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Confessions of an Aging Boy Toy

Think it's easy for a guy to live in Barbie's shadow for 40 years?

March 20, 2001|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Age is finally catching up with Barbie's boyfriend, Ken, who just turned 40.

In recognition of the milestone, Mattel is thinking of introducing Midlife Crisis Ken, complete with molded plastic paunch, faded Malibu tan (he now sits behind a desk all day), receding hairline and optional Bimbo Mistress Skipper.

In a recent interview, the doll reflected on his tumultuous past and pondered an uncertain future.

Question: How do you feel about your first 40 years?

Answer: Bitter. I mean, Mattel didn't even give me bendable legs until 1965. And I've never been able to hold a steady job. My resume is all over the place: lifeguard, doctor, soldier, rock star, airline pilot, Olympic skater, cowboy--and even a brief stint as Gomez from "The Addams Family." But I was never allowed to stick with anything long enough to earn medical benefits, let alone a retirement package.

Q: But you've still enjoyed a rather luxurious lifestyle.

A: If you're referring to the so-called Malibu Dream House, which retails for $119.95 in a neighborhood where most homes cost millions, it has been destroyed repeatedly by mudslides and brush fires. I'm moving to West Covina.

Q: Why were you unable to shave until the 1980s?

A: Because Mattel didn't give me facial hair for two decades! Barbie thought I was some kind of freak.

Q: OK, but is it fair to blame Mattel for all of your problems?

A: Well, I guess I have done some things I'm not proud of. Like Totally Hair Ken in 1992. And the tangerine bell-bottoms and fringed vest outfit of the 1970s. There was also my Quick Curl Ken phase in '77, during which I bore an uncanny and frightening resemblance to Neil Diamond.

Q: Weren't there several other "phases" that Mattel wisely never developed?

A: Yeah. In the 1960s, I was Draft-Dodger Ken. In the 1970s, I briefly experimented with being Manson Family Ken and Hare Krishna Ken, the latter with a scale-model LAX. In the '80s, I became Junk Bond Ken, with removable Michael Milken-style toupee. And in the '90s, I hit bottom as Robert Downey Jr. Detox Ken.

Q: Do you think the setbacks and struggles have made you stronger?

A: Absolutely. When I debuted in March 1961, I was just a scrawny blond teen wearing red swim trunks, cork sandals and a towel. Now I have an infinite wardrobe, a Barbie Motor Home and a 42-year-old girlfriend with a figure that won't quit, although Mattel did reduce Barbie's bust size in 1997 to make it "more realistic." I don't know what they were thinking.

Q: The toy industry has changed dramatically in recent years. How will you retain market share in the 21st century?

A: Oh, that's no problem. I've always stayed in tune with cultural trends. So the next 40 years should be no different. In fact, here are some of the Kens we have on the drawing board:

Hannibal Ken: To keep pace with America's growing fascination with violent video games and movies, Mattel launches a tie-in with the Hannibal Lecter character. Hannibal the Cannibal Ken comes with a chef's hat, doll-size George Foreman grill and recipes for GI Sloppy Joes and Shrimp on the Barbie.

Transgender Ken: Ken finally figures out why Mattel has never made him anatomically correct.

Sean Puffy Ken: Accessories include personal bodyguard, limo, his own line of clothing and a team of defense lawyers.

Social Security Ken: Features bendable but arthritic arms, wrinkled plastic skin, bingo cards, tiny dentures and Depends.

Rappin' Ken: Pull the string and Ken unleashes a tirade of Grammy-winning slurs and epithets.

Glow-in-the-Dark Ken: For use during rolling blackouts.

Vice President Ken: Suffers periodic heart episodes. Accessories include portable defibrillator and nitroglycerin pills.

Fugitive Ken: On the lam for tax fraud, Ken procures a presidential pardon by funneling money through his socialite wife, Barbie.

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