Introduction: Dolls for Boys

Above: Some of my Mego doll collection including DC Comics and Marvel heroes from the Official World's Greatest Superheroes series. They're hanging out with the first Mego I ever owned, the Fonz (sitting bottom left).  These specific Mego dolls were made between 1973 and 1982.

Dolls for Boys

Admittedly, I still get a bit embarrassed calling my Mego's "dolls" but they are what they are, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. It's somewhat foolish actually, that there is still such a strong stigma associated to the word "doll" that makes it socially taboo to suggest it is okay for boys to play with dolls. It's as though society is in denial that boys have been playing with dolls since 1964 when Hasbro's 12 inch G.I. Joe series was introduced. (Source: Tomart's Price Guide to Action Figure Collectibles, 1992 edition)

An original 12 inch G.I. Joe doll by Hasbro, made between the late 1960's and late 1970's.

Hasbro coined the term "action figure" to market their G.I.Joe dolls as they wanted to avoid using the word "doll", and keep parents from being worried about buying their son a doll to play with. Oddly enough the marketing strategy worked! Today, more than 50 years later, these types of dolls for boys are still often marketed as "action figures", and are only occasionally called dolls. It's interesting that the comic book adds of the 1970s for Mego's Official World's Greatest Superheroes collection were not afraid to use the word doll. Due to the success of their 8 inch dolls for boys, Mego went on to become the leading toy company of that era.

This is a DC Comics ad for Mego Superhero "dolls" that appeared in comic books in 1976. 
See more Mego doll adds here:

During the 1960s and 1970s toy companies produced a wide variety of dolls for boys based on characters from popular TV shows, movies and comic books such as: DC Comics and Marvel superheroes (by Mego), The Lone Ranger (by Gabriel), Six Million Dollar Man, Star Wars (both by Kenner), Universal Studios Monsters (by Remco), Planet of the Apes, Star Trek (both by Mego), Evil Knievel (by Ideal), Welcome Back Kotter (by Mattel), and Happy Days (by Mego). Some companies followed Hasbro's example and developed their own male action doll characters, such as Mattel's Big Jim and Matchbox's Fighting Furies. Even sports celebrities such as Bobby Orr and Mohammad Ali were marketed as dolls for boys.

These 12 inch dolls of the Six Million dollar Man and Oscar Goldman, made by Kenner from 1975 to 1977, were very popular in their time. Today they have become highly sought after collectors items.

Boy's dolls are typically offered in a series with several characters to collect. A popular series will often include doll sized vehicles, playsets or other accessories. Over the last 50 years numerous dolls have been produced for boys in various formats, including 8 inch, 12 inch and 18 inch dolls. These include such popular licenses as Michael Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Dukes of Hazzard, Street Fighter II, Action Man, Max Steel, wrestling characters, Starting Lineup (based on sports celebrities), The Crow, Nightmare on Elm Street, Lord of the Rings, The Real Ghostbusters, and many others... the list goes on and on.

Mattel's 8 inch Retro Action "The Real Ghostbusters" dolls produced in 2010.

It's a misconception that dolls for boys always come with a miniature gun or weapon. While this is common, it's not the rule. For example, the majority of the 8 inch Mego and 9 inch Big Jim dolls from the 1970s did not come with guns or weapons. None the less, these dolls for boys still have a very distinct "cool" factor.

Many of the most popular 8 inch Mego dolls from the 1970's were sold without a weapon. Shown here are Robin and the Joker from the World's Greatest Super-Heroes series.

Despite generations of boys playing with dolls, and the commercial popularity of this type of toy, there has yet to be an Armageddon. So why the stigma about the word "doll" when talking about toys for boys? ...I dunno? I guess some people just don't like the "D" word!

Perhaps it's because so many people still incorrectly associate dolls with girls toys such infant baby dolls dressed in frilly outfits, or Barbie fashion dolls with rooted doll hair. These are the types of toys that were traditionally attributed to the the word "doll". In this light many guys would certainly find it emasculating to admit to playing with dolls. In reality however, the genre of doll collecting has become far more diverse. Today, a boy's doll can be just as macho or masculine as any standard action figure.

Toy Biz produced this 9 inch doll of Wolverine in 1999, based on the character from Marvel Comics.

This, of course, leads to the debate about gender equality. For example, it's now become more accepted for girls to be into superheroes, comic books, and action figures... areas which were traditionally for boys only... yet it is still not as accepted for boys to be interested in toys that were traditionally for girls, such as fashion dolls or Barbies. This is a double standard no matter how you look at it!

In fact, when it comes to defining gender roles it's been my experience that some women can be just as sexist as some men! Though it goes without saying that guys can be quite judgmental of each other in regards to what defines being masculine. Although times are changing to some degree, many guys still hold a very outdated expectation that men shouldn't show emotion or do anything that would make them appear "soft". Therefore to some "playing with dolls" is to be avoided, but "playing with action figures" is okay... even if the action figure is actually a doll. As such, dolls for boys often fall into a grey zone between what is perceived as being masculine and what isn't. Strange how the male ego works at times!

