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May 3, 2009

Irving Chais, Surgeon-in-Chief of New York Doll Hospital, Dies at 83


Chais (above) told the New York Times in 1990, "We've been in business since 1900 and never lost a patient yet."

Here's Dennis Hevesi's May 1, 2009 Times obituary.


Irving D. Chais, Manhattan Doll Surgeon, Dies at 83

Irving D. Chais, who in his 45 years as the owner and chief surgeon of the New York Doll Hospital in Manhattan reattached thousands of heads, arms and legs; reimplanted fake hair shorn by scissor-wielding toddlers; and soothed the feelings of countless doll lovers, young and old, died on April 24 in Manhattan. He was 83 and lived in Manhattan.

His daughter Dana Pisani said he died after a long illness.

In a cluttered, brightly lighted second-floor workshop at 787 Lexington Avenue, between 61st and 62nd Streets, Mr. Chais and two other doll doctors had hunched over operating tables (well, work benches) since 1965. Stacked nearby were boxes labeled “hands,” “fingers,” “wrists,” “wigs,” “German eyes,” “French eyes,” “American eyes.” Lining the shelves and piled in boxes were thousands of dolls, new and antique, from as far away as Afghanistan and China. Some were the size of a clothespin, others as large as a 4-year-old child.

The hospital drew doll lovers from around the New York metropolitan area. “There are certainly other individuals who repair dolls,” said Donna Kaonis, the editor of Antique Doll Collector, a monthly magazine, “but as far as I know it was the only retail establishment in Manhattan that repaired dolls.” Over the years Mr. Chais was the subject of many newspaper articles.

In 1987, when a New York Times reporter wandered into the hospital, a 70-year-old teddy bear had recently been checked in, the victim of a dog attack. It was missing its nose, eyes and fistfuls of stuffing. It probably cost its original owner $5, but the current owner had agreed to pay $350 for its extensive surgery.

“We reconstructed the whole bear, and it looks fantastic,” Mr. Chais said at the time. “People get very attached to these things. Sometimes you have dolls and animals that have been in the family for five and six generations.”

The New York Doll Hospital had been in Mr. Chais’s family since the early 1900s, located at three other sites on the Upper East Side before moving into the walk-up at 787 Lexington. It started as a beauty parlor and wig store owned by a distant relative who had refurbished her own childhood dolls and was soon receiving requests from customers who wanted their own huggable toys repaired. Mr. Chais, who had worked in the family business since 1945, bought it from his sister Ann Lancet in the early 1960s and continued to run it until a month ago.

“From plush to plastic, we fix it,” Mr. Chais said in 1993, pointing out that he was as likely to be repairing a 19th-century automaton as a Barbie. He said a 90-year-old man had recently come in with a Popeye doll he really cared about. “It was like he was a 6-year-old kid.”

Irving David Chais was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 22, 1925, one of three children of Abraham and Dora Metnick Chais. Besides his daughter Dana, he is survived by another daughter, Alison Hirsch, and two grandchildren. His marriage to the former Rose Kaufman ended in divorce.

After graduating from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and attending City College of New York, Mr. Chais served in the Army during World War II. He then joined the family business.

On Thursday Mr. Chais’s daughter Alison was at the hospital waiting for the last few dozen customers to pick up their repaired loved ones. The hospital will close by the end of May, she said.

“We’ve been in business since 1900,” Mr. Chais told The Times in 1990, “and never lost a patient yet.”

May 3, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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The New York Foll Hospital was not started by Irving Chais's family and he knew it. It was started in 1900 by my grandfather Max Lancet who passed it to his son, Jack Lancet. When jack died, It went to Irving, the brother of Jack's second wife, Ann. Irving is well aware of this. I visited him 40 years ago and he admitted my grandfather started the business but said he did not know his name. I am tired of all these writeups saying it was in his family. My grandparents worked very hard to get that hospital going and deserve the credit.
Caryl lancet Ritter

Posted by: Caryl lancet Ritter | Dec 14, 2009 5:01:58 PM

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