Thursday, August 06, 2009

Book Review - Barbie and Ruth

It's no secret that I am a Barbie collector. Or that I am fascinated with the woman who created Barbie, Ruth Handler. I admire Ruth, not just because she created a doll that changed the world but because she was, like me a woman who entered a field dominated by men. She was one of the few female toy designers, a designer who know her doll would be a big hit.

Well, maybe she did not realize how big a hit Barbie would be. Or maybe she did. In later years she would claim she just knew Barbie would be a hit. Robin Gerber has done a wonderful job of finding the woman behind the company. She spends time on Ruth's early childhood, the pain she felt at being raised not by her mother but by her older sister.

I learned more about the love story between Ruth and Elliot Handler, how they meet as young people, and stayed together for over 50 years. Elliot was an amazingly supportive husband, a creative person who trusted Ruth to sell his designs. From Robin's descriptions of Mattel's early years it must have been a fun place to work. A bit crazy and stressful, but fun.

She does not hesitate to share Ruth's dark side, her need for control and her inability to bond with her two children. The death of Ken Handler is touch on only slightly, showing how it changed the relationship Ruth had with her daughter Barbara. Yes the Handler's named their flagship dolls after their children. Something the children never hesitated to tell them they hated.

If I have one complaint about the book it would be the lack of pictures. Robin was given access to Ruth's papers and hours of interviews Ruth gave when she was working on her own autobiography. The authors notes and bibliography show the amazing amount of research she did for this book. One would think that some where during all this research she would have found at least one picture that was worth sharing. Pictures of some of the prototype toys Mattel made, not just Barbie, but Hot Wheels, or many other great toys.

I really would have liked to see some of the early plastic items and small size doll furniture made by Mattel in the late 40's and early 50's. She describes an early plastic clock made by Mattel in such detail I started searching the web for pictures. That and photos of the jewelry Elliot created would have made this amazing book even better.

Barbie and Ruth I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Barbie dolls, or woman in business. For Ruth Handler was more than the creator of many fabulous toys, but a woman a business woman in a world full of men.


  1. Hi, thanks for the nice review. I totally agree with you on the pictures, but that was a (frustrating) publisher's decision. check out my Barbie and Ruth page on Facebook. There are some more pics there. best, Robin Gerber

  2. Seeing your comment to my blog put me a few feet about the sand! I found your facebook page, both of them. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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