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The Ken Doll: Ken's Early History


No comprehension of the Barbie doll is complete without thinking about her boyfriend Ken, who's undergone some changes himself throughout the years. Developed to live in Barbie's shadow, Ken has kept up with changes which have included almost everything from ordinary style updates to major plastic surgery, all to represent contemporary styles and keep Barbie happy. From the Surfer 60's into the Disco 70's, Ken has built a significant following and is the focus of adulation from people across the web. Deemed a collectible in his own right, let's take a brief look at a collector's early chronology of the Ken doll (1960s - 1970s).

Born for a Lonely Barbie Doll

The Ken Doll came to life in 1961 as Barbie Dolls boyfriend and he was an instant hit as Barbie fanatics needed her to get a partner. The first Ken Doll had flocked hair in either blonde or brunette, blue eyes and he was 12 inches tall. Ken arrived wearing red swimming trunks, sandals together with a yellow beach towel. Eventually his hair became thin and fell out, so locating an authentic Ken doll with a full head of hair is a real win. In the years right after Ken's first release, the Ken doll was created with molded hair (blonde or brown), and came with a classic wardrobe of clothes that would take him thru many years. Through 1964, small improvements were made including the release of a special limited edition of King Arthur.

The Mid 60s: Ken Goes Through Changes

After Ken's first years, the Ken doll saw considerable changes. 1965 would be a watershed year for Ken; Bendable Leg Ken was a great improvement for the Ken doll which made him far more realistic. Before that point, life-like play with Ken and Barbie dolls was very stiff and the improvements made in the movement and bendability of dolls during the time really increased the dolls' popularity. Sadly, Ken's entry into the Mod era did not start well; 1966 saw Ken being discontinued but later returned in 1968 as the Talking Ken Doll and in 1969 as Talking Ken. Talking Ken showed up with a completely new, adult look with a buff build and cool wardrobe. Obviously, his first wardrobe didn't fit "man-Ken," much to the dismay of collectors.

Ken Goes Disco in the 70s

The 1970s contributed substantial changes to Ken that incorporated clothing, features and look. Mirroring the major cultural and stylistic changes of the day, 1971's Action Ken Doll entered the Barbie doll world wearing a groovy gold, psychedelic top with vest. Even though he still had molded brown hair, Ken absolutely stood out in the crowd! That year, Malibu Ken was launched and later years saw big adjustments to fashion and features like real rooted hair (1973's Mod Hair Ken). The disco era 70's produced an entirely fresh look powered by the disco trends of the day with the introduction of Superstar Ken showcasing a new face, body and wardrobe.

The Ken Doll: Barbie's Muse

Much like the Barbie doll, the creation of the Ken doll has evolved in stages; beginning merely as a young partner for his girlfriend Barbie and then evolving into more of a reflection of the "perfect boyfriend." Throughout Ken's early growth, the impact of popular culture can be seen with the dramatic stylistic adjustments echoing the signs and styles of the times. As a result, the Ken doll is now a popular collectible in his own right and has gained the sympathy of many who see him as the adoring boyfriend who's overshadowed by the beauty, personality and aspirations of his girlfriend Barbie.

 


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