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For Being Flat, This Guy Sure Does Get Around

October 15, 2006|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

He has done time at Alcatraz, circled the planet aboard the space shuttle, posed for snapshots with President Bush and accompanied Clint Eastwood to the Oscars.

Flat Stanley, the world-famous paper doll, is a two-dimensional Forrest Gump, thanks to student fans around the globe.

The ubiquitous cutout returned to the spotlight last week when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- holding a Flat Stanley he received from 9-year-old son Christopher -- posed for a post-debate photo with Democratic challenger Phil Angelides. A few days later, Schwarzenegger pulled the paper doll from his suit pocket for some national TV exposure on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

It was yet another notch in Flat Stanley's wafer-thin belt.

The character made his debut in 1964, courtesy of a children's book of the same name by Jeff Brown in which a bulletin board fell onto a boy named Stanley Lambchop. In an instant, Stanley was transformed from run-of-the-mill youngster into human pancake.

With his newfound half-inch thickness, roughly equal to a supermodel's stomach, Flat Stanley embarked on a series of adventures in the book: His brother used him as a kite, he impersonated a museum painting to nab some art thieves, and his parents stuffed him into an envelope and mailed him to California.

In 1995, a Canadian schoolteacher catapulted Flat Stanley to international stardom. Dale Hubert, a third-grade instructor who once wandered the streets of Europe playing a banjo, created the Flat Stanley Project.

Hubert's pupils sent homemade Flat Stanley cutouts to other schools and asked the recipients to treat the paper doll as an exchange student, taking Flat Stanley around town and recording his adventures in a journal. The Stanleys were then mailed back, often with photographs and trip souvenirs, providing fodder for lessons in geography and reading.

As the phenomenon spread, Flat Stanleys turned up in increasingly exotic locales: the Eiffel Tower, Mt. Everest, TV sitcoms, Willie Nelson's recording studio, riding a yak in Tibet.

"It's taken off beyond my wildest dreams," Hubert said. From an inaugural tally of 13 U.S. and Canadian schools, the project has mushroomed to 6,000 classes in 47 nations, plus countless "underground" Flat Stanley programs, he said.

In the quest to find creative destinations for Stanley, students rope in parents, relatives and celebrities for help.

"My nephew sent his Flat Stanley with us on our honeymoon to Cancun, Mexico," said Jen Piccotti of Aliso Viejo. "We took Flat Stanley to a bullfight and at one point we heard someone yelling at us, 'Hey! Flat Stanley!' We looked over and found that another couple had a Flat Stanley from one of their nieces or nephews. We all took a photo together overlooking the arena."

Jenna Irey, a first-grade teacher at Tustin Memorial Academy in Santa Ana, said Flat Stanley excursions can become pretty elaborate.

One Flat Stanley came back from New Orleans with Mardi Gras beads, she said. Another returned from Oklahoma with tiny cowboy boots glued to his feet. "It's a neat little project," she said.

Some students trace their Stanleys from a template on his official website, Others are custom-made.

When Clint Eastwood took his daughter's cutout to the 2005 Academy Awards, it undoubtedly stirred "a little bit of envy and jealousy" among her classmates, said Hubert, who was in contact with the girl's teacher. "That one's hard to beat."

But people keep trying.

The gallery of snapshots at Flat Stanley's website chronicles the character's cameos in nearly every spot imaginable, from North Pole to South Pole, underwater to deep space.

Even Washington's corridors of power aren't safe from Stanlification. He popped up at President Bush's inaugural ball and aboard Air Force One for a trip to Central America with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In California, Flat Stanley joined Schwarzenegger's entourage Sept. 18. The cutout has ventured onto the Assembly floor, witnessed bill-signings and passed through an airport metal detector, a scene shown on "The Tonight Show." The doll is scheduled to be returned to the governor's third-grade son Nov. 15.

At Flat Stanley Project headquarters in Canada, Hubert was thrilled to hear that California's chief executive had joined the cult of Stanley, but said he still longed for one more political conquest. "I'm hoping for a Flat Stanley sighting with the royal family in England," Hubert said.

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