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BARBIE — SIMPLY FABULOUS AT 50! | Dec 4 – Jul 5

Still sparkling at age 50, Barbie hasn’t slowed down one bit. She can still pilot a spaceship, perform brain surgery, and run for president — all in one afternoon.

Mattel introduced Barbie, the Teenage Fashion Model, in 1959. Photo courtesy of Mattel Inc.

Mattel introduced Barbie, the Teenage Fashion Model, in 1959. Photo courtesy of Mattel Inc.

Mattel introduced Barbie in 1959, and she has captivated little girls ever since. The new exhibit Barbie — Simply Fabulous at 50!, opening Friday, Dec. 4, at the N.C. Museum of History, commemorates the half-century anniversary of the world’s most popular doll. Beginning with a first-edition Barbie, this small exhibit offers glimpses of the history and evolution of the American icon and business phenomenon. A variety of stylish outfits, including five shown in Barbie’s first TV commercial in 1959, will be on view, along with her fab friends, sports cars and other items. Additionally, the exhibit features 16 personal and sometimes hilarious Barbie stories from North Carolinians across the state. Barbie — Simply Fabulous at 50! will run through July 5, 2010, in Raleigh. Admission is free.

Since 1959 over one billion Barbie dolls representing 50 nationalities have been sold in 150 countries. Why has this 11½-inch vinyl plastic doll remained so popular for a half century?

“Barbie has changed with the times to mirror women’s changing roles in society,” says Sandra Webbere, exhibit curator at the Museum of History. “She has evolved from a teenage fashion model to a career woman with professions ranging from a veterinarian to a NASCAR driver. Her early occupations reflected women’s limited opportunities, but now the sky is the limit, literally.”

And what girl can resist this fashionista’s dazzling wardrobe by world-famous designers, such as Bob Mackie, Versace and Vera Wang? Yet Barbie has more than beautiful clothes. She has it all — homes, campers, plus magazine, book and movie deals. (Even a shade of pink carries her name.) For some exhibit visitors, childhood memories will rush forth at the sight of her 1962 Austin Healey sports car, 1971 Sears Karosel Kitchen (that really revolves) and 1988 Magical Motor Home.

Of course, Barbie — Simply Fabulous at 50! features boyfriend Ken, a match made in toy heaven. The two met in 1961 and shared many adventures and careers during their 43-year courtship. (In 2004 Mattel announced they had decided to be “just friends.”) Along with other items, Barbie and Ken comic books and records from 1961 to 1963 recall their times together.

A variety of stylish outfits will be on exhibit. The first three in this photograph appeared in Barbie’s first TV commercial in 1959. Photo credit: N.C. Museum of History

A variety of stylish outfits will be on exhibit. The first three in this photograph appeared in Barbie’s first TV commercial in 1959. Photo credit: N.C. Museum of History

Adding a lively dimension to the exhibit are reminiscences and photographs from North Carolinians. Some stories may sound familiar, such as a Barbie scalped by a scissor-happy youngster. Others are extraordinary. Perhaps you heard about an amazing fish story that made headlines in 2008. While holding his granddaughter’s pink plastic Barbie rod and reel, David Hayes of Wilkes County caught a 21-pound catfish, breaking a state record. His struggle to land the 32-inch fish took 25 minutes.

Finally, a video component features five TV commercials from Barbie’s past. They range from the first one in 1959 to a Soccer Barbie commercial with Mia Hamm in 1998.

Barbie has accomplished many things in her lifetime, and she will continue to spark the imagination of little girls everywhere. Perhaps she sums up her success best on her Web site: “I’m simply plastic without you.”

For more information about the Museum of History, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org or Facebook. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol.

The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.

CELEBRATE FIRST FRIDAY WITH BARBIE

Join the fun during the First Friday Exhibit Reception on Friday, Dec. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. Enjoy refreshments and Barbie’s 50th birthday cake. Bring the kids to see the movie “Barbie in a Christmas Carol” at 7 p.m. in Daniels Auditorium. Come celebrate the opening of the new exhibit Barbie — Simply Fabulous at 50! Refreshments will also be available in the Museum Shop, where the annual sale for Museum Associates will be under way.

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