Lil' Blonde Darling: Lilli!

Blonde Beauty Icon Lilli

 If I told you that America's sweetheart and iconic children's toy Barbie was based on a seXXXed up German comic-strip character, would you believe me? Well, it's true...and her name was Lilli! Created by the cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien, Lilli debuted in the German tabloid newspaper BILD in 1952, originally as a way to fill empty space. 

Portraying the risqué misadventures of a tarty, sassy blonde "working girl" living life in the big city, Lilli was an oversexed fashionista who enjoyed keeping the company of rich men. While she did maintain a job as a secretary, she was definitely the type of girl who, like Holly Golightly in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's "got $50 to go to the powder room". Because of it's bawdy humor the cartoon was an immediate smash hit and became a weekly feature.
"I must insist that at least one of you stops following me!"

"Yes, I kissed him, but I didn't want him to get too serious so I stopped him after three."

 "No, I can't go out with you. I am too tired. I spent the whole day doing my laundry".

To cash in on the success of the character, BILD released an 11 1/2" Lilli novelty doll in 1955, aimed at adult male readers and sold them in bars and smoke shops as an erotic gag gift. Since the dolls produced up until this point were babies or toddlers marketed to girls, a doll with a voluptuous figure sold to men as a sexualized plaything was quite titillating.

A smaller 7 1/2" version of Lilli was also produced and could be playfully dangled from the rear view mirror of a car, on a little included swing. Who needs a mudflap girl when you can have a three-dimensional "sex pet"?  The promotional material touted her lifestyle as "always discreet," and that her sexy wardrobe made her "the star of every bar"!

Although not originally intended for children, little German girls fell in love with shapely Lilli and a high quality wardrobe was later produced featuring the fashion trends of the 50's; tight sweaters, capri pants, sexy pencil skirts, outfits for parties, the beach and tennis as well as cotton swing skirts, nighties and traditional German Dirndl dresses.

By 1958 Lilli had become so popular in Germany that a feature film was produced called Lilli - ein Mädchen aus der Großstadt (Lilli — A Girl From the Big City). Portraying Lilli was a coveted role, so much so that a contest was held by BILD, who instructed it's female readers to send in their photos to compete for the role! Women from all over Germany entered the contest and BILD's offices were flooded with thousands of entries. In the end Danish actress Ann Smyrner was chosen as the winner.

While on a European vacation with her two children Barbara and Kenneth, Mattel Toys founder Ruth Handler spied sexpot Lilli in the window of a toy shop. Having already suggested the idea of an adult-figured fashion doll to a less than enthusiastic board of Mattel's directors, Lilli was exactly what she had in mind. She purchased three of them, gave one to her daughter and took the others back to show the Mattel board that a grown up doll with a womans body could work. She reworked the design and concept of sex kitten Lilli, transforming her into the "teenage fashion model" Barbie (named after her daughter), which Mattel launched in 1959.

 1955's Lilli vs 1959's Barbie

Although the design was tweaked, side by side Lilli and the original Barbie are nearly identical! Barbie became a runaway success in the US, unbeknownst to the makers of Lilli, and Mattel discreetly bought up all patents and copyrights to the German doll by 1964. By the time the creators of the Lilli doll realized they had sold off their creation for ridiculously low lump sums, Barbie had already made Mattel such a success in the toy industry, their lawsuits were struck down in favor of the ever-growing American toy giant. Ooops!

So there you have it; the doll marketed to millions of American little girls as a wholesome teenager with a perfect life started out as a gold-digging, high class German hooker! I suppose it isn't any wonder that the Barbie doll has received a huge amount of criticism from feminist groups, who trumpet her as a poor role model with an unrealistic body type, producing unhealthy effects on the self-esteem and self-image of young girls. After all, she was inspired by a sex doll for adult men! I don't know about you but this little known fact always made me like Barbie MORE! Ha!