A case of Kenvy
March 13, 2018
Her introduction in March 1959 sent shockwaves through the toy world and resulted in a nearly complete abandonment of a name which had been in the top 10 for popularity for four decades. The Barbie Doll truly had that impact.
Little girls everywhere loved Barbie. What wasn’t to like? She was pretty, had a great wardrobe, and was the perfect size for small hands. But there was something missing. That something arrived in mid-March 1961: Ken.
Now Barbie had a boyfriend! Ken was every parent’s dream guy for their daughter. He was clean cut, handsome, had hands and arms which were stiff and straight, and a head which could only turn left and right, and was missing guy parts. Then, in 1977, Ken got a celebrity makeover. Gone was the military haircut and the square-jawed face. His new look featured longer hair, dimpled chin, bent arms, a head that swiveled, jewelry and – the most important thing of all – permanent underwear.
He and Barbie were a ‘couple’ until 2004 when Mattel announced their breakup. From the infallible Wikipedia:
“In February, 2004, Mattel announced a split for Ken and Barbie, with Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, saying that Barbie and Ken “feel it’s time to spend some quality time – apart…Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end”, though Arons indicated that the duo would “remain friends”. He also hinted that the separation might be partially due to Ken’s reluctance to getting married. In February, 2006 however, a revamped version of the Ken doll was launched, though it was stated that their relationship is still purely platonic. In 2011, Mattel launched a massive campaign for Ken to win Barbie’s affections back. The pair officially reunited in Valentine’s Day 2011.”
I got my first Barbie Doll for Christmas 1961. Her wardrobe consisted of a bathing suit, a short gold dress, a black evening gown (Solo in the Spotlight!) and a wedding dress. Based on how those clothes ‘survived’ the years I must have played with that doll a lot. The wedding dress, particularly, is mostly a rag but I still have it.
Yet, I never got the one thing I really wanted for my Barbie which was a Ken.
Three houses down the street from me lived a little girl named Martha. As the youngest – by nearly 10 years – of three girls, it seemed as if Martha had everything. Her Barbie wore the best clothes, relaxed in really cute wicker furniture and, most important, she had a Ken. I liked going to Martha’s house – despite the fact she was three years younger than me – because of her great Barbie collection.
But I was never allowed to play with her Ken. He was sacrosanct. And I had Kenvy.
The closest I ever got to having a Ken was when I played the game “Barbie, Queen of the Prom.” In that game you had to navigate the board to collect a prom dress, appropriate accessories and, most important, a date. There were four choices: Ken, Allan, Tom and Poindexter. No one ever wanted Poindexter. Probably because he looked like he was about twelve. By the time I was playing that game, it was the mid-1960’s and Ken’s military crew cut was going out of style. No, the desirable date for Queen of the Prom was Allan, a freckled face red head with a winning smile.
Eventually I got over my Kenvy. Probably when I had a daughter of my own who also LOVED her Barbie dolls (she had dozens, I only ever had two) and who also had a couple of Ken dolls. She played with her dolls for hours but I was most amused by the Ken and Barbie interaction. Whichever Barbie was the favored doll got the Ken. It was that simple. The pair would go on dates and, often, I would see them ‘kissing’ each other as my daughter’s imagination created romantic scenarios. On occasion I would sit on the floor and play Barbie’s with her. But I was never allowed to play with the Ken’s. Some things never change. Okay, so maybe I still have Kenvy.
For more information about Ken click on this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_(doll)
Because there was so much to talk about JUST with Ken, I will be discussing name etymology next week and the cultural impact Barbie and Ken have had over the past 58 years.