Eight months after Barbie’s debut at the Toy Fair, Mrs. Handler was, according to the Los Angeles Times, driving a pink Thunderbird and running a half-million-dollar business.
Barbie sales continued strong throughout the early 1960s; her clothing, her accoutrements, and her Dream House adding to skyrocketing success. In 1961, Mattel brought out the ultimate Barbie accessory: Ken, Barbie’s square-jawed, crew-cut sporting steady beau named for Mrs. Handler’s son.
In the late 1960s, with the women’s liberation movement, Barbie seemed out of step with the new social reality and faltered a bit. By 1971, the National Organization for Women had launched a full frontal assault on Barbie, condemning Mattel, as well as several other companies, for sexist advertising.
But that was the least of Mattel’s troubles. After a period of diversification — the company began manufacturing hamster cages, aquariums and pet supplies — the toy behemoth experienced a downturn, showing losses in quarter after quarter. Stock prices tumbled and in 1973, Mrs. Handler was forced to resign as president.
But in 1981, Jill Barad, a wunderkind executive at Coty Cosmetics, came on board. By the time she was made chief executive officer of Mattel in 1992, Barbie had returned to the limelight. As M. G. Lord, the author of the book, “Forever Barbie,” put it, the doll was clearly “positioned as a career woman who knew what it took to achieve in the business world.”