Tampa resident Robyn Amato lives in a Citrus Park house where she's surrounded by thousands of smiling dolls with triangle noses and red yarn hair.
Tonight her collection of more than 2,000 Raggedy Ann dolls will be on display in homes across America, when Amato, 58, appears on the season premiere of the TLC reality series “My Crazy Obsession.”
The episode, which was shot last September in Tampa and Pinellas Park, begins tonight at 10. The premiere also features the story of a woman who lives with 19 pet rats.
“They're the dolls with heart and they always have a smile on their face,” Amato said. “I can't even begin to tell you how much joy they've brought me.”
“My Crazy Obsession” should not be confused with TLC's other voyeuristic showcase of odd behavior, “My Strange Addiction,” which features doctors warning people about the dangers of addictions such as eating cat hair or receiving black market buttocks injections. “My Crazy Obsession,” on the other hand, has the blurry distinction of being about people obsessed with a particular object, from wigs to carrots.
Amato, though, says she isn't worried about coming off as addicted, crazy or obsessed on TV, despite the show filming her dressed up in a Raggedy Ann costume and toting around a wagon full of ragdolls in public. The show also filmed her throwing a Raggedy Ann 97th birthday party at the Tampa Grand Prix entertainment center on Nebraska Avenue.
“It's honestly not an obsession for me, it's just a hobby. They want it to look like I do these things all the time, of course, which is fine, because it was really a lot of fun,” Amato said. “But it's just for entertainment purposes. Our friends know how we are in real life.”
In her non-televised life, Amato does admit to spending every night talking with other Raggedy Ann collectors online, and she does travel each year to Arcola, Ill., the birthplace of Raggedy Ann creator Johnny Gruell, to meet with like-minded enthusiasts.
She also agrees that she's spent a small fortune — estimated at more than $20,000 — on Raggedy Ann dolls, art, books and other memorabilia. She said she even has some unlicensed dolls that were made in the 1930s, before Gruell filed a lawsuit to stop their manufacture.
“Those illegally made dolls are very rare. They can be very valuable.”
Whether or not that's crazy or an obsession is debatable. What's not debatable is Amato's love for Raggedy Ann. She says that's ultimately why she agreed to be on the show.
“A lot of Raggedy collectors are getting older and downsizing. They're selling or donating their collections,” she said. “Raggedy Ann is an American icon and I started worrying that she could just fade away. I wanted a way to get her face out there again, to get people interested. That's why I wanted to do this show.”