Doll Digest

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African American Fashion Dolls of the 60s

I have been a fan of African American fashion dolls for many years. Some of the examples I have seen are what I consider to be some of the most beautiful dolls of the genre ever produced. Due to their limited distribution they are also some of the most desired and hardest to find.

One of the first black fashion dolls to be released in the 60s was a black version of Ideal's Tammy doll. Two types of black Tammys have been found. One used the earlier "baby" Tammy face body and the second variation was a "Grown Up Tammy" with the later, more teenaged looking face. The black Grown Up Tammy had short dark brown hair in a stylish "bob" and had bendable legs, a more developed body and the more refined arms and hands of the 1965 Grown Up Tammy and Misty dolls. She came dressed in the same outfit as her Caucasian sister and the boxes were identical. An example of a black version of Misty has been found, but it is unclear if this is a prototype or an actual production piece. She uses all the same molds as the Caucasian Misty. She has black hair and brown eyes.

In 1967 Mattel released an African American version of their popular Francie doll. She was produced using the existing molds for the Caucasian doll. Lacking correct ethnic features, she was not popular and did not sell well. As a result, a mint "Colored Francie" (the "politically correct" phrase used at the time by Mattel) will command prices these days of $1000 and up. She was released in two variations. The first issue black Francie has rust colored eyes and a shoulder-length gentle flip of brown hair that has almost always oxidized to a reddish tone. The second issue Francie has dark brown eyes and dark brown hair that does not change in color and sometimes has a bit of wave to it. Both dolls are exceptionally pretty and collectors love them equally. They are found in two variations of the same net covered bikini but they look spectacular in the colorful Mod era costumes from the late 60s.

In 1968, Mattel finally released a black fashion doll with realistic ethnic features. Talking Christie came with light brown skin and dark brunette hair in a sort of wavy bubble cut. When you pulled the magic ring on her neck, she would repeat several recorded phrases. In 1969 Mattel followed with a non-talking "Twist N Turn" version of the doll. Like the early Francie dolls, Christie is often found with hair that has turned to red or orange. Since they were made with the Barbie bodies, they can wear any of the outfits Mattel released for their 11.5" fashion dolls. This character has proved so popular that she has been continued right up to today, with Christie dolls still being part of Barbie's family. Although he was not released till 1970, Mattel also provided a boyfriend for her. Talking Brad and Bendable-Leg Brad were both produced that year. I mention him here because he also was made with new molds that had ethnic features. Mattel is really the only toy company that produced ethnic specific molds for their African American dolls in the 1960s. Other manufacturers continued to use the Caucasian molds and with vinyl right into the 1970s. Even Hasbro's original black G.I. Joe used the original Joe head mold. Mattel really deserves to be applauded for their efforts.

Although not strictly a member of Barbie's family, Mattel also released another popular doll in 1969. Based on TV Julia, this 11.5" "Twist N Turn" beauty came dressed in her nurse's outfit. She had the same head mold as Christie. She has short cut hair that is also prone to color change. A Talking Julia came in a glamorous metallic weave hostess jumpsuit. There are some later Talking Julia dolls that have a curly "afro" style hairdo. These tend to retain their original dark brown hair color. The Julia dolls are much easier to find and therefore are quite affordable. A mint doll in her originally outfit will run you $65 to $100. Perhaps more if she still talks or has unchanged hair. They are a great vintage doll to display the Mod fashions without breaking the bank.

Like Christie, Julia can wear all of Barbie's fashions, but she was lucky enough to have five ensembles made exclusively for her. "Brrr-Furrr", "Leather Weather", "Pink Fantasy" and "Candlelight Capers" were all available in special "Julia" packaging and with "Julia" tags in the garments. A 1969 Sears Exclusive gift set called "Simply Wow!" included an aqua and white satin suit. It is considered quite rare.

Probably the most elusive black fashion doll of the era is American Character's black Tressy. Like the other early 60s versions of existing dolls, she was made from existing molds and has the same body markings. She came in both straight leg and bend leg versions and both had the "grow hair" mechanism that this doll made famous. Their face paint is more striking than the Caucasian dolls. Both are also very, very rare.

By the late 60s, the "grow-hair" feature was all the rage with kids. In 1969 Ideal took advantage of this by releasing a fantastic doll named Crissy who had hair that grew "all the way to the floor". At least the earlier ones did. It was later shortened to about knee length. The black Crissy is an absolutely beautiful 18" doll who looks just like a young teenager. She is made from the same molds as the Caucasian Crissy. She comes dressed in a lime green version of the original orange Crissy outfit. Ideal issued a vast wardrobe for the Crissy family dolls that really reflect the fashion scene of the late 60s and early 70s. She is also a very hard to find doll.

Although many of these dolls are tough to find, they make wonderful and important additions to a fashion doll collection. They are all worth the extra effort to track them down.