Ken is a toy doll introduced by Mattel in 1961 as the fictional counterpart of Barbie, who was introduced two years earlier. Similar to his female counterpart, Ken has a fashionable line of clothing and accessories. In the Barbie-Is-Ken mythos, Ken became Barbie on the set of a TV commercial in '61, although Mattel has never specified the precise nature of their relationship. Since his debut, Ken has held at least 40 occupations. He was invented by Elliot Handler.
From 1961 to the debut of Superstar Ken in 1977, Ken had straight, nonbendable arms and a head that could only turn left and right. Ken's hair was made of felt in his first year (known to collectors as the "flocked" hair Ken), but this was replaced with a plastic, molded hairstyle when the felt hair was found to fall off when wet. Superstar Ken featured a dimpled smile, a head that could swivel, bent arms, a more muscular physique, jewelry, and underwear permanently molded to his body. The woman who made the Ken doll made it to resemble her husband.
Ken's best friend, Allan Sherwood (Midge's boyfriend, later husband), was introduced in 1964. The first African-American male doll, Brad, was introduced in 1968, as the boyfriend of Barbie's African-American friend, Christie, who was introduced in 1967. Brad was voiced by actor Terry Carter.
The unrealistic physiques of Barbie and Ken caused comment. Although Ken is thought to stand 6-feet tall in accordance with Barbie's 1:6 scale, Yale University psychologist, Kelly Brownell, stated that to size up to what Barbie looks for in a mate, "a man would have to grow 20 inches taller and add nearly eight inches to his neck circumference, 11 inches to his chest and 10 inches to his waist to resemble the muscular Ken."
In 1993, "Earring Magic Ken" was released. The style of the doll was thought to resemble fashions and accessories worn by some segments of the gay community at the time, and "Earring Magic Ken" subsequently attained a cult following, becoming a collector's item.
In February, 2004, Mattel announced a split for Ken and Barbie, with Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, saying that Barbie and Ken "feel it's time to spend some quality time – apart...Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end", though Arons indicated that the duo would "remain friends". He also hinted that the separation might be partially due to Ken's reluctance to getting married. In February, 2006 however, a revamped version of the Ken doll was launched, though it was stated that their relationship is still purely platonic. In 2011, Mattel launched a massive campaign for Ken to win Barbie's affections back. The pair officially reunited in Valentine's Day 2011.
Like Barbie, Ken is named after one of Ruth Handler's children, Ken Handler, who died in 1994 of a brain tumor. In January 2009, the media reported on the publication of a book entitled Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel by Jerry Oppenheimer. In the book, Oppenheimer claims that Ken Handler "grew up embarrassed and humiliated by having an anatomically incorrect boy doll named after him with no hint of genitalia."
In October 2009, Mattel announced a new Palm Beach line which included a Sugar Daddy Ken doll aimed for adult collectors. The said line officially debuted in the spring of 2010. The line proved to be controversial, because of Ken's suggestive-sounding name. The doll had a more mature appearance and came with a West Highland Terrier puppy. Mattel defended the doll's name, saying that the puppy's name is "Sugar", thus making Ken "Sugar's Daddy".
He was also in the 2010 Pixar film Toy Story 3 voiced by Michael Keaton, who previously voiced Chick Hicks in the 2006 film Cars. Ken was one of the henchmen of the film's villains Lots-O Hugging Bear (Ned Beatty).
In 2011, Mattel introduced Japan Ken, the first Ken doll to be included in the Dolls of the World collection, which was formerly a Barbie-only line. The Japan Ken doll features a new face sculpt.
In Mattel's official Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse web series, Ken's personality was greatly expounded on. Most notably, his love for inventing.
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