Chatty Cathy dolls were a wildly popular Christmas gift in the sixties that bring fond (and some not so fond) memories.
Bunny said she pulled the cord out of her Chatty on Christmas Night; the ring was attached to a string that was connected to a phonograph record, driven by a metal coil. The record played eleven sayings in the original 1959 doll. Bunny’s dad, wearing a tea towel as a surgical mask, performed surgery the following morning on the kitchen table. Mother was the “nurse.” Such an operation must have been either frightening or fascinating for Bunny. She says she still associates the smell of burning plastic with Christmas.
Roberta got a Chatty Baby for Christmas, and, after watching the Three Stooges and all their hijinks on TV, poked her doll’s eyes into her head. Her mother sent her back to Mattel for repairs. Roberta says “I played with her for many years, though she stopped talking at some point and just growled when I pulled her string.” She adds “I also washed her hair at some point and it became un-brushable–like my own–perhaps worse.”
Susan says her sister got Chatty Cathy, but she got Thumbelina, a doll that moved like a real baby when you wound the knob on her back. Sadly, while Susan was at school, her sister wound the mechanism too tight and the doll stopped working. Susan says “I was heartbroken.”
My Chatty Cathy was by far my favorite gift. She was my best friend – it didn’t hurt that she looked eerily like me. I dressed her in her velveteen red coat with a white collar and matching headband, and carried her everywhere with me. I still have her.
Lucinda said her neighbor had a Chatty Cathy, but Lucinda wasn’t allowed to even touch it. (Sounds like her neighbor was a mean girl.) She got a Poor Pitiful Pearl doll instead. She loved the doll, but admitted Pearl looked curiously strange. The doll was created after a cartoon by New Yorker illustrator William Steig. This fact makes Pearl seem somehow sophisticated, despite her raggedy dress, doesn’t it? Maybe Lucinda’s parents read The New Yorker.
Cynthia K. wanted a Chatty Kathy, but she got a Betsy Wetsy and loved her just the same. My cousin Myrene also wanted a Chatty Cathy but says she got a knock off instead. She also lusted after cousin Patty’s talking Suzi Smart.
Not all girls’ favorite gifts were dolls. Jeanne’s favorite gift was a set of encyclopedias. Imagine that! Carol’s favorite gift was a big drum set. Tina’s was an organ. (I remember getting two toy pianos when I was five, delighted I had one for each hand.) Diane’s Aunt Betty gave her a stuffed purple poodle that she named Madam Morava. Dawn’s favorite present was twin pearl-handled Lone Ranger pistols. She says, “They were cap guns, and playing with explosives was fun!” They were so realistic you wouldn’t dare let a child run around outside with them today, but my older brother and his friends wore a path around the house playing cowboys with cap guns. Carolyn’s favorite gift was a pair of cowboy boots, but no cap guns. Michaela loved her Steiff toys.
Ruth got a Mrs. Beasley doll when she was too young to remember getting her, but she must have hung on to her for years because she says after she married, her grandmother took Mrs. Beasley back and gave her a new dress. “Grammy even made Mrs. B. a new pair of glasses.” An original talking Mrs. Beasley sells for close to $400.
Lauri got a Baby Pattaburp but her head fell off (hopefully surgery repaired her). Mariam loved her Petra doll. Kaye had a doll named Candy. She set her hair with sugar water. Jennifer still has her Tiny Tears.
My daughter still remembers the year she got a Baby Talk. I put the batteries in the doll and repackaged her. Danielle was surprised when she turned the box over to open it and heard a little voice from inside. Baby Talk had a Boston accent – she said “Turn me ovah.”
My mother saved the composite baby doll and carriage she got on the Christmas she was four, which would have been 1925. I have her now. The only sound she makes is a creak when her eyes open and close.
What do you remember as your favorite Christmas gift?
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
2015 Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
“With tenderness, but without blinking, Linda K. Sienkiewicz turns her eye on the predator-prey savannah of the young and still somehow hopeful.” ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, Deep End of the Ocean