Barbie Turns 50

Barbie turns the big five-oh this year, and two new biographies celebrate the occasion: Robin Gerber’s Barbie and Ruth and Jerry Oppenheimer’s Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel. They offer very different accounts of how Barbie came into being. Barbie and Ruth establishes “curvaceous entrepreneur” and Mattel founder Ruth Handler as Barbie’s original mastermind, while Toy Monster places Jack Ryan—a Yale-educated missile engineer who took to designing Barbie—in the center of the story. (Ryan went so far as to make made his girlfriends, like Zsa Zsa Gabor, get plastic surgery in her image.) According to Newsweek’s review, books converge around a central theme: “Barbie dolls and large breasts.”