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Barbie and Ruth

Cover of Barbie and Ruth

Barbie and Ruth

The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her
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"Barbie and her creator, the sharp-elbowed gal who built the biggest toy company, have a story to tell."

—Time

Barbie and Ruth by Ruth Gerber is the remarkable true story of the world's most famous toy and the woman who created her. It is a fascinating account of how one visionary woman and her product changed an industry and sparked a lasting debate about women's roles. At once a business book, a colorful portrait of an extraordinary female entrepreneur, and a breathtaking look at a cultural phenomenon, Barbie and Ruth is a must read for anyone who ever owned a Barbie doll—a book Publishers Weekly calls, "a stirring biography...a fine study of success and resilience."

"Barbie and her creator, the sharp-elbowed gal who built the biggest toy company, have a story to tell."

—Time

Barbie and Ruth by Ruth Gerber is the remarkable true story of the world's most famous toy and the woman who created her. It is a fascinating account of how one visionary woman and her product changed an industry and sparked a lasting debate about women's roles. At once a business book, a colorful portrait of an extraordinary female entrepreneur, and a breathtaking look at a cultural phenomenon, Barbie and Ruth is a must read for anyone who ever owned a Barbie doll—a book Publishers Weekly calls, "a stirring biography...a fine study of success and resilience."

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The Doll Nobody Wanted

    Little girls just want to be bigger girls.

    — Ruth Handler

    Ruth Handler could sell anything. In 1959 she arrived in New York for the nation's Toy Fair, confident that she could sell a new doll she had created. She had been fighting naysayers, however, for seven years. The doll was a terrible idea, they had told her.

    As the forty-three-year-old executive vice president of Mattel, Inc., Ruth had created an industry upstart in 1944 that was now the third biggest toy company in America. Mattel, based in Hawthorne, California, just outside Los Angeles, was a $14 million business. Ruth, a petite 5-foot–2 ½-inch hard charger with a quick smile and quicker temper, had tripled the size of the business since the start of the decade. With her husband, Elliot, as chief toy designer, she had outmarketed and outmanaged her chief rivals, Louis Marx and Company, and Kenner Products. Her revenues would soon exceed theirs.

    Ruth headed straight for the New Yorker Hotel, where a room had been converted into display space. So many companies came to Toy Fair with so many toys to display that they overflowed into hotels neighboring the main hall. Beds, chairs, and desks were all carted out to make room for elaborate displays like the one for Ruth's doll.

    Ruth dressed that morning to look sharp and show off her slender waist and full bust. Moving restlessly around the room, she adjusted and scrutinized each twelve-inch scaled scene, no doubt thinking about what was at stake. She had ordered a huge amount of inventory from her Japanese manufacturers. Twenty thousand of her petite-size fashion dolls were on weekly order, along with forty thousand pieces of the various outfits that had been designed to fit the doll's tiny, voluptuous figure. But the cost of moving that inventory onto and off store shelves was not all that was on Ruth's mind.

    Ruth was also worried about her credibility. She had founded the company, and the men in her mostly male industry gave her credit for brilliance as an entrepreneur. But she had never invented or designed a toy. She also possessed the sometimes irrational optimism that fuels leaders and allows little tolerance for failure. Even though her designers told Ruth many times that making this doll profitable would be impossible, she pushed it through anyway.

    Ruth lit one cigarette off the last. She barked orders laced with four-letter words and swiped at specks of dust. Her bravado hid another more personal reason that made this toy important to her. For her, this doll was more than a plaything. She was determined to make the buyers understand that this small plastic toy had a giant place to fill in the lives of little girls.

    Toy Fair shimmered with all the hype and hoopla of a three-ring circus and a Broadway show rolled into one. The extravaganza was about innovation, design, a touch of genius, and companies betting on hitting the cultural zeitgeist. Toy manufacturers, intent on mesmerizing retail store buyers, spilled out of the main convention venue, the Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue, a legendary address in the history of toy making. Built just after the turn of the twentieth century, the building saw tenants move in as World War I ended and the center of toy manufacturing moved from Germany to the United States.

    Large, gaudy banners draped the entrance to the fair. Adults promenaded in character costumes, and toys blinked, whirled, and stared from elaborate displays. Child's play cloaked the serious business of making toy sales. Nearly seven thousand retail buyers milled around 200 Fifth Avenue on an unseasonably warm day. New items at the 1959 fair included a working child-size soda fountain, a walking hobbyhorse, a...

About the Author-
  • Robin Gerber is the author of several books, including Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, Katharine Graham, and the novel Eleanor vs. Ike. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 1, 2008
    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Barbie is this behind-the-scenes look at her eccentric, determined inventor. Ruth Handler (1916–2002)was the ambitious and entrepreneurial 10th child of poor Polish immigrants. Disappointed with the unsophisticated dolls of the time, Ruth envisioned a doll that would allow young girls to act out their fantasies of the stylish young women they wanted to become. She modeled her creation on the Swiss doll “Bild-Lilli,” a curvaceous plastic bombshell originally sold as a sex toy/gag gift and named her after her daughter Barbara. Handler fought indefatigably to establish herself in a male-dominated field, and history was made: 50 years later, Mattel is the biggest toy company in the world, and Barbie is sold at a rate of three dolls per second, worldwide. But Handler's rising star was short-lived; battered by breast cancer and convicted of shady business dealings in 1978, she wrenched her attentions away from Mattel and devoted herself to creating realistic, affordable prosthetic breasts for women who had lost one to a mastectomy. This stirring biography is a fine study of success and resilience.

  • Publishers Weekly

    "This stirring biography is a fine study of success and resilience."

  • New York Post

    "Gerber's smoothly-written biography paints a fearless business woman as a devoted wife, a too-busy mother and a rock-'em-sock-'em executive."

  • Time magazine

    "Barbie and her creator, the sharp-elbowed gal who built the biggest toy company, have a story to tell."

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    HarperCollins
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Barbie and Ruth
The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her
Robin Gerber
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