While many are questioning the sexual identity of Ken in the new Barbie movie, there’s one studly disco-era male doll whose sexual identity has never been in doubt.
Before Ryan Gosling brought the famed male Ken doll to life on the silver screen opposite Margot Robbie in the new Barbie film which opened today, there was a very gay male doll name Gay Bob.
The Gay Bob doll came out of his closet in 1977 much to the displeasure of the right-wing culture warriors of the time, not just because Bob was out and proud but also because he came with a penis. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County detailed the history of Gay Bob and his girthy plastic male dollhood in a blog post. And an actual Gay Bob doll is featured in the Gay is Good collection at the Museum of the City of New York.
Available through mail-order catalogs and at select stores in San Francisco and New York City, the 13-inch-long (or tall depending upon how you measure these sorts of things) doll was the brainchild of Harvey Rosenberg, a straight advertising executive who invested $10,000 in his own money to kickstart the project.
Gay Bob wore a plaid flannel shirt, cuffed blue jeans, cowboy boots, with a gold chain around his neck and a leather man purse on one arm.
Both the packaging and the advertising of the Gay Bob doll were risqué and tongue-in-cheek. The box looked like an actual closet so Gay Bob came out of the closet every time he came out to play. The box also conveniently offered tips on “how to enjoy” Bob including taking him to parties (he knew “all the latest dance breaks”) and introducing him to the family because “mom will love talking to” him.
Gay Bob made his debut in a violent and deadly era for the LGBTQ+ community, coming less than ten years after the Stonewall Riot in 1969 and only a year before Harvey Milk would be assassinated in San Francisco in 1978. He was greeted with strong opposition from activists like Florida orange juice pitch person and former Miss America Anita Bryant.
Under such conditions, it was not surprising the doll slowly faded from view. The doll proved initially popular with collectors who snatched up the first production run. Another 10,000 were produced, but Rosenberg was never able to produce the promised line of Bob’s male friends or any of the clothing items that appeared in the clothing catalog that was included in Gay Bob’s closet box.
So while Ken’s sexual identity may or may not be in doubt, there’s never been a question about Gay Bob’s queer pride. And let’s just say where Barbie’s Ken doll is lacking, Gay Bob is packing. If you have any doubts, just look at the plastic appendage here.