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Chatty Cathy spoke one of eleven phrases at random when the "chatty ring" protruding from its upper back was pulled. The ring was attached to a string connected to a simple low-fidelity phonograph record in the doll's abdomen. The record was driven by a metal coil wound by pulling the toy's string. The doll said 11 phrases when she came on the market in 1960 such as "I love you" or "Please take me with you". Seven more phrases such as, "Let's play School" or "May I have a cookie" were added to the doll's repertoire in 1963 for a total of 18 phrases. Chatty Cathy's voice unit was designed by Jack Ryan, Mattel's head of research and development; he had also been responsible for designing the Barbie doll after a German doll called Bild Lilli in 1959.
Originally, Chatty Cathy had blonde hair in a short bobbed style and blue eyes. Brunette and auburn-haired versions of the doll were introduced in 1962 and 1963 respectively; an African American version of the doll with brown skin tones was produced those same years.1963 was also the year that Chatty Cathy's hair was re-styled into what Mattel called "long twin ponytails." In 1960, a child had the choice of one of two outfits for their doll: one outfit had a blue dress with a white eyelet overblouse, panties, crinoline, blue shoes and white socks, and the other dress had a red velvet headband, red sunsuit with a red pinafore with an overskirt of white voile, red shoes and white socks. Other accessories accompanying the doll were a story and comic book, shoehorn, and paper wrist tag that was also a numbered warranty card. The doll and its accompanying accessories were advertised at less than $20. In 1961, the red dress was discontinued, to be replaced by a pink and white striped dress with a white pinafore called: Pink Peppermint Stick, this dress was out until 1964. 1961 also saw the introduction of six extra outfits were available separately for Chatty Cathy with names like: Party Dress, Nursery School Dress, Sleepytime Pajamas, Playtime shorts set, Party Coat, Red Peppermint Stick Dress. The outfits: Sunday Visit Dress and Sunny Day capri short set came out in 1963.
Chatty Cathy was on the market for six years and was the second most popular doll of the 1960s after Barbie (also made by Mattel). After the success of Chatty Cathy, Mattel introduced Chatty Baby in 1962 and Tiny Chatty Baby, Tiny Chatty Brother and Charmin' Chatty in 1963. The last doll to have the word chatty in its name in the 1960s was Singin' Chatty in 1965.
Chatty Cathy, Chatty Baby and Tiny Chatty Baby were redesigned and reissued by Mattel in 1970. These dolls were completely different in appearance from the earlier Chatty dolls. Maureen McCormick, who had appeared in Chatty Cathy television commercials with her future The Brady Bunch co-star Eve Plumb in the 1960s, provided the voice of the new Chatty Cathy, which was on the market for two years.
In 1984, Mattel introduced Chatty Patty, which also had a different look from the other Chatty dolls. Mattel released special editions of Chatty Cathy in 1998 and 2001. These dolls were made to resemble the 1960 version of Chatty Cathy. They were sold only at specialty doll and toy stores and priced starting at $99.
In 1962, Mattel purchased the Dee & Cee Toy Company of Canada, which produced a Canadian version of the Chatty dolls. (By 1964 the company was known as Mattel Canada.) The dolls were made from the original American molds, but there was a notable difference in the materials: the vinyl used on the Canadian doll had a glossier look, its eyebrows were higher on its forehead, and a different type of eye was used in the doll. These differences account for the higher prices of some Canadian Chattys among collectors. Some of the doll's phrases were different, reflecting cultural differences between Canada and the United States. These differences also made the doll suitable for export to other English-speaking countries.
Mattel also bought the Rosebud doll company in England in 1966 and made a British Chatty Cathy that was on the market into the 1970s. These dolls were made from completely different molds and do not resemble any of the dolls made by Mattel in North America.
In popular culture
The very same pull-string talking mechanisms were used in all other Mattel talking dolls and toys of the 1960s and 1970s. These included favorites like talking Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Mrs. Beasley, Drowsy, Herman Munster, Dr. Seuss characters, and all the See 'n Say toys. When Mattel introduced Baby First Step ("the world's first walking doll") in 1965 and the doll sold well, a talking version was released the following year. Other Mattel dolls which "learned to talk" were the Baby Tender Love line (1970), which eventually included Talking Baby Tender Love, and the Baby Beans line (1971), which spawned a Talking Baby Beans. Barbie and her many friends and relatives appeared in pull-string talking versions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is worth noting that the Woody, Jessie, and Stinky Pete dolls based on characters from the Toy Story films (Pixar 1995), had a pull-string as well but they were not made by Mattel.
Chatty Cathy was the inspiration for an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "Living Doll" originally broadcast November 1, 1963. June Foray, who had been the voice of the original Chatty Cathy, provided the voice for Talky Tina, the episode's evil doll. One of her phrases was, "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you."
Sometimes the term "Chatty Cathy" can be used to refer to a particularly talkative person. In the 1987 John Hughes movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Neal (Steve Martin) scolds Del (John Candy): It's like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest, you know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except I wouldn't pull it out and snap it back - you would. Agh! Agh! Agh! Agh!. Also, the How I Met Your Mother episode Spoiler Alert (How I Met Your Mother) shows the main character Ted dating a very talkative woman named Cathy.
In 2007 and 2010, Hallmark released the Chatty Cathy Keepsake ornament. A GEICO commercial from 2007 parodied the Chatty Cathy commercial with the dolls saying phrases about their car insurance rates.
The Chicago rock band Chatty Cathy, formed 2007, was named after this product.
Around 2010 Cartoon Networks Adult Swim Robot Chicken mentions her as a forgettable toy that grew up to have her tongue cut out by the mafia and insinuates she became a prostitute at an adult age.
Kettelkamp, Sean;Chatty Cathy and her Talking Friends-Schiffer Publishing (1998)