In the Seventies, you could find me glued to the television set every Friday night at 8:00, the manual dial turned to Channel 7. That was when The Donny and Marie Show was on. The wholesome, toothy brother and sister singing act and Dancing with the Stars alums had their own variety show that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1979.
My dad at the time worked for a company that manufactured, among other things, tape cassettes. He would bring home the latest album releases. Once he brought home “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes. I didn’t know who Eric Clapton was back then, and the album didn’t really appeal to a nine-year-old. So I never listened to it. But one day my dad brought home “Songs from the Donny and Marie Show.” It was a couple of weeks before the album was released in stores, and my sister and I were thrilled. It was the best gift my dad ever got us (without my mom’s help or input, that is).
I listened to the album on my portable Radio Shack cassette player. My favorite song was “Deep Purple,” which I played over and over. To play a song over, I had to hit the rewind button and keep stopping the tape until I got it at the right spot at the beginning of the song. If I went too far back then I had to hit the fast forward button, and if I went too far forward I had to hit rewind again. You kids with your iPods don’t know how easy you have it these days.
I also had the Donny and Marie dolls from Mattel. They were like Barbie and Ken but with the faces of Donny and Marie. Marie borrowed the bent arms and microphone in hand from Superstar Barbie. The Donny and Marie dolls’ outfits paid homage to “Deep Purple.”
Variety shows were big in the Seventies, but you don’t see them on t.v. anymore. Sadly, it’s a dead format. Donny and Marie made a brief return to television in 1998 with their own talk show. It was just one of a slew of celebrity talk shows in the Nineties that tried to capitalize on the popularity of shows like Oprah, and it lasted only a couple of years. But this week it was announced that Donny and Marie are coming out with a new album, their first in thirty years. Say what you will about Donny and Marie, but no one can harmonize like those two.
Superstar Barbie, or as I like to call her, “Disco Barbie,” debuted in 1976. I remember getting mine at A&S in February of 1977. Superstar Barbie was different from the Malibu Barbie and Quick Curl Barbie and Ballerina Barbie in my collection. Superstar Barbie was fierce. Superstar Barbie was a singing disco diva, and looked like she could be a guest on any one of the variety shows popular during the era, such as The Donny and Marie Show or The Sonny and Cher Show. I guess that’s what the microphone in her hand was for. She shunned the usual frilly and floral Barbie fashions in favor of a hot pink satin designer gown, with matching boa. And her shoes! Don’t get me started about her shoes. Instead of the standard slip-on shoes that Barbies usually wore (which more often than not wouldn’t stay on her feet), Superstar Barbie came with strappy high-heeled disco sandals. But what made her truly unique was her face. Superstar Barbie was the first new Barbie face in 10 years. The previous face, which debuted in 1967, had large eyes with prominent colored eyelids and heavy mascara and liner. It was very Twiggy and Yardley of London. But it was outdated for the disco era. Superstar Barbie was also different in that, unlike earlier Barbies, her arms were bent, allowing for a greater variety of poses, especially with that mic in her hand. Superstar Barbie also came with jewelry for her owner to wear, so little girls could feel like disco queens too.
Although Barbie has undergone many transformations since she debuted in 1959, Superstar Barbie wil always hold a special place in my heart as a symbol of childhood memories and growing up in the Seventies.
Blythe was a fashion doll originally produced by the Kenner toy company. She was unique in that her eyes changed color when you pulled the cord in her back. Blythe was only sold for one year, in 1972, before she was discontinued due to poor sales. Perhaps little kids were creeped out by her oversized head and huge eyes, based on the kitschy 1960s paintings by Margaret Keane. Although Blythe sales were poor in 1972, I was one of the little girls who had a Blythe doll at that time. I had the brunette in the long yellow hippie dress, pictured at left in the ad above. My grandmother bought it for me at the Woolworth’s down the street from her house. I remember playing with Blythe on the front steps of my grandmother’s house. I tortured the little boy who lived next door to her because I made him play with me and my Blythe doll. In particular, I made him say “Oh Blythe, you have such beautiful blue eyes,” then I pulled the cord in her back to change her eye color to green and exclaimed “Not anymore!”
In 2000, a New York City photographer named Gina Garan received a vintage Blythe doll from a friend. It was purchased on eBay for a few dollars. Gina started collecting Blythe dolls and took photographs of them in different outfits in different locations all over New York. She published them in a book called This is Blythe. This led to a Japanese toy manufacturer purchasing the rights to produce the doll. Today Blythe is enjoying a renaissance as the Takara toy company produces Blythe dolls to widespread demand worldwide. And the vintage Kenner Blythe dolls that used to go for about eight dollars now sell for several hundred dollars. As if to try to relive my childhood, I’m one of the thousands of grown women who eagerly buy Blythe dolls as well as the “other outfits sold separately.” Gina Garan sells the Takara Blythe dolls in the US on her website This is Blythe. When I look at the new Blythes being offered, I get that same twinge of excitement as if I were still that little girl in Woolworth’s.