Lilli, no last name, was first introduced to the world in 1952. That was when the German tabloid Bild – today, Germany’s best-selling newspaper – began publication.
Lilli was slender, leggy, blonde and immoral. She appeared in one-panel cartoons which parodied German culture, as Lilli made no attempt to stick to traditional values. She used her body to get favors and was hesitant about marriage only because it would tie her down to one wealthy man instead of allowing her to siphon from many.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in Germany of the early 1950s, she was immensely popular. In a country looking for a distraction from postwar rebuilding and which had a history of being somewhat open about their sexual forays, the uninhibited Lilli became a star.
She even got her own merchandise.
The Bild Lilli doll was launched in 1955, and sold primarily to adult men at tobacco shops. She was articulated for posing, designed to fit onto a stand, and came with a tiny rolled-up issue of Bild in her hand.
The doll proved to be immensely popular… more than Lilli’s creator, Reinhard Beuthien, would ever have guessed possible.
In the late 1950s, a woman named Ruth Handler was visiting Hamburg and came across a Bild Lilli doll. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, she decided to be very flattering indeed. She went back to the U.S. and immediately started work on her own, only very slightly modified version of the Bild Lilli doll. She toned down the makeup and made the shoes and earrings removable, but other than that, the design stayed almost identical.
The marketing was what changed. The German tabloid Bild targeted Lilli to men young and old who might want to have the trashy hedonist posed on their desks. Ruth Handler targeted her “new” doll to young girls, instead… and Barbie made history.
Question of the night: What toys / action figures did you play with as a child?