CHATTY CATHY DOLLS

Author: Cathy Rogers

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Chatty Cathy was a hugely popular, pull-string talking doll dreamed up by Elliot Handler, one of the co-founders of Mattel in 1959. She looked, dressed and sounded like a four-year-old girl—complete with freckles, bangs, buck teeth and a round tummy. She also had a pointy finger, rooted hair, and wide, "sleep" eyes. A pull-string located at the back of her neck activated a miniature record player that emitted sound through a cloth-covered speaker on her stomach.

Originally, she spoke 11 phrases, played at random, that included "Please give me a kiss," "Tell me a story," and "Let's have a party." Handler's wife, Ruth, came up with the doll's name, purportedly because it needed to be something memorable and appealing. Of course the name was as catchy as the doll was popular and became a buzz word for talkative personality types.

The original doll was 20 inches tall, had short blond hair and blue eyes, and was dressed in a blue gingham party dress, with matching hair ribbon and blue velvet shoes. June Foray was the original voice of Chatty Cathy. Foray also was the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel of the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon show. The doll cost less than $20 and came with a storybook, shoe horn, warranty and certificate of authenticity. She was made of vinyl and had a soft vinyl face. In 1960, the first Chatty Cathy TV advertisement appeared.

Soon after, other Chatty Cathy versions were available with various hair and eye color combinations. Hair colors included blond, brunette and auburn. Eye colors were brown and blue. Two black Chatty Cathy dolls were made; one had pig tails and one wore a page boy haircut. A Canadian version of the doll was released in the early 60's. Some of the doll's phrases varied slightly to allow for cultural differences and the shape of the iris of her eyes created a "pinwheel" appearance. Chatty Cathy also came in Spanish speaking model. In the early 60's, other revisions included pig tails and a smaller, harder face. By 1963, Chatty had 18 phrases in her repertoire.

And, of course, there were also spin-offs including Chatty Baby, Tiny Chatty Baby, Tiny Chatty Brother, Charmin' Chatty and Singin' Chatty, and Matty Mattel. But the original Chatty Cathy was the most popular. Her separately-sold accessories included multiple outfits, bed, stroller, TV, tea set, and armoire. The 50's and 60's versions of the doll came in one of three types of boxes: a pink carton; an aqua open-window box; or a picture box (with one of two photos). By the late 1960's she had a new voice—that of actress Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia on The Brady Bunch television show.

Currently, original and reproduction Chatty Cathy clothing, shoes, accessories—even replacement teeth—sell on eBay. Other items such as puzzles, record albums, address labels and business cards indicate that the doll has a loyal following. Collectors' clubs can also be located on the Internet. According to most resources, the Canadian dolls and one of the black dolls are considered the most difficult to find. And to excite fans of its most successful talking doll, Mattel issued a collector's edition in the late 1990's.

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