LBJ at Madame Tussaud’s

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 – ) 36th President of the U.S.A. Portrait Model in Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition


Betty Friedan Versus Nancy Reagan

Betty Friedan 1960.jpgBetty Freidan was the author of The Feminine Mystique and one of the founders of the National Organization for Women. Nancy Reagan was an actress who became the first lady of California and later the United States. Both graduated from Smith College. Friedan wrote about her attempts to enlist her fellow Smithee in the Equal Rights Amendment and Reagan’s master class in dissembling: 

Nancy Reagan.jpg“The first time I tried to get her [Nancy Reagan] involved was on a bus at the 1976 Republican Convention in Kansas City. I sat down next to her and said: ‘Nancy, from one Smith girl to another, you have to be for the ERA, you know.’ But I didn’t get anywhere.

I tried again at the Gridiron dinner in Washington after Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980… Somewhere in the course of the evening’s events I went up to Nancy Reagan at the head table. Once again, I evoked our Smith legacy and implored her to use her influence to help us with the ERA. And she said, ‘Oh Betty, Ronnie and I are for equality and Ronnie and I are for women’s rights, we’re just not for amendments.'”

Betty Friedan, Life So Far, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Photographs: Fred Palumbo, World Telegram.


Barbie’s Bath and Jacuzzi Playsets

The Jacuzzi was a cinematic trope once deployed as reliably as frantic Japanese tourists or a homeless man inadvertently witnessing the film’s entire plot. Playboys and villains toasted stiff-haired women in high-cut swimsuits, and good men climbed into the bubbles to be hoodwinked and lead astray. Mattel Inc. responded to the trend by manufacturing an unending stream of bathtubs, showers, and hot tubs for its Barbie Playsets range. There was Barbie Sweet Roses Beauty Bath, Barbie Living Pretty Beauty Bath, Barbie’s Bubbling Spa; endless variations on a single theme.

In 1982 the National Broadcasting Association had cast-off its children’s ad guidelines and discontinued the limits on the number of commercials that could air. At last, advertisers were no longer prevented from hammering a sales message or the use of the words “only,” and “just” before the price. The next year N. W. Ayer[1] took over the Mattel account.

Barbie dolls reclined in a bubble bath or perched rigidly on the edge of a Jacuzzi in metallic bathing suits while the camera roamed over their plastic, foam-kissed legs. The salaciousness was in contrast to the girls in the playset commercials, who spoke in babyish tones as they manipulated their avatars.

There was never any suggestion that Barbie would be joined in her bubbly spa or glass shower by a Ken doll, but Mattel Inc. skirted a fine line in a time when the Moral Majority was leading I Love America rallies. The playset campaigns managed to be simultaneously wildly inappropriate and chaste. The excessively wholesome behavior of the little girls served as a silent rebuke to viewers:  How dare you see something else in this ad: it is you who is the sicko.

Barbie Bubble Bath (1981)


“You girls ready?”

A hapless dad pushed open the bedroom door while his daughter held out her hand.

“Don’t come in Dad! Barbie’s taking a bubble bath!”

Thick bubbles protected Magic Curl Barbie’s modesty, a challenge crews would grapple with when shooting Barbie in the shower.

“This is the Barbie Bubble Bath!” the narrator said, in a voice so syrupy she could conduct a fake phone poll in a brutal South Carolina primary dirty tricks campaign. “You have to put it together!”

The presentation of the accessories occurs at the denouement of the ads. The 1981 playset came with a bottle of bubbles, a fingernail-sized comb and hairbrush, a plastic chair, and a vanity.[2] Barbie was dressed in a yellow ballgown for the father’s return.

“Doesn’t Barbie look pretty Dad?”

“Maybe I should try a Barbie Bubble Bath!”

“Maybe you should stop being such a creep dad,” someone commented below the video.

It was not for nothing that James Michener called the 1980s the Ugly Decade.

Barbie’s Bubbling Spa (1983)

An arch commentary on systems of power and the cinematic gaze, this commercial upended the traditional structure of a Jacuzzi scene, whereby the women existed as nameless, swimsuited wallpaper to a good ol’ boy carrying a cowboy hat and a magnum of champagne.
“Oh Barbie what a beautiful spa! Do I hear… Bubbles?”
Two girls glided the dolls towards the octagon-shaped playset–Barbie legs could move back and forth but no one ever bothered, not even on the commercials.[3] The dolls slid into the water, alone together. The camera lingered on the bubbles coursing across their stiff legs. A girl flicked a plastic beach ball into the Jacuzzi, her eyes wild with excitement. Barbie’s creator understood that little girls didn’t want to pretend to be mommies. They wanted to be bigger girls. The benign, babyish play in the commercials belied that children did not always play gently with their Barbies. The dolls hunted each other down in the Dream Car and judo kicked their rivals over pink staircases. They turned the Dream House into a bordello, where they vied ruthlessly for the attentions of the lone Ken.

Barbie Glamour Bath and Shower (1985)

“We girls are taking a bubble bath. Right Barbie?”
Briefly, a close-up of Barbie’s odd face filled the screen, her rictus grin and dilated pupils framed by bubbles. Large plastic diamond studs were jammed into holes in the side of the head. YouTube comments below the video point out that one of the child actors in the commercial is Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, that the doll’s legs look huge, that water ruined the nylon hair and made the plastic stiff, that the girls in the commercial are giggling while they watch Barbie shower.

“Soaking up beauty by the hour/ Then with a flip, we can shampoo/ In the shower!”

