Toy makers had been trying to develop a talking doll for decades, but what they came up with was either cumbersome or unnatural. Then the Mattel folks – actually, the same man who had developed the phenomenally popular Barbie (Great American Things, April 10, 2009) – came up with the idea of putting a mini-phonograph in the dolly’s stomach, activated by a pull-string. Voilà! Chatty Cathy was born.
Cathy is celebrating her 50th birthday this year. At first she was only able to say 11 sentences, including “I love you,” and “Please take me with you.” A few years later her vocabulary increased to 18 phrases, such as “Let’s play school,” “May I have a cookie,” and “Please brush my hair.”
The original Chatty Cathy was available for four or six years (sources differ). She began with blonde hair and blue eyes, but brunette, auburn, and African-American Cathy dolls came along a couple of years later. Chatty Cathy dolls are twenty inches tall, and the originals had soft vinyl skin (so lifelike!).
If you could find an original Chatty Cathy, and if by miracle it still talked (most are mute due to a broken phonograph), it would likely be worth $600 to $1000. But to girls who grew up in the 1960s, she would be much more valuable for the memories she brings…