Friday, December 17, 2010

Spielzeug für Mädels - BILD Lilli

Richtig! Wie heißt diese Puppe (doll)?

Business success (and failure) stories can be fascinating! What is your take on the patent decision mentioned between Mattel and Louis Marx and Company?

From Wikipedia:

In the beginning Lilli was a German cartoon character, created by Reinhard Beuthien for the tabloid BILD NEWSPAPER (Zeitung) in Hamburg, Germany. In 1953 BILD-Zeitung decided to market a Lilli doll following Beuthien's drawings. Over 130,000 were sold. Today Lilli is a collector's piece (as is Barbie), and commands prices up to several thousand Euros, depending on condition, packaging and clothes.

Reinhard Beuthien was ordered to make a "filler" to conceal a blank space in the BILD-Zeitung of June 24, 1952. He drew a cute baby, but his boss didn't like it. So he kept the face, added a ponytail and a curvy woman's body and called his creation "Lilli". She sat in a fortune-teller's tent asking: "Can't you tell me the name and address of this rich and handsome man?" The cartoon was an immediate success so Beuthien had to draw new ones each day.

Lilli was post-war, sassy and ambitious and had no reservations talking about sex. As she had her own job she earned her own money as a secretary but wasn't above hanging out with rich men ("I could do without balding old men but my budget couldn't!"). The cartoon always consisted of a picture of Lilli talking to girlfriends, boyfriends, her boss ("As you were angry when I was late this morning I will leave the office at five p.m. sharp!"). The quips underneath the cartoons handled topics ranging from fashion (to a policeman who told her that two-piece-swimsuits are banned: "Which piece do you want me to take off?"), politics ("Of course I'm interested in politics; no one should ignore the way some politicians dress!") and even the beauty of nature ("The sunrise is so beautiful that I always stay late at the nightclub to see it!"). The last Lilli cartoon appeared on January 5, 1961.

Lilli was available in two sizes, 30 cm (12 inches) and 19 cm (7 and a half inches). She held three patents absolutely new in doll-making:
• The head wasn't connected to the neck but ended at the chin
• The hair wasn't rooted, but was instead a cut-out scalp, attached by a hidden metal screw;
• The legs didn't sprawl open when she was sitting.

The doll was made of plastic and had molded eyelashes, pale skin and a painted face with side glancing eyes, high narrow eyebrows and red lips. Her fingernails were painted red, too. She wore her hair in a ponytail with one curl kissing the forehead. Her shoes and earrings were molded on. Her limbs were attached inside by coated rubber bands. The cartoon Lilli was blond but a few of the dolls had other hair colors. Each Lilli doll carried a miniature copy of the BILD Newspaper, and was sold in a clear plastic tube.

In 1955 the tall dolls cost 12 German Marks (the small dolls cost 7.50 Marks). German office workers then had a MONTHLY salary between 200-300 Marks, so the doll was by no means a cheap toy. She was originally marketed to adults in bars and tobacco shops as a joke or gag gift. Many parents considered her not appropriate for children. A German brochure from the 1950s states that Lilli was "always discreet," and that her wardrobe made her "the star of every bar."

Although the doll was originally not designed as a children's toy, she eventually became popular with children. Doll houses, room settings, furniture, and other toy accessories to scale with the small Lilli were produced by German toy factories to cash in on her popularity amongst children and parents. Lilli and her fashions were sold as children's toys in a number of European countries, including Italy and Scandinavian states. Lilli became as successful as a toy as she was as an adult novelty.

Lilli came as a dressed doll, with additional fashions sold separately. Her fashions mirror the lifestyle of the Fifties: she had outfits for parties, the beach and tennis as well as cotton dresses, pajamas and poplin suits. In her last years, her wardrobe consisted mainly of "Dirndl" dresses.

The doll became so popular that she was exported to other countries, including the USA, where she was just called "Lilli". Some Lillis have been seen in original packaging dating from the 1950s for an English-speaking market labeled as "Lilli Marlene", after the famous song. Several toy companies (mainly in Hong Kong) started producing fashion dolls looking very similar to Lilli. These dolls are easy to distinguish because of their poor quality.

But Lilli also inspired the production of another fashion doll of high quality who would soon outshine her: Barbie, produced by Mattel. Ruth Handler, one of Mattel's founders, bought some of the Lilli dolls when she was on a trip to Europe. Back home she reworked the design of the doll and re-named her Barbie. Barbie debuted at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959. Barbie had rooted hair and her shoes and earrings were not molded. Apart from that, she was a lookalike of Lilli. Barbie celebrated 50 years of continuous production in 2009.

Louis Marx and Company acquired the rights to the Lilli doll from O&M Hausser and released it in America as the Miss Seventeen (doll) in 1961. Marx unsuccessfully attempted to sue Mattel for patent infringement.

Lilli became so popular in Germany that in 1958 a movie about her was produced: "Lilli - ein Mädchen aus der Großstadt" (Lilli — a girl from the big city). The star was chosen from a contest: Young women all over Germany sent their photographs to the Bild-Zeitung hoping for a career as a movie star. The winner was the Danish actress Ann Smyrner.

Lilli lent her name to several luxury products like scent, wine and rhinestone jewellery plus a flower.


  1. WAO.. that is amazing how Barbie's creation was inspired by Lilli from Germany. If we really think deeper, lots of things histories have something to do with Germany. Is Lilli still around?

  2. In the beginning Lilli was a German cartoon character, created by Reinhard Beuthien for the tabloid BILD NEWSPAPER (Zeitung) in Hamburg, ...