Playsets embraced the era’s vulgar rococo Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous aesthetic. Bathtubs and spas became increasingly ornate as the eighties progressed. By mid-decade Barbie’s bath was perched on a platform, with a pink swan’s head faucet. The toys were manufactured in Taiwan until operations were moved to China in 1987.

Mattel says a Barbie is sold every three seconds, which is 10.5 million dolls a year. These polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, and ethylene-vinyl acetate ladies and their accouterments are with us still. The Bubbling Spa, and the Fountain Pool, and the Tropical Splash Barbie Pool ‘n Spa. Workin’ Out Barbie, Medieval Lady Barbie, and teen Barbie Midge, pregnant with a little plastic fetus called Nikki. Shedding particles of cadmium and lead, festering in landfills and travelling the world in the Great Pacific garbage patch, velveteen rabbits who never became real.

[1] N. W Ayers came up with the slogans “Be all that you can be” for the Unites States Army and “Diamonds are forever” for De Beers.

[2] Toys from the 1970s and 80s are notoriously high in lead. Some more recent Mattel recall and safety alerts:  “Barbie Dream Kitty Condo™ Playset Affected Part: Kitty,” “Barbie Dream Puppy House™ Playset, Affected Part: Puppy.”

[3] Not even the adult who three decades later who would post a six-minute long video of a Barbie pretending to drink a glass of champagne,  play with a rubber duck, and take selfies in a bubble bath. The video has been viewed over 1. 2 million times on YouTube.

Margaret Thatcher’s Response to Oleg Gordievsky

Reagan and Gordievsky.jpgOleg Gordievsky served as the KGB rezident and bureau chief in London from 1982 to 1985. He escaped from Moscow in the summer of 1985 after his status as an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service was revealed. In Britain, he begged his handlers and Prime Minister to extract his family from the Soviet Union.  



7th September, 1985

Dear. Mr. Gordievsky,

I was very touched by your message and by your understanding about how difficult the decision about your family was for us. It was entirely natural to do everything possible to enable your family life to continue. But we had to face up to the reality of the kind of people with whom we are dealing and the fact that their values are very different from ours.

Our anxiety for your family remains and we shall not forget them. Having children of my own, I know the kind of thoughts and feelings which are going through your mind each and every day. But just as your concern is about them, so their concern will be for your safety and well-being.

Please do not say that life has no meaning. There is always hope. And we shall do all we can to help you through these difficult days.

Perhaps when the immediate situation has passed we may meet and talk. I am very conscious of your personal courage and your stand for freedom and democracy. I should very much like to have the benefit personally of your unique experience and your thoughts on the way we can help those who have never known the things which we in the West take for granted.

You will be very much in my thoughts and I send you my best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Margaret Thatcher”

National Archives, PREM 191647.

Photograph: Mary Anne Fackelman, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Ernest Dichter on Command and Persuasion

A Jewish refugee from Vienna, Ernest Dichter was one of the first people to study consumer behavior in the marketplace. He invented the focus group and purportedly told Mattel to give Barbie breasts. The Naval War College asked him to study the problem of command versus persuasion. He outlined the results in his 1960 book The Strategy of Desire

“Recently persuasion was practiced with drivers in New Jersey by painting yellow stripes on sections of the roads aimed at slowing drivers at toll-booth approaches. The yellow stripes, which can been seen easily at night and in foggy weather, are arranged to give the effect of closing in on a driver. They are intended to help alert motorists who are going too fast as they near a toll stop. The stripes, painted progressively closer at toll approaches, give the impression that a vehicle is accelerating if the driver fails to slow down. Command is always faster as a method of persuasion, it is more efficient; and what makes it really dangerous is that it often is much more comfortable. Many young democracies have faltered because people prefer to be told what to do rather than to make up their own minds. Persuasion, on the other hand, is slower, more burdensome, but at the same time also more permanent and healthier. Lowering of prices, special sales, etc. in the merchandising field correspond to command. Building of the personality of a company, the creation of brand loyalty, are closer to real persuasion and are much slower but at the same time also much more permanent.”

Ernest Dichter, The Strategy of Desire, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960.

Bengers really improved my health

First wave advertising pulled no punches. Who knew a “cupful of milk-and-wheat goodness with amylase and trypsin to rest your digestion” was the cure for nervous breakdowns?

“Mrs. S. Worts of Islington, London, writes: 

‘I feel I must write to tell you about what a wonderful drink Bengers is. I have been buying it each week and found not only do I get a night’s sleep but am also free from colds this winter…

I had a nervous breakdown some time back and tried many types of tonic but this has really improved my health.’

What is so special about Bengers? 

Just this. At times when you feel too sick, too weak, too jaded or tired to face your food you can always take Bengers. It cheers you, relaxes you, and gives you all the nourishment of a good light meal, just when you most need it.”

Advertisement in Good Housekeeping (UK edition), April, 1960.

11222 DILLING Street – Studio City, California

“The beloved television home of The Brady Bunch has come to market after almost 50 years. This iconic residence is reportedly the 2nd most photographed home in the United States after the White House. Featuring perfectly preserved 1970’s d~cor, it boasts one of the largest lots in the neighborhood– over 12,500sqft. Enormous, lush backyard gardens & lawn, completely private & serene. Located on a quiet residential block, property also borders the Los Angeles River, which is a unique street-to-river orientation. Living space quote may not include Garage conversion/expansion of downstairs Family Rm added after original construction. 2 Master Suites, one up/one down plus generous entertaining spaces that flow uniformly from one to the next and to the outdoors. Gated motorcourt plus large separate garage provide parking convenience. Whether inspired by the TV family or the real life surrounding neighborhood, this residence is a perfect postcard of American 70’s style and its special culture.”

This listing courtesy of Douglas Elliman, July 2018