A Night at The Chelsea Hotel

While visiting a friend who was house-sitting in The Chelsea Hotel, he showed me a display of Bild Lilli dolls. I asked, “Why are these Barbies on display like this?” He told me they’re Bild Lilli’s, not Barbies, and continued to tell me the story.

Bild Lilli dolls are based on a German cartoon character named Lilli. The cartoonist, Reinhold Beuthin, was asked to create filler for spaces between articles in the German newspaper, Bild Zeitung. Some could say she was a tongue-in-cheek character of a gold-digging floozy, often drawn on men’s laps or in partially clothed poses.

But the toy-maker who created her, Rolf Hausser, described her as “symbolic of her time. She was sexy, young, innocent, fresh,” he said, “She was independent but, and this is most important, no one could say she wasn’t a virgin.”

Soon after her creation, Bild Lilli dolls became wildly popular in the late 1950’s. Customers paid top dollar to have personalized dolls made with modern fashions. Toy shops couldn’t keep them on the shelves. At least until Ruth and Eliot Handler, with their children, Barbara and Ken, saw the dolls in a window while on vacation.

Needless to say, in true American capitalistic ugliness, the co-founders of Mattel stole the idea, made a knock-off, and acquired the rights to the doll. German production stopped, and the blonde-bombshell doll got a new identity.

A Night at The Chelsea Hotel are 16x20 silver gelatin fiber prints.

Using Format