Introduction: Dolls for Boys

Above: Some of my Mego doll collection including DC Comics and Marvel heroes from the Official World's Greatest Superheroes series. They're hanging out with the first Mego I ever owned, the Fonz (sitting bottom left).  These specific Mego dolls were made between 1973 and 1982.

Dolls for Boys

Admittedly, I still get a bit embarrassed calling my Mego's "dolls" but they are what they are, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. It's somewhat foolish actually, that there is still such a strong stigma associated to the word "doll" that makes it socially taboo to suggest it is okay for boys to play with dolls. It's as though society is in denial that boys have been playing with dolls since 1964 when Hasbro's 12 inch G.I. Joe series was introduced. (Source: Tomart's Price Guide to Action Figure Collectibles, 1992 edition)

An original 12 inch G.I. Joe doll by Hasbro, made between the late 1960's and late 1970's.

Hasbro coined the term "action figure" to market their G.I.Joe dolls as they wanted to avoid using the word "doll", and keep parents from being worried about buying their son a doll to play with. Oddly enough the marketing strategy worked! Today, more than 50 years later, these types of dolls for boys are still often marketed as "action figures", and are only occasionally called dolls. It's interesting that the comic book adds of the 1970s for Mego's Official World's Greatest Superheroes collection were not afraid to use the word doll. Due to the success of their 8 inch dolls for boys, Mego went on to become the leading toy company of that era.

This is a DC Comics ad for Mego Superhero "dolls" that appeared in comic books in 1976. 
See more Mego doll adds here:

During the 1960s and 1970s toy companies produced a wide variety of dolls for boys based on characters from popular TV shows, movies and comic books such as: DC Comics and Marvel superheroes (by Mego), The Lone Ranger (by Gabriel), Six Million Dollar Man, Star Wars (both by Kenner), Universal Studios Monsters (by Remco), Planet of the Apes, Star Trek (both by Mego), Evil Knievel (by Ideal), Welcome Back Kotter (by Mattel), and Happy Days (by Mego). Some companies followed Hasbro's example and developed their own male action doll characters, such as Mattel's Big Jim and Matchbox's Fighting Furies. Even sports celebrities such as Bobby Orr and Mohammad Ali were marketed as dolls for boys.

These 12 inch dolls of the Six Million dollar Man and Oscar Goldman, made by Kenner from 1975 to 1977, were very popular in their time. Today they have become highly sought after collectors items.

Boy's dolls are typically offered in a series with several characters to collect. A popular series will often include doll sized vehicles, playsets or other accessories. Over the last 50 years numerous dolls have been produced for boys in various formats, including 8 inch, 12 inch and 18 inch dolls. These include such popular licenses as Michael Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Dukes of Hazzard, Street Fighter II, Action Man, Max Steel, wrestling characters, Starting Lineup (based on sports celebrities), The Crow, Nightmare on Elm Street, Lord of the Rings, The Real Ghostbusters, and many others... the list goes on and on.

Mattel's 8 inch Retro Action "The Real Ghostbusters" dolls produced in 2010.

It's a misconception that dolls for boys always come with a miniature gun or weapon. While this is common, it's not the rule. For example, the majority of the 8 inch Mego and 9 inch Big Jim dolls from the 1970s did not come with guns or weapons. None the less, these dolls for boys still have a very distinct "cool" factor.

Many of the most popular 8 inch Mego dolls from the 1970's were sold without a weapon. Shown here are Robin and the Joker from the World's Greatest Super-Heroes series.

Despite generations of boys playing with dolls, and the commercial popularity of this type of toy, there has yet to be an Armageddon. So why the stigma about the word "doll" when talking about toys for boys? ...I dunno? I guess some people just don't like the "D" word!

Perhaps it's because so many people still incorrectly associate dolls with girls toys such infant baby dolls dressed in frilly outfits, or Barbie fashion dolls with rooted doll hair. These are the types of toys that were traditionally attributed to the the word "doll". In this light many guys would certainly find it emasculating to admit to playing with dolls. In reality however, the genre of doll collecting has become far more diverse. Today, a boy's doll can be just as macho or masculine as any standard action figure.

Toy Biz produced this 9 inch doll of Wolverine in 1999, based on the character from Marvel Comics.

This, of course, leads to the debate about gender equality. For example, it's now become more accepted for girls to be into superheroes, comic books, and action figures... areas which were traditionally for boys only... yet it is still not as accepted for boys to be interested in toys that were traditionally for girls, such as fashion dolls or Barbies. This is a double standard no matter how you look at it!

In fact, when it comes to defining gender roles it's been my experience that some women can be just as sexist as some men! Though it goes without saying that guys can be quite judgmental of each other in regards to what defines being masculine. Although times are changing to some degree, many guys still hold a very outdated expectation that men shouldn't show emotion or do anything that would make them appear "soft". Therefore to some "playing with dolls" is to be avoided, but "playing with action figures" is okay... even if the action figure is actually a doll. As such, dolls for boys often fall into a grey zone between what is perceived as being masculine and what isn't. Strange how the male ego works at times!

