Diahann Carroll stars as the first African-American Barbie

Last week a big box (with a very hefty customs fee slapped on it) arrived from America. It’s been a lot of fun going through the grubby pile of treasures and restoring them to their former glory with the help of beams of sunlight, puffs of steam and stitches in time.

Francie, Christie and Julia

One star of the collection, with a rewarding story, is Julia – the 3rd dark skinned Barbie doll ever released. The first was ‘colored Francie’ aka ‘black Francie’ in 1966. She had caucasian features, but was made with brown plastic as opposed to pink. The second is formally known as the first. She is known as the first, because her features were African-American, and she was the full Barbie height. Called Christie, she was released in 1968. She had features based on the actress Diahann Carroll [1], an African American film star. So then, Julia was third – released in 1969. She had the same face as Christie and was named after the exciting new, lead TV role, played by Diahann Carroll in the show of the same name: Julia.

Here is a comparison with Christie and Julia. You can see they share the same face mould.

Mattel Julia TV star nurse doll 1970 compare Christie
Julia
Christie, pictured on My Vintage Barbies website
Diahann Carroll with Sidney Poitier

Bizarrely, although Mattel state that Julia is a likeness of Carroll [1] – a real person, they state on another page [2] that their 1980s release (titled unequivocally “Black Barbie”) was the first African-American Barbie. I guess it’s all in a name. She wasn’t Barbie before, because she was named Christie. Or something.

People.com has a useful article showing Barbie through the ages and including black dolls in many of the decades. Mattel’s 80s “Black Barbie” is shown here. She does look rather like her caucasian peer but with brown skin colour and afro hair.

Julia the doll

Julia came dressed in her nursing uniform which is a dainty little number with lots of tiny buttons, a metal badge (some sort of nursing gadget?) and a tiny perching nurses cap.

Mattel Julia TV star nurse doll 1970

SOLD

Mattel Julia TV star nurse doll 1970 side view

Mattel Julia TV star nurse doll 1970 portrait

Julia doll 1970

Julia the TV show 1968-71

Once I’d identified who came first in the Mattel family tree, I was keen to ‘meet’ the real Diahann Carroll. I was immediately totally engaged by her. She’s a woman who has something to say – in an astute, well considered way. Her stage and screen presence is beautiful. Playing Julia,  a young professional woman and mother, she portrayed a captivating combination of light touch charm and absolute confidence. I watched the first episode of Julia totally gripped. It was so good – absolutely stands up with today’s best shows. I’d love to watch a few more but sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an official DVD release. One interesting aspect is the very young child co-stars who have leading roles. This is so much less common today and so captivating.

Here is a quote from the show which reflects the language and values of the era, as well as the creativity of the show’s writers:

Julia Baker: Did they tell you I’m colored?
Dr. Chegley: What color are you?
Julia Baker: Wh-hy, I’m Negro.
Dr. Chegley: Have you always been a Negro, or are you just trying to be fashionable?

Carroll’s interview about the criticisms of the show (and how she and the producer handled them) is fascinating. It was a truly ground-breaking series, made at a time when black characters rarely had screen space for much more than ‘waitress’ or ‘maidservant’. Watch the first video to hear her in-depth analysis, and an episode of Julia in the second video. As with the criticisms and arguments over the first black Barbie and what she should look like, the show simply couldn’t be all things to all people. As Carroll states – it wasn’t a documentary, it was entertainment.

Finally, just check out those eyelashes!

Mattel Julia TV star nurse doll 1970 long lashes

[1]
See Mattel notes on this page https://barbie.mattel.com/shop/en-us/ba/barbie-hollywood-dolls/julia-doll-n5017

“Julia TM & © 1968, 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Name and likeness of Diahann Carroll are used with her permission.”

And Doll Reference notes https://dollreference.com/julia_doll.html

“1127 Julia Twist ‘N Turn Doll (1969)
A black doll with light brown skin, brown eyes, short straight brown hair , uses the Christie head mold“.

[2]
See Mattel notes about who was the first Barbie https://barbie.mattel.com/shop/en-us/ba/bill-greening/black-barbie-doll-r4468

“One cherished Barbie® doll is 1980’s Black Barbie® doll. Although Christie® premiered in 1968, this was the first African-American Barbie®.”

See also the ‘faces of Christie‘ through the ages.

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