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'Barbie Is Forever' : Superstar Doll Lures Faithful to Galleria

May 08, 1986|ROY H. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

The superstar sneaked into the Glendale Galleria in the dead of night with an entourage and an 800-piece wardrobe that even Joan Collins would kill for. A legion of assistants swiftly unloaded four tractor-trailers and erected five settings for this queen that has reigned supreme for 27 years.

Then the young lady was ready to receive her loyal subjects. And they came by the hundreds from from all over the Los Angeles area to pay homage to a social phenomenon that has fascinated millions for the past three decades.

The enduring superstar was none other than Barbie, the doll with the perfect figure and the fashions to match.

She ended her cross-country tour last week with a four-day display at the Galleria. More than 800 dolls were presented in exhibits that featured Barbie's past and present, and hinted at her future.

World's Top Designers

One of the exhibits was of fashions created for Barbie by some of the world's top designers. That display is the private collection of Billy Boy, a Paris-based fashion and jewelry designer who has long been one of Barbie's most devoted fans. He started his collection in 1973 and has amassed 400 Barbies from 1959 to today, as well as 300 other dolls dressed in one-of-a-kind originals.

The exhibits, which opened last Thursday, drew a variety of onlookers who seemed to share a common bond--a remembered joy somehow linked to the Barbie doll.

Because Barbie has gone through so many cosmetic changes over the years, people seemed to take great pleasure in finding a copy of the kind of Barbie they once owned.

"There she is, my very first Barbie," Sharon L. Brown of North Hollywood exclaimed, pointing to a Resort Set doll, marketed from 1959 to 1962, which was decked out in a red, white and blue yachting ensemble.

Brown, 28, said she made a special trip to the mall Friday to see the display. She still keeps Barbie and all her clothes at her parents' home, and often plays with her when she visits them.

'Barbie Is Forever'

"You don't throw away a Barbie doll," Brown said. "Barbie is forever."

Verna Kuzmich, 76, of Lake Arrowhead, was also at the mall Friday, clutching a plastic bag that held two of the first Barbie dolls.

"I started a collection in the '60s," she said. "Then, after I had about 30 or 40, I gave them all to my grandchildren. I kept these two for myself," Kuzmich said.

Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, the founder of Mattel Toys. The lifelike doll with the body of a mature--some said too mature--teen-ager was named after Handler's daughter.

Barbie was cast in the image of a fashion model, and her clothes and accessories were sold separately. She was an immediate success, selling about 3 million copies at $3 each in her first year. Now she sells for about $10, and wears clothes that cost from $1.50 to about $8.

Key to Popularity

The key to her popularity and longevity seems to be the fantasy world created by those who owned and loved the dolls. She has been a ballerina, a surfer, a roller skater and a horseback rider. But the most beloved Barbie has always been the clotheshorse Barbie, the fashion model who had garments for every occasion.

Many of Barbie's owners surrounded her with companions, including her boyfriend, Ken, and several girlfriends, among them Skipper and Midget.

Her popularity has grown steadily over the years. By the 1970s, about 11 million dolls were sold each year, and this year the company will sell anywhere from 15 million to 17 million Barbies, said Candace G. Irving, a spokeswoman for Mattel.

"She was so popular because, when you're young, you always want to be older. Barbie was us, all grown up. Through her we could imagine how it would be to be a young lady doing all kinds of great things," said Harriet A. Knight, 31, of Van Nuys, another Barbie fan who visited the mall Friday.

The nine-city tour started in New York in February and has stopped in Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia. The Glendale Galleria was chosen because it was large enough to accommodate the four settings for the new Barbie, who in 1986 is dressed as an astronaut, a rock star, a tropical maiden and glamorous model.

A New Fan

Photographers stood by to take pictures of Barbie fans in the 1986 settings.

Deanna Gordon, 6, of Burbank, smiled as she posed for a photo.

"I'm going to give it to may daddy," said Deanna, a new fan who got her first Barbie last Christmas.

Elsewhere in the mall, food vendors offered special Barbie discounts on certain meals, a toy store displayed the Barbie portrait painted by pop artist Andy Warhol and a women's clothing store featured mannequins dressed in Barbie outfits.

However, not all the Barbies were inanimate. There were also six models dressed as Barbie who have toured the country with the doll collection.

One of them was Susan Gregory, of Glendale, who became a Barbie model last year after the Ann Waugh modeling agency in North Hollywood submitted her picture to Mattel.

Most Popular Exhibit

"I've enjoyed it," she said. "Everyone seems to love Barbie."

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