In Search of Gay Bob and Billy

I have been diligently moving forward with my second memoir ONE GAY AMERICAN. The manuscript went to Coffeetown Press February 1, 2012 and will be released on June 1, 2012. I have been very focused on all of the details it takes to get a book out into the world: proofreading, editing, designing a cover, ect.

The biggest project has been securing the rights to a picture I desperately want to use in the book.

Meet Gay Bob, circa 1977 (left) and Billy, circa 1997 (right): two commercially made, anatomically correct dolls. Both dolls were marketed as the first “gay doll”, but Gay Bob was clearly first.

The subject of little boys playing with dolls is still pretty socially taboo. But what about gay men playing with gay dolls? My friend Jim and I both own and love Gay Bob and Billy. There is a chapter in ONE GAY AMERICAN about us collecting dolls as adults in the 1990s.

Both dolls come clothed in stereotypically gay clothes: plaid shirts, jeans, boots. Gay Bob came with a purse and an earring in his left ear. He was sold in a box that was his closet. Billy wore gay pride freedom rings and his box was lined with a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. He was later sold wearing full gay leatherman gear and a variety of other gay outfits.

I chose to picture Gay Bob and Billy together naked; only a Post-It note to shield their goods. I feel it measures how gay men were perceived between the 1970s through the 1990s.

My publisher at Coffeetown Press wasn’t hesitant about the dolls genitalia; she was more worried about the doll’s copyright. She was nervous given the political climate and the nature of my book that someone could come out of the woodwork and sue me for infringing the copyright of Billy and Gay Bob. My editor nor I knew very much about the dolls history. Thus began the big search.

Gay Bob was created by a man named Harvey Rosenberg through his company called Gizmo. The doll was ahead of it’s time and wasn’t around very long. Mr. Rosenberg died in 2001.

Billy was made by a designer named John McKitterick through a company called Totem International. Billy was first made for a London AIDS charity, then later came to the US mass market and sold in gay-friendly specialty shops. He later got a boyfriend doll named Carlos.

Mr. McKitterick was the head of Fashion Design at Kingston University in London until around 2003. He literally vanishes from the Internet after that. Not even an online obituary.

I have spent hours tracking these dolls. I followed every lead I found. I emailed anyone I could looking for information on these dolls that could bring me to the right person to ask for permission to use the picture of the two dolls.

I eventually found information on the logos for the dolls through an online trademark search engine. Both Billy and Gay Bob’s trademarks were not renewed after the dolls went off the market …but that isn’t the copyright for the actual doll. The trademark just covers the logo on the box.

I spoke to a lovely woman on the phone at the US Copyright office. The dolls do not appear in the US Copyright database. Attempts to trace the copyright without a number from the database is difficult. The woman couldn’t legally advise me, but she commended me on my fortitude.

I considered hiring a copyright investigator to keep looking but it wasn’t in the budget. The search for Billy and Gay Bob went cold.

An attorney friend of mine finally said what I want to hear. Using a picture of the dolls that I took myself should fall under “fair use”. As long as the picture of the dolls is not used to market my book, say in a flyer or on the cover, then it should be fine. My Billy and Gay Bob picture will be used once, tucked away in the book three-quarters of the way through.

If someone does come forward and claim the copyright, they could only sue me if they can prove damages from my use of the picture. ONE GAY AMERICAN does not damage Gay Bob or Billy’s image. If anything, the chapter practically celebrates them.

The journey to use my picture of Gay Bob and Billy is only one example of all the work it take to publish a book. One could argue that writing the book is the easy part.

About Dennis

Dennis Milam Bensie’s poem “Eight Ball” was published in Greater National Society of Poets, Inc in 1980 when he was a freshman in high school. It was featured thirty years later in his memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men. His short stories, poetry and essays have been featured all over the web and in print. His second book, One Gay American, was chosen as a finalist in both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. His latest book Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature has been featured in Kolaj Magazine and was a part of Tribe Magazine’s “Anti-Shame Week”. The author has been a presenter at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at Montana’s very first gay pride festival.
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2 Responses to In Search of Gay Bob and Billy

  1. Chris Bradley says:

    Hi Dennis,

    This post was a very interesting read. I am searching to buy a Gay Bob doll and this is proving virtually impossible.

    Would you perhaps have any information on where I might be able to purchase one?

    Kind regards,

    Chris

  2. Dennis says:

    I would try Ebay. Happy Hunting!

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