Barbie turns 50 this year. The 1959 Barb doesn’t look a day over 30. The miracle of plastic. Two new tell-all Barbie biographies are being released in time for the golden year. The hot topic will most likely be designer Jack Ryan’s story as told in Toy Monster: The Big Bad World of Mattel written by Jerry Oppenheimer of the unauthorized Martha Stewart biography Just Desserts fame. Even theNew York Post Page Six couldn’t resist going off page for a book reivew:
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.”
Little did I know, at the end of the day, leaving my Barbies and Ken piled on top of one another was just re-enacting the Jack Ryan story. Ryan died in 1991 at the age of 65.
–Another biography, by Robin Gerber of the University of Maryland, praises Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler (1916 – 2002), co-founder of Mattel. Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her falls in the category of entrepreneurial sheroes. Ruth was the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants. She introduced Barbie at the American Toy Fair in New York City in 1959. [Her daughter’s name was Barbie; Ken was named after her son.] Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer and got a mastectomy in 1970. Being a woman of invention, Ruth created and got a patent for her “Nearly Me” prosthesis made of a material that was as close to a natural breast in weight and density.
During my Barbie years, I staged many adventures and dramas in her country camper, car, and the cardboard house and furniture I built for her and her companions. But none of my scenarios would ever compare to Todd Haynes “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.” “Superstar” is a film, that may never see the light of day. Karen’s brother and the other half of The Carpenters duo, Richard Carpenter along with A&M Records, sued to have the film banned. The obvious – Haynes didn’t clear those pesky music rights. Richard probably had more personal reasons for having the film yanked out of circulation. “Superstar” had a brief festival run when it premiered in 1987 – I think in Toronto. A tape managed to get into my hands before it was officially stricken.
Haynes re-enacts Karen Carpenter’s life, career, and death from anorexia with Barbie and Ken dolls. Parody? Hardly. I’m not sure if Haynes was commenting on the impossible dream of Barbie proportions. Karen Carpenter battled an eating disorder. If Barbie was a life-size woman, her waist would’ve measured 18 inches.
“Superstar” is actually a very moving and serious film. There’s a low rez YouTube clip out there which I’ve copied here. Watch it while you can.