Mattel, it seems, has been aware of this grey zone since the 1990s when they started marketing their Barbie and Ken fashion dolls not just to girls, but to collectors in general. The famous dolls have been reincarnated as characters from TV shows and movies such as Star Trek, X-Files, Lord of the Rings, Speed Racer and Superman Returns. Barbie and Ken have even become bikers for a series of Harley Davidson collectable dolls. Clearly there is a large enough base of male collectors, in addition to their traditional female collectors, for Mattel to pursue marketing these types of dolls.

Mattel's Harley Davidson Ken doll, version No. 2, made in 1999

However fashion dolls become more geared toward girls when the licensing aspect is removed. For example, Bratz Boyz dolls are not targeted toward boys in any way as they are sold in the "girl doll" isle, but you can be certain that I'm not the only guy on the planet who collects them. The producers of these dolls, MGA, are likely aware of the Bratz Boyz male following too, otherwise they would never have sold a Motorcycle toy with a Bratz Boyz doll. Instead the Motorcycle would have been sold with a female Bratz doll. (It's quite interesting to note that quite some time later, the same Bratz motorcycle toy was reissued in three different colours, red, light blue, and white, each with a Bratz girl as the driver in place of the boy.) Unfortunately, Ken dolls that are meant to be Ken and not some other character are still considered as girls toys and sold in the "girl doll" isles, whereas the collectable Ken dolls are generally displayed in a different location with other collectable dolls, such as at the end of an isle or in a special display case.

This Bratz Boyz motorcycle set introduced Cade as a new character for the popular series of 10 inch fashion dolls, first introduced by the MGA toy company in 2002.

The interesting thing about fashion dolls is that, aside from the isle they are sold in and the character they depict, they are no different than many boys dolls. In fact in 1979 Mattel used the muscular arms from their Big Jim doll to make their "Sport and Shave" Ken doll. These dolls, along with Mattel's "Welcome Back Kotter" TV show dolls, also shared the same shoes and accessories, such as a basketball or dumbbells. Mattel's "Mork & Mindy", "Welcome Back Kotter", and "Space 1999" dolls for boys used the same doll bodies as the "Sunshine Family" dolls for girls. In the early 1990s when Hasbro began re-introducing their "G.I. Joe" dolls, they used similar doll bodies from their previously produced "New Kids on the Block" dolls. Hasbro's "Street Fighter" and "Star Wars" doll series also used the New Kids on the Block style doll body. So in truth there is often little difference between fashion dolls and "boys dolls".

Mattel's Sport and Shave Ken from 1979 used Big Jim's arms.
Big Jim dolls were made between 1971 and 1986.

Some would argue that the articulation of a doll is the key to determining if a doll is meant for a boy or a girl. The argument is that if a doll was made so that it can be posed, with many joints to allow a wide range of positions, it is intended to be a large size action figure rather than a doll. Personally, I find this debate rather silly. If the toy has doll-sized removable cloth clothing, and removable doll-sized shoes or boots, and maybe even a tiny doll-sized hat or helmet, then what you have is a doll. The amount of joints the doll has doesn't change anything. There are of course some toys that can be classified as either a doll or action figure, such as a figure that has sculpted, painted on clothing but also has a fabric jacket on top. I agree that such a toy is in the grey area and can be called either an action figure or doll. But the fact still remains it is an action figure with a doll jacket!

This 6 inch action figure was made by Toy Biz in 1999 and depicts the WWF wrestling character Sting. It came with a removable doll jacket which arguably makes this toy a doll. Toy Biz also made a 9 inch doll of Sting with a removable jacket and costume.

If the doll itself is depicting a male or female character, this too is irrelevant. There is nothing wrong with boys or girls playing with whatever type of doll they want, from G.I Joe to Princess Leia. Product wise they are essentially the same thing anyways, so what's the fuss? It all comes down to the personal preference of the kid playing with the doll, or the doll collector with shelf after shelf filled with their favourite dolls and characters. This blog mainly features dolls that were produced as "dolls for boys", but some other male character dolls such as Bratz Boyz, Disney dolls and celebrity fashion dolls have made their way into my collection, along with a few female dolls.

Here is a variety of Star Wars dolls. The first two, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, are from the 1990s and the last one, Han Solo, is from the 1970s. This Princess Leia doll was made in the style of a Barbie fashion doll yet it was marketed for male and female collectors alike. To my knowledge, this is the only time dolls of Princess Leia and Luke were made with these specific outfits, which are based on the final scene of the original 1977 movie.

The year 2014 marked 50 years since toy companies began producing dolls especially for boys to play with! Therefore, the assumption that dolls are too effeminate for a boy to own or collect is quite an outdated one. It's also quite foolish for companies that produce dolls today (such as Hot Toys which makes amazingly lifelike dolls of characters from pop-culture) to try and distance themselves from the word doll, as such a strategy only diminishes the art of creating dolls while stigmatizing the very market that they are trying to reach or develop.

So to all the guys out there who are too macho and insecure to accept the obvious about their "retro cloth action figures", and to all the guys who aren't and simply know an awesome toy when they see one, have fun with your dolls!

Photos and text © Mike Artelle 2010, 2014