962 the company could no longer afford to make Buddy Lee dolls, so he was retired from production.

Although retired, he was not forgotten. In 1998 he was resurrected as Buddy Lee “Man of Action”, and starred in a series of television commercials for Lee Jeans; and after the World Trade Center tragedy 2001 was seen in a commercial for the American Red Cross, promoting blood donation.

Here’s one of my favorites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfI9DQsWGm8&feature=related

And the Buddy Lee Story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toR_ujF9yWk&feature=related

Over the years Buddy Lee has been manufactured in numerous different outfits. He’s been dressed as a gas station attendent (Texaco, Shell, Phillips 66, MM service station, and Standard Station), soda delivery man (Coca-Cola), John Deere rep, farmer in plaid shirt and jeans, also a cowboy, and railroad engineer. According to the book Advertising Dolls Identification and Value Guide (by Robison and Sellers), the Lee Company says there are seventeen outfits altogether.

This Buddy Lee Texaco doll is all original, his uniform complete including the often-missing belt, bowtie, and hat. Identifying markings are the words “Buddy Lee” in raised block letters across his back. The Texaco uniform is thought to be one of his rarest outfits.

One of this Buddy’s ventures into the outside world was to the most recent Tucson Doll Show where he later returned home unscathed, with a first-place blue ribbon.

8 Responses to “Buddy Lee Texaco doll”

  1. Allee Willis

    Allee Willis

    Thanks for all this excellent historical information on Buddy Lee! And, YES, Buddy makes the shelves here at AWMOK! My definition of kitsch is really different from the classic definition of it. Mine also really glorifies pop culture, anything that so permeated the pop landscape it became ubiquitous so Buddy definitely ranks.

    I’ve definitely seen this doll before but never realized his history. I love his little happy plastic face and love, love, love his little uniform.

    I’m happy to see that Buddy gets resurrected from decade to decade. He’s cute enough that he should never disappear.

    Do you know what year the doll in your photo was made?

  2. Kyle Dayton

    Kyle Dayton

    Thanks a bunch, Allee! This particular Buddy was made sometime between 1949 and 1962. Since I won him in an auction with a similar advertising doll that was made between 1947 and 1949, I would guess that he’s also from the late 1940’s.

  3. Kyle Dayton

    Kyle Dayton

    The auction in which I won him was kind of strange. They didn’t use an actual photo of this Buddy Lee for representation, but instead had a photo of a reproduction Buddy, which meant that they were misrepresenting their auction (and was also probably the reason that no one bid against me). They also titled the auction “Ames Texaco Doll” (I believe that the Ames Doll Company might have manufactured Buddy Lee somewhere down the line, or manufactured the repros, which are very different from these original Buddys). If they’d properly listed this as a vintage “Buddy Lee Texaco Doll”, I don’t think I would’ve had a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning. But since the opening bid was very reasonable, and I wanted a Buddy Lee in my collection, I decided to take a chance and bid anyway. When it finally arrived in the mail, imagine my complete surprise when I opened the box and saw this Buddy Lee instead.

    The other doll in the auction was a Lion Uniform Company doll dressed in an Allied Van Lines uniform. They were created as a “calling card” for the individual companies that Lion Uniform hoped would buy their uniforms for their own employees. They’re similar to Buddy Lee, but not as well known.