Warning: The following content may not be suitable for knuckle-cracking, sidewalk spitting, crotch grabbing, Red Ryder BB gun toting, belching boys. It may be too girlie for their snips and snails sensibilities. If you choose to proceed anyway, do so at your own risk.
Last year, after perusing a plethora of dolls on Amazon.com, I bought my granddaughter Katie a “Little Mommy My Very Real Baby” for her birthday. She acts and sounds like a real little girl with a total of 150 words and sounds. She cuddles, asks for kisses, eats when you feed her with a spoon, laughs when tickled, and even sneezes and then asks her mommy to wipe her nose. After she eats her lime Popsicle, her tongue turns green. The red light “boo boo” on her left knee turns off when you place a special bandage on it.
I know; I’m an enabler. But didn’t you learn in Intro to Grandparenting that spoiling your grandchildren is a prerequisite to Advanced Grandparenting?
That state-of-the art doll reminds me of how times have changed so drastically in two generations . . . and childhood along with them. Just recently, my four-year-old grandson improved his high score in the online video game Temple Run to more than 2 million points. I couldn’t beat him if I played every day till the next Minion movie comes out. Did I mention that Mikey is four years old? All this while being hampered by Mommy’s “No more than 90 minutes of screen time per day” mandate. Even my two-year-old grandson Andrew plays Mickey Mouse video games on the iPad. If you are a grandparent of little ones, you have probably witnessed this phenomenon yourself.
There are toys on the shelves (and online) today that not only talk and walk but can also respond to voice and touch with more than 100 sound and motion combinations. There are personal robots and real robotic Supercars that are commanded by a kid’s smartphone. For a mere $500, you can buy an oversized 3-D Monopoly game that digitally rolls the dice for you. Have you seen the Avengers Iron Mask Mark VII figure from Hot Toys? According to Gadget Review, it includes “adjustable armor plates for the chest, thigh, shoulder, hands and forearms as well as deployable back-located air flaps and attached forearm weaponry. Another cool feature is that the figurine comes with ilght-up (sic) functions, lifelike battle damage details and an interchangable (sic) Tony Stark head option that really resembles Robert Downey, Jr.”
I could go on. According to Victoria Ward of the UK’s Telegraph, “There is more computer power in some of this year’s top Christmas toys than the first moon mission, experts said.”
Okay, it’s time to chill.
Boomer girls, let’s step into our time machines (again) and take a leisurely trip to the simpler times of the late fifties and early sixties when we were children. I’ve stepped back before to discuss electric trains, Flexible Flyer sleds, baseball cards, board games, Viewmasters, and so many more landmarks on our road through childhood, but this time we’re talking about baby dolls. Boys, if you’ve been tagging along, this is where you might want to take a left turn at Albuquerque.
Here we go: Perhaps the prototype of “Little Mommy My Very Real Baby” was the first “drink and wet” doll, Betsy Wetsy, introduced by Ideal Toys in 1934. Talk about “technologically advanced!” One of the most popular baby boomer dolls, Betsy had a hole in her mouth so that you could feed her water from a baby bottle, and then she would wet herself from the hole in her bottom. For more info on Betsy Wetsy, read here from Wikipedia. Do you remember this TV commercial?
Of all the dolls of the period, Chatty Cathy was probably the most technologically advanced. Pull her string, and she would say eleven different phrases in a sweet childlike voice, such as, “Please brush my hair” or “I’m hungry.” To see her in action, check out the 1960’s TV commercial below. For the history of Chatty Cathy, read here at AAanimations.com.
Another sought-after doll from 1950 to 1968 was Tiny Tears. Feed her water from her baby bottle; then press her stomach, and she would shed “real” tears. She came not only with a baby bottle but also with a small pipe that blew bubbles when “Mommy” filled it with a soapy solution and placed it in the doll’s mouth. In 1959, Tiny Tears was sold with “rock-a-bye” eyes that slowly closed when she lay in a horizontal position. Read more at Kaylee’s Korner of Collectible Dolls.
Many girls had Thumbelina in the 1960’s. Her unique feature was that she could wiggle and squirm like a real baby when you wound the knob on her back.
Then there was Kissy. When you pressed her hands together, her mouth puckered up and made a kiss that you could hear. Though I never had the doll, I remember the jingle on TV to this day. I bet many of you could sing along. “Go get Kissy if you want a little kiss. Press her arms like this. Get a little kiss. Go get Kissy if you want a little kiss. For you, she is Ideal.”
There were other dolls that boomer girls prized, along with their stylish outfits, bottles, cradles, strollers, high chairs, and other accessories. But are you asking yourself about the one doll that nearly every boomer girl had on her Christmas list? Which major doll am I missing? I’ll count to ten. Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five, . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one. Got it? Hint: She hit the market in 1959. Time’s up. For those who can’t remember, it’s Barbie!
Informally called “Pony Tail Barbie,” that first U.S. fashion model doll wore a black and white zebra-striped swimsuit and, obviously, a pony tail. Now, 56 years later, little girls continue to be enthralled with Barbie. I still have my daughter’s Barbies and her boyfriend Ken from the 1980’s as well as an extensive collection of accessories—loads of outfits, hats, and shoes—plus her bed, swimming pool, spa, beauty shop, barbecue set, Corvette, and motorcycle. I have recently shared them with neighborhood girls aged 6 and 7 and will do so with my granddaughter Katie when she comes for Christmas. Barbie never gets old! For more on the history of Barbie, read here at her official history site.
Yes, all of the above-mentioned dolls melted the hearts of little boomer girls across the country. Why, Santa must have had a whole room filled to the ceiling with Chatty Cathy dolls at his workshop in December. The elves must have put in for a lot of overtime pay for wrapping up all those Barbie dolls. Exhausted, some probably put in for early retirement the following January.
I mentioned all of these dolls in my fictitious memoir The Crab Hollow Chronicles, particularly in Chapter 5, “Barbed Wire.” As with most of my chapters, some of the events and descriptions are true, some are a figment of my imagination. Can you identify which are which?
So, how many of those dolls did you own? Which was your favorite? Or were you like me? I only had one of those nationally recognizable dolls. Why only one? We certainly weren’t poor, but there were five kids in the family, so my parents had to shop cost-effectively at Christmas and birthdays. It didn’t really matter to me that I had but a few celebrity dolls. I loved all my dolls even though the papparazzi never came around to snap photos of them for their monthly magazines. And the proof is the fact that I still have five of those dolls today. I’ll tell you about them in Part 2. Maybe you’ll recognize them.
You persnickety boomer boys who survived this post, stay tuned for Part 2. If one of your favorite childhood hobbies was harassing your little sister and abusing her baby dolls, it may bring back some of your devilishly fond memories.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.