For years, the most innovative feature on a doll was a pair of eyes that would open and close depending on whether the figure was sitting up or laying down. But as the 20th century wore on, consumers wanted more from their plastic playthings—more lifelike features, more interactivity, and more bodily functions.
Some, like Kenner’s pants-soiling Baby Alive, went on to become gigantic hits. But other dolls with unique traits were relegated to the unwanted toy bin of history.
Dolls that simulate working digestive and urinary tracts are nothing unusual, but the Tub & Toot was eerily specific. The doll would pass gas only when submerged in water, creating a satisfying (for someone) bubble effect as it unleashed the remnants of an imaginary bean and broccoli diet. Retail giant Toys ‘R Us offered Tub & Toot as a store exclusive in 2013. The store filed for bankruptcy in 2017. These facts feel related.
In 1975, Mattel expanded their Barbie line with the addition of Skipper, Barbie’s younger sister. The Skipper doll could “grow from a young girl to a teenager in seconds.” In practical terms, this meant a child could use Skipper’s arm as a lever to not only make the doll grow 0.75 inches taller—but develop breasts. The doll was lambasted by the National Organization for Women (NOW), which dubbed it “the worst example of wretched excess to appear on the toy counters this year.” Mattel did not offer a similar feature for Ken.
When Mattel wasn’t busy with Barbie, they were brainstorming methods to create young germophobes. Bless You Baby Tender Love was a charming tyke circa the 1970s that would leak snot from her nose and even sneeze. Her ailment went unspecified, though she demonstrated no other upper respiratory symptoms. You can see an asymptomatic Baby Tender Love in the commercial above.
In 1980, Fisher-Price debuted Baby Soft Sounds, a cherub-cheeked doll that would spout babble when held and cuddled and then begin to act out in a mild tantrum when ignored. “Put her down and she fusses for more attention,” the company promised. “And after a bit, she just quiets down. Now isn’t that like a real baby?” The obnoxious child seemed to foreshadow other take-care-of-me-or-else playthings like Tamagotchi. As if to anticipate complaints of harassment, Fisher-Price was quick to point out the doll’s voice box could be removed.
Have you ever considered what you might do if you had to enter witness protection with your doll? In the 1970s, kids never had to worry. That’s because Kenner’s Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces came with an extensive set of disguises. A variety of wigs, sideburns, facial hair, scars, noses, and even fangs allowed Hugo to blend in no matter the circumstances. Devoid of any features, the “real” Hugo resembled a maniacal Telly Savalas.
Some dolls are content to lounge on beds and settle into their role as a dependent. Others, like My Pretty Ballerina, had big dreams. Released in 1990, Tyco’s doll could pirouette on its tiptoes, practicing its dance moves endlessly—or at least until its batteries ran out. This seems innocuous until you see how disturbing it is for My Pretty Ballerina to balance itself. The doll appears to be practicing how to sneak up on you.
On the surface, Mattel’s Sally Secrets presents as a nondescript doll. Interact with her, however, and she’ll begin spewing stickers from her stomach, an incongruous feature that makes her more of a vending machine than a figurine. The toy was a hit in 1993 but didn’t stick.
In 1995, Mattel assigned hygiene duties for Ken to kids. His facial stubble could be lathered and shaved under warm water, at which point it would disappear from his face. At room temperature, it would begin to sprout again, proving that Ken has more testosterone than any razor could reasonably be expected to handle.
Another doll that seems predestined to be possessed by the soul of a killer, Baby Secret was a 1966 Mattel offering that spoke in a chilling whisper while its lips moved—all the better to develop a bond with its human friends.
Of all the dolls listed here, Ideal’s Flatsies have managed to incite collector interest. But their feature is still peculiar: the dolls are two-dimensional. Introduced in 1966, they appear to have been compressed with a spatula so owners can hide them in books, under pillows, or anywhere you wouldn’t otherwise expect to find a doll.