Local collectors celebrate as iconic doll turns 50
For our highest icons in fields of sports or entertainment we reserve a special reference: They are best known by first name only. Just say "Babe" or "Elvis" or "Dolly" and no surname is necessary.
Iconic status of this sort has also been achieved by Barbara Millicent Roberts. If you don't recognize the full name, that's because you know her best as "Barbie."
She is the doll first introduced to the world by the Mattel toy company 50 years ago this week, March 9. 1959, when she was premiered at the Toy Fair in New York City. Created in a scale of two-inches-to-the-foot. Barbie represented her designer's notion feminine youth, fitness, form and attractiveness - albeit slightly caricatured.
As years passed. Barbie became what is probably the most popular doll in the history of toy manufacture - a daily companion and role model for millions of girls and young ladies.
Barbie's sheer numbers and universal presence assured that her generous bosom, extremely narrow waist and hips, and tall stature set a standard for feminine beauty which continues to dominate our culture.
It has been pointed out that Barbie's original proportions are physically impossible for a real, living woman to emulate. That is beside the point. As targets and goals to aim for. Barbie's relative measurements continue to sustain the vast industry of fitness centers and diet plans.
While Barbie's physique has remained nearly unchanged over five decades, no such rigidity has ever been applied to her hair or costume.
Options for her hair style, hair color, and outfits were soon in production and have continued over the years in uncountable varieties. Indeed, these variables, along with clothing and accessories, are what make Barbie so appealing, not only as a child's toy, but to serious adult collectors.
Two local collectors
In commemoration of her 50 years, the first ever Barbie runway show was featured last week in New York at Fashion Week at Hyde Park, while Toy Fair unveiled special anniversary editions of Barbie.
To mark the anniversary here in Livingston County, The County News visited the collections of two prominent, local Barbie buffs, Linda Macaluso and Linda Leake-Beard.
Linda Macaluso was nine years old when Barbie was invented. She cost $3.00. Linda saw her on TV. but it would take two years before Linda's mother could afford Barbie. That single doll, a traditional pony tail model, was the only Barbie-type Linda was able to own during her childhood years. There were no Midge or Skipper companions.
Eventually boys and Beatles captured Linda's interest, and Barbie and her outfits were accordingly stored away - for a while.
Linda Leake-Beard still has her very first Barbie. Today that doll occupies a cabinet shelf in the company of bubblecut Barbies and collegiate Kens from the same 1960s era, all in appropriate costume for that time.
During their adult years, both Lindas discovered that their passion for Barbie and all the fun she represented had never really disappeared. No longer confined by the austere economics of childhood, they began accumulating and, once again, playing with their dolls.
Among adult Barbie buffs, there are two principal subcultures: those who collect and those who create. Both Lindas straddle these definitions. Linda M. specializes in collecting the "vintage" Barbie types made between 1959 and 1968. She -also makes scale jewelry and lamps to the proper one-sixth scale.
Linda L-B frequents yard sales and thrift stores, searching out damaged and bruised Barbies, often with missing arms and chopped hair, without concern for vintage. Back home at Linda's workbench they are repaired and restored, becoming unique one-of-a-kind personalities.
Linda's creations are as a rule dressed in custom outfits which, as a former professional seamstress, she is able to design and make.
Both women are collectors of the contemporary limited editions of exquisitely detailed theme Barbies. One such edition are the Harley Davidson Barbies and Kens which have appeared in different black leather costumes since 1997. detailed even down to the Harley belt buckles. Linda M. has them all, including a one-sixth scale motorcycle.
"This type of doll bridges the gap with guys because, after all. guys like bikes." Linda M. notes. With a pric-etag of S90-plus. the Harley Barbies stay in their boxes and don't come out for play.
'Barbie can be anybody'
"Barbie can be anybody." Linda L-B says. "Contrary to what some people say, she is not a bimbo. She is cool."
Indeed, in a reenactment of Linda's April 5, 1998 wedding, permanently on display in a sealed glass case the livingroom. Barbie is both Linda and her bridesmaid. Linda's sister Betsy Blowers, while Ken is Linda's husband, Terry Beard, and best man, Eric Fish.
Ken is also a cowboy keepsake doll, one of ten which Linda created for the 2006 convention of Barbie collectors held in Dallas. Nine of the creations are now in the possession of fellow attendees.
It is also true that. "Anybody can be Barbie." Linda L-B proved that at a recent Barbie convention in Los Angeles where she appeared with a dress and hair style emulating a Barbie in Mattel's current line.
Linda L-B's interests include merchandise of any-kind which has a Barbie theme. She is never without one of her Barbie watches. There's a Barbie gum ball machine in Linda's parlor. Barbie storage cases, each with a unique Barbie graphic, are in abundance throughout her home, and there is a small room filled top-to-bottom with displays of anything that was ever sold in association with Barbie: telephones, toiletries, mittens, shins, socks, puzzles, crayons, full size dishes and tupperware. and Avon products.
Controversy and preservation
Beside the usual wear and tear of play, Barbies which have been in damp basement or attic storage for periods of time are subject to misfortunes. Mildew and mold is sometimes irremovable.
"I experiment with different kinds of cleaners and bleaches to try to bring the older ones back. Once in a while I'll hit on something," Linda M. reports.
A particular early production run of vinyl is subject to a "sweating" which will cover a doll's face. Metal jewelry, if not removed, can produce a condition known as "green-ear". A chemical reaction results in a irremovable green stain which creeps across the doll's face and down its neck.
Barbie courted controversy in her early days. She was seen in the same light as many adults viewed rock'n'roll, as a risque form of entertainment, inappropriate for young people.
"Her clothing and her presentation were thought to be too vulgar for children," Linda M. states. "She was shapely and, until the mid-sixties, she always came with a strapless, stripped bathing suit."
'She was boycotted by a lot of parents, who didn't even want their children to see Barbie."
She opened the door for a lot of things," Linda observes.
Current vs classic
In the early 1990s, Barbie was given somewhat more realistic proportions. While the changes were hardly extreme, the clothing worn by the "old" Barbies and her friends cannot fit the newer renditions.
Linda M.'s preference and passion is for the original Barbies and their clothing and accessories. Among Barbies on display in her home are a circa 1961 doll outfitted in a mix-and-match set known as 'pak' fashions.
"It came with a skirt and shirt. You could buy other packs which were the same style, but different colors and interchange them," Linda explained.
The original Barbies have distinguishing face proportions and eyebrows slightly more arched than their successors. Her makeup changed in the early l')60s. Eyebrows softened with blue mascara. Irises changed from white to black.
"They have never made clothing like they did in the early years," Linda asserts. 'Today velcro has replaced fine buttons and zippers which actually worked. There were gold brocade dresses lined with real silk. There were hair-rollers and jewelry exactly Barbie's size. These were just play-line Barbies, but the detail was superb."
For Linda, who was born in 1949, Barbie and her constellation of friends and accessories evoke that period in her childhood and the history of America when those fashions defined the most desirable of lifestyles.
"The fascination is still there," she said.