The Eyes Have it – Blythe & Friends

Why have collectors suddenly gone overboard for an out-of-proportion teen with scary eyes? And what can you do if you can`t afford the £500 or so needed to buy one?

Blythe was a novelty doll produced by Kenner in 1972, and distributed in Britain by Palitoy. She was just under twelve inches tall, with a slender teen body and an overlarge head. Her most amazing accomplishment was that she could change the position and colour of her eyes. In fact, this wasn’t an innovative development – Pedigree had done much the same thing when they manufactured Pretty Peepers in the late 1950s, though this was a much larger doll standing 22 inches high, and her head was normal size. Presumably, Blythe needed the large head to incorporate the eye-change mechanism, which was operated by a pull cord running from the back of the head.

Blythe’s eyes were large and round, and they changed from green to pink to amber to blue each time the string was pulled, momentarily closing between each pull. The blue and green eyes were side-glance, amber and pink looked straight ahead. Her appearance was revolutionary for the time – in fact, she scared children which may well be why she was soon discontinued, though another reason could be that a child’s frenzied pulling of the cord could cause it to break or the mechanism to jam.

Twelve outfits were available for the doll, and she was obtainable with four hair colours – blonde, brunette, dark brown and auburn, some with fringes, some with a centre parting. She wasn’t a great success, and probably would have been ignored by doll collectors, until something happened which gave her a new lease of life and, indirectly, spawned a complete turnaround in the doll world culminating in a line of dolls which today outstrip sales of everything else.

A few years ago, a lady called Gina Goran wanted to try out a camera, and grabbed the first doll she could find to test out the lens. It so happened that this lady had accumulated a collection of Blythe dolls. When she saw how great Blythe was as a model, she decided to dress the doll in unusual outfits and to photograph her in various place-settings. The resulting photos were gathered into a small book – and the result is history. Within a few months, prices for Blythe dolls had escalated, and a doll you could once find for a couple of pounds at a boot sale was now like gold dust.

Blythe originally came wearing a long maxi-dress. The light brunette wore ‘Golden Goddess’ (yellow, trimmed with braid), the dark brunette, ‘Medieval Mood’ (brown with a Celtic pattern), auburn, ‘Love ‘n’ Lace’ (green scattered with flowers) and the blonde ‘Pretty Paisley’ (blue paisley print). Her range of outfits were sold carded with helpful photos on the reverse showing other items in the range, and included ‘Lounging Lovely’, ‘Roaring Red’, ‘Kozy Kape’, ‘Aztec Arrival’, ‘Pleasant Peasant’ and ‘Pow-Wow Poncho’. ‘Priceless Parfait’ consisted of a boldly-patterned yellow, blue and pink skirt, pink top with matching bag, fringed scarf and scarlet boots, while ‘Pinafore Purple’ was a purple all-in-one with flared sleeves and a medallion-patterned skirt worn over the top.

All the garments had a typical ethnic-type Seventies look with pl enty of braid and fringing. Usually a label was attached inside with Blythe’s name on, which makes identification easy today, though in any case the clothes are very distinctive. An attractive ‘Blythe’s Fashion Wardrobe Case’ bearing a picture of Blythe, was available to store one doll and her outfits. Additionally, it was possible to buy a set of zany wigs to fit Blythe. These delightfully frothy affairs came in ‘Strawberry’ (pink), ‘Lime’ (green), ‘Blueberry’ (blue) and ‘Lemon’ (yellow), complete with a pair of trendy sunglasses. Each wig had its own polystyrene wig-stand, and a special combined brush and comb. Once Blythe was flaunting this movie-star get-up her appearance was amazingly altered.

When Blythe made her come-back, fans clamoured for her. Takara, a Hasbro-owned Japanese company brought out their own range of Blythe dolls around four years ago, which proved immensely popular, and these have evolved to the extent that the plastic and colouring is almost identical to the original Kenner/Palitoy 1970s dolls. They feature the four colour eye-change mechanism worked by a pull string. The Japanese people have taken this new Blythe to their hearts, dressing her in street-wise, kookie fashions. Unfortunately, she is quite difficult to obtain in Britain, and it is normally necessary to use the internet or mail order to obtain her. These Blythes are not cheap, costing around £65 – though a range of four-inch high mini Blythes are much more affordable.

Takara Blythes are sold in brightly coloured boxes with retro graphics reminiscent of the seventies. Their dolls have names such as Modrian, Dotty Dot, Hollywood, Disco Boogie, and Lounging Lovely, and their clothes are chic and pretty, some being replicas of the original Blythe outfits, and others very ‘girlie’, with pastel pink and blue jackets and floaty dresses.

Another company producing a similar doll is Pullip, again Japanese based, owned by Jun Planning. Pullip dolls are a slightly more ‘grown-up’ version of Blythe, with a shaped body. The limbs are fully articulated, even the wrists and ankles. Their outfits are wacky, colourful and cool, and they are proving very popular, though it seems that stockists are only allowed a few of each new version, and you often have to order in advance. Pullips cost around £60, and the mini-Pullips are under £10. However, the eye action on a Pullip is not a colour-change, it is a side-glance and winking movement, controlled by levers at the back of the doll`s head.

Pullip dolls have names such as Arietta, Bouquet, Noir, Withered, Chicca, Principessa, Squall and Venus. Additionally, there are storybook versions – Alice In Wonderland, Ann of Green Gables and Red Riding Hood. There is also a boy, who is known as Namu, and he stands taller than Pullip, about fourteen inches high. Namu comes in various versions including Trunk, Wolf and Vispo. The costumes and accessories on these dolls are amazing, with zips, toggles and buckles which really work.

Ashton-Drake, the company who have been selling porcelain and plastic dolls amongst their other collectable lines for years, recently introduced their own version of Blythe. This doll is a proper replica – she is a copy of auburn Blythe wearing her green flowery maxi dress. Annoyingly, like so many of these Blythe-type dolls, she is not available in Britain unless you can order her via the internet, though Ashton-Drake have informed me that she might eventually be offered over here, as they are presently introducing many American collectable replicas.

When toy manufacturers saw the impact which the Blythe revival was creating, they rushed to tr anslate the big-eyed, large-head syndrome into playdolls. A few years ago, Toy Depot introduced a range of Designer Girl dolls, which had wonderful eye movements similar to Blythe. These dolls came in four different hair colours, cerise, black and purple, but seem to have been totally shunned by Blythe enthusiasts as ‘cheap copies’. Copies they may have been, but at £10 for a Blythe look-a-like, they were a good buy, and are certainly one to watch as a future investment. Today these dolls appear on the internet and in charity shops for a few pounds. Designer Girls, unlike Blythe, had eyebrows, and their mouths were thicker and their necks thinner. The plastic was more shiny, too, but, even so, with a bit of customising they could be made into attractive Blythe clones.

Dolls such as Diva Starz, My Scene and PowerPuff all demonstrate the Blythe influence – but, of course, the biggest impact of all is seen in Vivid Imagination’s Bratz dolls. Their eyes might not be quite as large as Blythe’s, and they don’t have a pull-cord – but that in-yer-face, street-wise attitude is surely how Blythe would have looked had she been thought of thirty years later.

Today, Kenner and Palitoy Blythe dolls are selling for around £500 on the internet, double if they are mint and boxed. Even broken ones, or heads alone, can reach hundreds of pounds. Auction houses such as Vectis include Blythe in their sales nowadays. The big-eyed girl which once no one wanted, is suddenly all the rage and she is gaining new devotees every day. Visit the WCN Dolls information pages.

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