"I'm not crazy at all, really! I just like dolls!" Marilyn Mansfield tells TVGuide.com. Her interest in dolls comprises one of four stories on TLC's special My Collection Obsession (Sunday, 10/9c). And while she may not be certifiable, she's certainly crazy for dolls. The show reports that the part-time model and actress has over 500 dolls (she says this number includes action figures and other approximations) she's collected over the past 10 years. Mansfield, who got her stage name by combining those of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, has a particular love of "reborn" dolls — those which closely resemble real babies and cost hundreds of dollars (Mansfield tells us that her most expensive doll cost $1,200). In typical TLC quirk-adoring fashion, the highlight of Mansfield's segment occurs when she carts a doll that's the size of a 5-year-old child into a shoe store to have it fitted, much to the astonishment of the store's employees.
We talked to Mansfield, 33, by phone and she explained to us that she's not actually obsessed or a hoarder, and that she has a good sense of humor about this whole thing, thank you very much.
You signed on to appear on a show called My Collection Obsession. Does that mean you agree that you're obsessed with dolls?
Marilyn Mansfield: I don't think so. To me, an obsession is something that interferes with your daily life and the dolls do not interfere with my daily life and what I need to do. I do other things and I think about other things. They are just a big part of my life. I see it more as a hobby that I'm extremely passionate about.
Your participation on this show, though, does imply that you're living a life outside of the norm.
Mansfield: Oh yeah, I don't think it's an average thing, but then again, I'm not your average person. I'm kind of unique in my own way. It's just something that makes me happy, and I don' t expect everyone to understand it. I feel like, "To each their own," and I hope people feel that way for me as well.
Are you ready for the Internet criticism that comes from appearing on unscripted TV?
Mansfield: Yeah, that kind of already started with the Post article. People were saying "crazy doll lady" and whatever. Anything that is out of the norm, people tend to judge, and people also judge things they don't understand. I'm not worried about it. I have a thick skin and I considered it going into the show. But most of the reactions are positive, and the positives of everything in my life outweigh the negative.
Do you have a day job?
Mansfield: No. I'm just with an agency and I submit for modeling and acting stuff, which is kind of sparse because obviously I don't look like your average model or actor. I've done a lot of work with independent companies, although I did model for Elizabeth and James a few years ago.
Does the money you get from those gigs go to dolls?
Mansfield: No, because I do a lot of trading. My husband has given me dolls as gifts and I put them on layaway sometimes. Stuff like that. My husband helps me out. If I get money, it's gone to dolls, sure, but the first priority is the real kids though.
How much did your interest in the spotlight motivate you to appear on this show?
Mansfield: It wasn't really about being in the spotlight at all. It was really just about: I have a really awesome doll collection and I thought it was a good forum to show it off. It was about the dolls.
Your husband says on the show that he thinks you "genuinely love" your dolls. Is that true?
Mansfield: Yeah. I generally love them like a man would love his Rolls Royce. Anything you're super-passionate about and take pride in, you're going to love. Sure, I love them. I wouldn't have them if I didn't.
Is it a different kind of love from the one that you have for people?
Mansfield: Yeah. Obviously, people that I care for come first. It's a different kind of admiration, I would say. But they're weighted like babies and they're very lifelike. I always had a very strong maternal instinct, so it's hard when you hold a doll that appears to be a sleeping baby not to kind of fall in love with them. I've always loved children. When my kids were babies, I loved taking care of them and this is like that part forever.
From an armchair psychologist perspective, I'd look at you doting over dolls and think, "Oh, something tragic must have happened to her," or, "She can't have kids and is filling that void." But no, you have kids and void-filling doesn't seem to be going on in that respect.
Mansfield: Oh, no. My kids are the best thing in my life. I just love kids and babies. It's not filling a void, although I would recommend a reborn doll to someone who couldn't have kids. I think maybe it would be beneficial.
This hobby being as unusual as it is, do you ever take a step back and laugh at how into dolls you are as a grown woman?
Mansfield: Yeah! I joke about it constantly. I don't care. Sometimes, I'm like, "Whoa!" When we filmed the show, I said, "I didn't realize I had this many!"
Is there anything to be said for using dolls as a way of tapping your inner child?
Mansfield: There's a part of me that will always be a big kid. One of my big influences is Pee-Wee Herman. I have a blast with my kids. I'll play games with them and stuff. I have a fun side of me that's a big kid in a way.
This season, both Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive featured women who were doll enthusiasts. What separates you from a hoarder?
Mansfield: I do not consider myself a hoarder at all. Each one of my dolls has its own place. I'm not stepping over mountains and mountains and mountains of dolls and they're not dolls out of the garbage. There's clear room. My apartment is extremely clean, whereas a hoarder is tripping over everything if you can even make your way through. It's not collecting when you have garbage. I did see that one woman, the doll surgeon. I thought she was cute.
On the show, you say your doll collection is something that adds to your life. Can you sum it up exactly what it adds?
Mansfield: It brings personal joy to my life. There's not anything negative that I can say about it. If I don't have money for a doll, I don't have money for a doll and that's it. It's just something that makes me very happy that I do by myself. My family is very supportive. I'm very lucky. If I'm out all day and I come home and watch TV while holding one of the baby dolls, that's very rewarding.
Watch Marilyn visit the shoe store with her doll in the clip below: