September
27th 2008
Diahann Carroll dishes on race, performing, and the “Julia” Barbie

Posted under: American history, art, Dolls, race, women's history

Diahann Carroll was interviewed on NPR Friday afternoon to promote her book, The Legs are the Last to Go, and the interviewer reminded me of a famous fact in Barbie history:  Carroll’s television show Julia (1968-71) which was the first TV show to star an African American woman who wasn’t a domestic, was the inspiration for a 1968 “Julia” Barbie doll.  Carroll played a nurse whose husband had been killed in the Vietnam War, and who was a single parent of a young son.  The Barbie shown above is the “Talking Julia” doll, and on the right is a picture of the “Julia” vintage lunchbox.  The interview with Carroll was really interesting–she of course still is gorgeous, and it’s hard to believe she’s been around for more than fifty years.

The larger image above is from here, where the depicted doll is for sale!  She still talks, although her hair has oxidized to a strange red that most definitely is not original.  And, dig that jumpsuit!  (I used to have a “Dawn” doll with a similar getup from a few years later, only with turquoise mules instead of the sensible tan ones on “Julia.”)

12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Diahann Carroll dishes on race, performing, and the “Julia” Barbie”

  1. Indyanna on 27 Sep 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    That’s a great graphic. Hard to believe anybody is still around after fifty years! My (next) memoir is going to be titled _When the Legs DO Go, You’re Finished in an Open-Stack Research Library_. And my pap always said without sensible mules, the farm just won’t operate, but I’m scanning these pictures in vain to see any. Will probably require still another fifty years of dilligent vo-cabulary work down at the Vo-Tech, I’m thinking. :)

  2. Rose on 27 Sep 2008 at 5:32 pm #

    Oh! Dawn dolls! I’m having a flashback! You don’t still have one, do you, Historiann? I can’t remember what they looked like, exactly, but I remember that they were considerably smaller than Barbie.

    BTW–was there a non-talking Julia doll that came dressed in a white nurse’s dress? I have a vague memory of having one of those, too…

    Someday I’m gonna have to blog on my Miss America Barbie, which was signed by Miss A. herself.

  3. Knitting Clio on 28 Sep 2008 at 6:22 am #

    I had Dawn dolls — there are probably still some lurking in my parents’ basement somewhere. Yes, they were about 2/3 the size of Barbies and less expensive as well.

    Speaking of talking dolls — anyone besides me out there have a Mrs. Beasley doll? Mine doesn’t talk anymore but I still have her.

  4. Historiann on 28 Sep 2008 at 8:16 am #

    Rose–yes, I still have a Dawn doll. It not only was tiny compared to Barbie, it also had a short hairdo into the 1970s, after Barbie had switched over to only long hairstyles. I thought I was the only one who remembered Dawn dolls–they never really rivaled Barbie, did they?

    And KC–you keep promising a Mrs. Beasley photo–when will you post it!

    Indyanna: I guess age and infirmity will lead me to appreciate libraries that have closed stacks!

  5. Indyanna on 28 Sep 2008 at 11:12 am #

    Closed-stack provides paging opportunities for people, some of whom turn into important scholars themselves, so there’s that, but they’re hell on serendip. My favorite hybrid was the old Huntington before the renovations, which was closed stack for the boxcars of the old man’s book acquisitions that were the collections. But they also had a vast multi-room “reference collection” that would keep a small university’s humanities departments in business for years. You could get lost in there for days on end.

    But, this is a dolls thread, so enuf on that!

  6. prof bw on 28 Sep 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    wow I had no idea they made a “Diahann Carroll” Barbie! We didn’t have black barbies where I group up so . . . fascinating. :D

  7. Historiann on 28 Sep 2008 at 4:13 pm #

    Prof bw–glad you liked it! And how ridiculous is it that a TV show starring a black woman as the main character would still be something remarkable now? (How long has it been since “Living Single” was on? “Wanda” was funny, but it came and went so quickly…)

    And Rose–I forgot to say that yes, there is a Julia nurse’s uniform. I was going to post a photo of that, but I couldn’t find it again via google images…I’ll see if I can hunt it down later.

  8. Santa Baby… : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 06 Dec 2008 at 9:47 am #

    [...] Rose at Romantoes, a whole posse of Dawn dolls outfitted for [...]

