Here is the latest clip from our documentary “Raggedy,” which covers one of the great tragedies in Gruelle’s life, the death of his daughter Marcella. Gruelle’s daughter was the first of his children and a great inspiration to him as an artist. Marcella was the light of his life and would be one of the first to encourage the creation of Raggedy Ann.
One way that Johnny generated content for his art and comics was by watching his daughter entertain herself with her dolls. Gruelle would watch Marcella play in the grass with her various toys. He observed that his daughter was making the dolls come to life and venture out in her personal world. Marcella’s playtimes were undoubtedly a great source of ideas for the observant Gruelle.
As a result, Johnny began telling stories of Marcella’s dolls to her before she went to sleep. He would tell great tales of her dolls venturing out into the woods during the night, hoping to find excitement. Gruelle’s stories thrilled Marcella, and coupled with his illustrations, gave her more reason to expand her imagination.
It can be assumed that Gruelle’s connection to children’s minds came from his interaction with his daughter. He would often include her in many of his stories and drawings. Marcella was believed to be the one that spurned his creation of the doll the world would come to know as Raggedy Ann. Many stories recount that she found an old rag doll in the attic of the Gruelle house, which Johnny drew a face on and gave the name “Raggedy Ann.” There are several different accounts of the origin of Raggedy Ann, but there is no doubt that her inception was brought about by Marcella.
Sadly, Marcella became gravely ill after being vaccinated for smallpox at her school. She did not bode well with the vaccine and had to be taken out of school due to her sickness. After being bed-ridden for months, Marcella passed away at the age of 13.
This tragedy struck Gruelle unbelievably hard. He had seemingly lost the great inspiration for his work. His joy for life and his art had vanished in an instant. However, after a long mourning period, Gruelle finally returned to his work. He believed he could alleviate his own pain by spreading happiness to others.
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