Toy monster: Barbie’s creator was a total hedonist

Image by (Cristian®), also @ MySpace.

Given Barbie’s capacity over the ages (and at any age) to fuel our fantasies, and previous rumors that Barbie’s predecessor was the Bild Lilli Doll — a German doll out of a comic strip who had no compunctions about trading sex for gifts and money: a good time Sally of her era, if you will. So it’s interesting to watch the press get their panties bunched up at the sexual revelations about Barbie’s designer Jack Ryan in Jerry Oppenheimer’s upcoming book, Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel. The New York Post — always so sex positive, ahem — tells us:

In “Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel,” out next month, Jerry Oppenheimer reveals that Jack Ryan, the Yale-educated designer who popularized Barbie, was a “full-blown seventies-style swinger” with “a manic need for sexual gratification.”

Staging orgies at his Bel-Air mansion, Ryan, whose wives included Zsa Zsa Gabor, surrounded himself with busty Barbie clones, including Gwen Florea, who was the “voice of Barbie” in a line of talking dolls. The book quotes her: “He once said to me he loved me being tall so he could stick his nose in my boobs when he hugged me.”

Ryan’s friend, Stephen Gnass, confides to the author: “When Jack talked about creating Barbie . . . it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode, almost like listening to a sexual pervert . . .” Ryan took calls at Mattel from a madam and patronized “high-class call girls to streetwalkers,” including a “very thin and child-like” hooker. The book claims that Ryan “somehow rationalized that he was the only man in her life” until he was diagnosed with gonorrhea. (…read more,, via Lemondrop)

So we can expect to read the book and sift through the sexual judgment to find the facts: the guy liked sex workers and sex, big deal. But it’s still fascinating, and even moreso when we read a few more details about Barbie’s design process and the sexual politics in the background:

(…) She was the curvy brainchild of businesswoman Ruth Handler, who figured that all the dolls her pre-teen daughter played with were absurdly babyish. Her husband, Elliot Handler, was, as it happened, the co-founder of Mattel toys, an ambitious new toy company.

Elliot was sceptical about the idea of a grown-up woman doll. ‘Frankly,’ Handler said later, ‘I think they were horrified by the thought of wanting to make a doll with breasts.’ But Ruth returned from a shopping trip in Switzerland with a saucy German doll called Bild Lili: Lili was a spin-off from a semi-pornographic adult cartoon in the German newspaper Bild, originally sold to men as a novelty in tobacconists. (It wouldn’t be the first toy to have unsavoury beginnings. After all, the Teddy Bear was invented as a result of a bear-hunting trip by Theodore Roosevelt.) Grudgingly, Elliot and his company agreed to develop the idea.

The project was handed to Mattel’s Jack Ryan, with instructions to make the doll ‘less like a German street-walker’. Whether Ryan achieved that is a moot point among feminists. A red-blooded male who would later marry Zsa Zsa Gabor, he was responsible for her biologically unfeasible shape and the bendy joints that made her so disturbingly pliable. It’s curious to look back and see how they navigated the topography of desire. Teetering legs and pointy bosoms were fine. But when the prototypes returned from Japan with nipples, Ryan patiently filed them off. The Japanese had not understood the subtleties of western sexual iconography. (…read more,

I’ll wager there’s more to filing off Barbie’s nipples than writing it off to a cultural misunderstanding. But, what all this Barbie sex talk does do is give me an opportunity to share with you my favorite Barbie emo-sex videos: Angst Barbie by BarryGinDC ( The production values are superb:

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