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Chatty Cathy was a pull string "talking" doll manufactured by the Mattel toy company from 1959 to 1965. The doll was first released in stores and appeared in television commercials beginning in 1960. 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. Mattel trademarked the name "chatty" in the 1960s, and the boxes for Mattel talking dolls such as Drowsy, Baby Cheryl, and Tatters each have the tag-line "A Chatty Doll by Mattel."
Like Barbie, Chatty Cathy was also a fanciful depiction of a human being, in this case a five year old Caucasian girl. 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 a brown skin tone was produced in those same years.
1963 was also the year that Chatty Cathy's hair was re styled into what Mattel called "long twin ponytails." Mattel catalogs stated that Chatty Cathy and all the other Chatty dolls had go to sleep, "life like decal eyes."
Although its mouth did not move (designed with lips only slightly parted), 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 phonograph record inside the cavity behind the doll's abdomen. The record was driven by a metal coil wound by pulling the toy's string.
The doll had eleven phrases when it came on the market in 1960 such as "I love you", "I hurt myself!" 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.
June Foray the famed voice character actress, who had provided the voice for Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel in the Bullwinkle cartoon series also recorded the phrases for the 1960s version of Chatty Cathy. 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.
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 a 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, replaced by a pink and white striped dress with a white pinafore called "Pink Peppermint Stick." This dress was available until 1964. 1961 also saw the introduction of six extra outfits available separately for Chatty Cathy with names like "Party Dress," "Nursery School Dress," "Sleepytime Pajamas," "Playtime Shorts set," and "Party Coat." The outfits "Sunday Visit Dress" and "Sunny Day Capri Short set" came out in 1963.
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. 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.
Chatty Cathy, as well as 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. These three dolls had painted eyes, not the go-to-sleep version.
In 1984, Mattel introduced Chatty Patty, which also had a different look from the other Chatty dolls, and it too had painted eyes. Mattel released special editions of Chatty Cathy in 1998 and 2001. These dolls were made to resemble the 1960 version of Chatty Cathy, with go to sleep "life like decal eyes." They were sold only at speciality doll and toy stores and priced starting at $99.
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 moulds, and do not resemble any of the dolls made by Mattel in North America.
In popular culture
The 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.
Term "Chatty Cathy" can be used to refer to a particularly talkative person. In the 1987 John Hughes movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Steve Martin scolds 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!" The How I Met Your Mother episode titled "Spoiler Alert" 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.
Around 2010[when?] Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Robot Chicken[episode needed] mentions her as a forgettable toy that grew up to have her tongue cut out by the mafia and insinuates she became a prostitute as an adult.
- Kettelkamp, Sean, Chatty Cathy and Her Talking Friends, Schiffer Publishing (1998)