  9. Raye Craig on 02 Jan 2009 at 5:32 am #

    Historiann: I have a book with a photo of the Julia Doll in her nurses uniform. Would you like me to scan it?

    I had a Chrissie doll, which was essentially the same doll as Julia. My mother bought it for me one day, along with a brunette flip Barbie and the fold out house. No reason, it wasn’t my birthday.

    I just heard the NPR interview with Diahann Carroll. She sounds great; full of life as ever.

    Later, when we moved to Alabama, where my parents were born and raised, being a white child with a black doll became an issue for some people. It was 1970. Up to that point I’d lived on integrated miltary bases and attended integrated schools. I didn’t get it, and still don’t, but soon learned to be protective of Chrissie.

    Then, less conroversially, I had a trio of Dawn dolls and a ‘Dawn’s fashion show’ set, which was a turntable bi-sected by a cardboard stage. There were moving pegs for the holes in the dolls’ feet.

    My younger sister got the instant puberty Skipper. I tried to describe that to someone once… They couldn’t imagine such a thing. Freaky as it was, at least it wasn’t a Baby Alive… :)

  10. Historiann on 02 Jan 2009 at 6:29 am #

    Hi Raye–Baby Alive! I remember her! I was so envious of friends who had her, until I saw how messy and unimpressive it really was. Thanks for stopping by to comment–very interesting story about your Chrissie doll. (She sounds really familiar–I may have had one too, or just have played with her at friends’ houses.)

    If you do a search of “Dawn dolls” on this blog, I think you’ll come up with a few more posts on dolls. Dolls are items of personal fascination and nostalgia–not something I deal with professionally or have any insight or training about restoration.

  11. Raye Craig on 02 Jan 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    Hi back, Historiann,

    Thank you so much for taking time to reply.

    I realized immediately that this blog is only incidently about dolls. And cakes! I love the eclectic girlie stuff in amongst some very serious history and socio-political posts.

    I’m not so much a doll person either. I have a few, but only those that evoke nice memories for me. In most cases, seeing pictures of them and taking part in the occasional nostalgic conversation is enough: I’m not compelled to acquire all the ones I can remember.

    Baby Alive was a weird combination of fun and disgusting. (My sister got one.) The ‘food’ she came with was about enough. After having to deal with the little diapers a few times, for us at least, the thrill was gone.

    Perhaps we’re of a similar age, and therefore things that catch your eye are also of interest to me. I am fascinated by history, and appalled by the past eight years of misgovernment. This site is so me…and I’ll be browsing through your archives with great interest and enjoyment. :)

    I did find a site with some useful tips on dealing with my vintage doll. It calls for a thorough disinfectant to kill the bacteria that are feeding on the aldehydes released as the 1930′s hard plastic slowly breaks down. (I like chemistry, too!) The process won’t be pretty…

    If the Julia pic is of interest to you, I’d be happy to send it. She is seated in her uniform next to Chrissie, in the very mod townhouse my mom gave me.

    I think that far from being capricious, these artifacts do have a place in historical narratives, and sometimes provide insights/perspective into where our heads were during that time. Childrens’ culture, while arguably a force unto itself, can’t be entirely separate from the wider adult world.

    I remember Chrissie with huge affection. I don’t think my mother was trying to make a political statement by giving it to me, but down south it certainly turned into one. I recall even back then, when some grownup was being audibly ugly about my doll, thinking “Hey, I’m just a kid. I don’t need this.” Many things were a mystery to me (still are!) but I simply never doubted that I was right and they were wrong.

    Very Best Wishes for your continued success in all that you do! :D

    Raye

  12. Dana on 23 Jul 2009 at 9:23 am #

    The Mattel Julia was available in two nurse outfits and one formal outfit. Please see this Doll Reference website.

    I had the Julia doll in the one-piece nurse outfit. Her hair oxidized – turned an old red hue. Some brunette Casey dolls hair as well as some of the Colored Francie dolls hair, did the same thing.

    My younger sister had Baby Alive and Baby Chrissy. Me, I always prefered the fashion dolls so I had the Barbies, Maddie Mods, Chrissys, Tuesday Taylor, G.I. Joes.

    On my blog, I write about fashion dolls and action figures, current and past. Please stop by … I’d love to share photos and stories with anyone with even a passing interest in dolls ;-D

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