Bild-Lilli, Barbie’s German sister

Today, more than 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute, and her forgotten edgier sister has become a historical footnote.

Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

When Barbie dolls were first introduced in 1959, little girls snatched them up in droves. For the first time, mid-century children could play with a doll that looked like a woman, not a little girl.: A doll with a sassy ponytail, heavy eyeliner, a healthy dose of side eyes, and a distinctly adult body.

Barbie had a sister, Bild-Lilli, a busty, flirtatious and sassy doll marketed for men. And while the sassy 1955 doll has been largely overshadowed by the success of the American toy, it does play a part in the origin story of an American icon.

The Barbie story began with Ruth Handler, an American businesswoman who co-founded the Mattel toy company with her husband, Elliott. As Ruth watched her preteen daughter, Barbara, act out stories of hers with her paper dolls, she wondered why there wasn’t a more grown-up doll for children who had outgrown dolls and stories for children. sleep.

Handler created Barbie with the intention of having a 3D female doll that could be designed and dressed like a paper doll.

But when Handler shared her idea with her husband, Elliot didn’t get it. He said that no mother would want to buy her child a doll in the shape of a woman.

Later, Handler and her family took a trip to Switzerland and met the doll that would change their lives forever. Her name was Bild-Lilli, but it was not for children. Rather, the doll was inspired by a popular comic character from the German tabloid Bild.

Lilli was a gold digger sex symbol created by Reinhard BeutheinSingle and more than ready to mingle, Lilli was drawn with a comically exaggerated body that featured a disproportionately large bust. The character was often depicted scantily clad and gave snappy, seductive responses to slimy men.

Lilli was supposed to be a one-off comic, but she was so popular that she became a fixture in the newspaper. In 1955, Lilli dolls hit the shelves of tobacco shops and adult stores in the German-speaking world. They became a beloved popular gag gift among men.

Handler was charmed by Lilli’s feminine form, but not by her attractiveness to men. Here was the kind of doll he had envisioned. Handler admired Lilli’s different costumes and her 11.5-inch form. After all, the doll proved that her dream was possible.

Soon, Lilli was on her way to Japan with a researcher from Mattel who had been tasked with finding a manufacturer. As Gerber points out, Mattel’s design team toned down the doll’s exaggerated body and exaggerated face, but the resulting Barbie doll still looked very much like Lilli.

When the doll debuted in 1959, it was advertised as a model and was an instant hit. Handler’s gamble paid off: There just wasn’t anything like Barbie out there, but to some, including Lilli’s creator, Barbie looked a lot like Lilli.

Marx and Hausser sued Mattel for raping Lilli, but the lawsuit was unsuccessful and Hausser sold the copyrights and patents to Lilli to Mattel in 1964 for a small sum. Hausser’s company soon went bankrupt.

But that wasn’t the last time Lilli would rear her ponytailed head: In 2001, Greiner & Hausser filed another lawsuit against Mattel alleging that it had been pressured into a settlement and was seeking royalties for every Barbie sold since 1964. case was eventually dismissed.

Today, more than 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute, and her forgotten edgier sister has become a historical footnote.

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