The unique Barbie woman

Barbie — and the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler — are each having a second.

The corporate Handler co-created, Mattel, and the toys it manufactured are all family names, however Ruth’s story is not as well-known. Born in Denver in 1916, Ruth was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. She met her husband, Elliot Handler, in highschool, and the couple moved to Los Angeles after marrying in 1938.

The Handlers did not begin off by making toys, however quite furnishings. Elliot used lucite and Plexiglas to create furnishings for his or her dwelling, and Ruth urged he flip this pastime right into a enterprise. She went out and offered the items, and landed profitable offers with main shoppers like Douglas Plane. In 1945, the Handlers partnered with Harold “Matt” Matson to kind Mattel, and began making dollhouse furnishings, music containers and the Uke-A-Doodle, a kind of instrument just like the ukulele.

By specializing in interactive merchandise and sensible advertising and marketing, the Handlers had been the “first toy trade entrepreneurs to remodel their firm, consciously and systemically, into an expert operation,” Sydney Stern and Ted Schoenhaus wrote of their 1990 e-book “Toyland.”

A cultural phenomenon is born

Mattel was profitable, however the firm was launched into one other stratosphere when it launched the Barbie doll in 1959. Ruth’s inspiration for Barbie got here after a household journey to Switzerland, the place her daughter, Barbara, turned enthralled by the Bild Lilli doll. “It was an grownup, figurative doll, type of a sculptural factor, I assume,” Barbara advised The New York Instances in 2002. “I used to be going loopy as a result of I wished totally different garments for it, and so they did not promote the garments separate. You had to purchase a distinct doll each time you wished a distinct outfit.”

The U.S. market was stuffed with child dolls and paper dolls, and Ruth labored with Mattel’s designers to make sure that their creation, Barbie, was one thing fully totally different: “a teenage doll with a tiny waist, slender hips and spectacular bust,” because the Los Angeles Instances described it. When Barbie made her debut on the 1959 American Toy Truthful, clad in a now-iconic black-and-white striped bathing go well with, it was successful. A Barbie price $3, and greater than 350,000 had been offered within the first 12 months. “The minute that doll hit the counter, she walked proper off,” Ruth stated.

Ruth made certain that in contrast to Lilli, Barbie had loads of outfits and equipment that could possibly be bought individually. Over time, the Barbie universe expanded, as new dolls like Ken (named after the Handlers’ son) and Skipper had been launched and Barbie tried new professions, together with astronaut and veterinarian. Any criticism of Barbie rolled off Ruth’s again, and he or she disagreed with those that stated the doll perpetuated unrealistic requirements for girls. In her 1994 memoir “Dream Doll,” Ruth defined that her “entire philosophy of Barbie was that via the doll, the little woman could possibly be something she wished to be. Barbie at all times represented the truth that a lady has selections.”

Shifting on from Mattel

In 1970, Ruth was identified with breast most cancers and underwent a mastectomy. Barbara advised The New York Instances that her mom “wasn’t glad with what was on the market when she went to get a prosthesis,” and located the salespeople impolite and the product unsatisfactory. This led her to a brand new enterprise enterprise: Almost Me, a breast-prosthetic firm.

Later that decade, Mattel discovered itself below investigation by the Securities and Trade Fee over claims of accounting irregularities inside the corporate. Ruth was ultimately indicted on prices of false reporting and fraud, and after pleading no contest, was sentenced to 2,500 hours of neighborhood service and paid a $57,000 superb. She maintained her innocence and stated her battle with most cancers took away her focus. “I used to be by no means capable of get again in and seize maintain of issues as I ought to have,” Ruth advised USA Right this moment in 1994.

Within the wake of the investigation, the Handlers had been ousted from Mattel, and Ruth centered on Almost Me and spreading consciousness in regards to the significance of normal mammograms. She died in 2002 of problems following colon surgical procedure, at age 85.

Within the new “Barbie” film, Ruth is performed by Rhea Perlman, who has a small however pivotal function and delivers one of many movie’s most poignant strains. It was a becoming tribute to the actual Ruth, who was “a pioneer of her time, for certain,” her daughter stated in a 2017 interview with the Branded Content material Advertising and marketing Affiliation. “She was at all times for the ladies to achieve success and powerful. And he or she was a robust individual.”