Mattel, it seems, has been aware of this grey zone since the 1990s when they started marketing their Barbie and Ken fashion dolls not just to girls, but to collectors in general. The famous dolls have been reincarnated as characters from TV shows and movies such as Star Trek, X-Files, Lord of the Rings, Speed Racer and Superman Returns. Barbie and Ken have even become bikers for a series of Harley Davidson collectable dolls. Clearly there is a large enough base of male collectors, in addition to their traditional female collectors, for Mattel to pursue marketing these types of dolls.

Mattel's Harley Davidson Ken doll, version No. 2, made in 1999

However fashion dolls become more geared toward girls when the licensing aspect is removed. For example, Bratz Boyz dolls are not targeted toward boys in any way as they are sold in the "girl doll" isle, but you can be certain that I'm not the only guy on the planet who collects them. The producers of these dolls, MGA, are likely aware of the Bratz Boyz male following too, otherwise they would never have sold a Motorcycle toy with a Bratz Boyz doll. Instead the Motorcycle would have been sold with a female Bratz doll. (It's quite interesting to note that quite some time later, the same Bratz motorcycle toy was reissued in three different colours, red, light blue, and white, each with a Bratz girl as the driver in place of the boy.) Unfortunately, Ken dolls that are meant to be Ken and not some other character are still considered as girls toys and sold in the "girl doll" isles, whereas the collectable Ken dolls are generally displayed in a different location with other collectable dolls, such as at the end of an isle or in a special display case.

This Bratz Boyz motorcycle set introduced Cade as a new character for the popular series of 10 inch fashion dolls, first introduced by the MGA toy company in 2002.

The interesting thing about fashion dolls is that, aside from the isle they are sold in and the character they depict, they are no different than many boys dolls. In fact in 1979 Mattel used the muscular arms from their Big Jim doll to make their "Sport and Shave" Ken doll. These dolls, along with Mattel's "Welcome Back Kotter" TV show dolls, also shared the same shoes and accessories, such as a basketball or dumbbells. Mattel's "Mork & Mindy", "Welcome Back Kotter", and "Space 1999" dolls for boys used the same doll bodies as the "Sunshine Family" dolls for girls. In the early 1990s when Hasbro began re-introducing their "G.I. Joe" dolls, they used similar doll bodies from their previously produced "New Kids on the Block" dolls. Hasbro's "Street Fighter" and "Star Wars" doll series also used the New Kids on the Block style doll body. So in truth there is often little difference between fashion dolls and "boys dolls".

Mattel's Sport and Shave Ken from 1979 used Big Jim's arms.
Big Jim dolls were made between 1971 and 1986.

Some would argue that the articulation of a doll is the key to determining if a doll is meant for a boy or a girl. The argument is that if a doll was made so that it can be posed, with many joints to allow a wide range of positions, it is intended to be a large size action figure rather than a doll. Personally, I find this debate rather silly. If the toy has doll-sized removable cloth clothing, and removable doll-sized shoes or boots, and maybe even a tiny doll-sized hat or helmet, then what you have is a doll. The amount of joints the doll has doesn't change anything. There are of course some toys that can be classified as either a doll or action figure, such as a figure that has sculpted, painted on clothing but also has a fabric jacket on top. I agree that such a toy is in the grey area and can be called either an action figure or doll. But the fact still remains it is an action figure with a doll jacket!

This 6 inch action figure was made by Toy Biz in 1999 and depicts the WWF wrestling character Sting. It came with a removable doll jacket which arguably makes this toy a doll. Toy Biz also made a 9 inch doll of Sting with a removable jacket and costume.

If the doll itself is depicting a male or female character, this too is irrelevant. There is nothing wrong with boys or girls playing with whatever type of doll they want, from G.I Joe to Princess Leia. Product wise they are essentially the same thing anyways, so what's the fuss? It all comes down to the personal preference of the kid playing with the doll, or the doll collector with shelf after shelf filled with their favourite dolls and characters. This blog mainly features dolls that were produced as "dolls for boys", but some other male character dolls such as Bratz Boyz, Disney dolls and celebrity fashion dolls have made their way into my collection, along with a few female dolls.

Here is a variety of Star Wars dolls. The first two, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, are from the 1990s and the last one, Han Solo, is from the 1970s. This Princess Leia doll was made in the style of a Barbie fashion doll yet it was marketed for male and female collectors alike. To my knowledge, this is the only time dolls of Princess Leia and Luke were made with these specific outfits, which are based on the final scene of the original 1977 movie.

The year 2014 marked 50 years since toy companies began producing dolls especially for boys to play with! Therefore, the assumption that dolls are too effeminate for a boy to own or collect is quite an outdated one. It's also quite foolish for companies that produce dolls today (such as Hot Toys which makes amazingly lifelike dolls of characters from pop-culture) to try and distance themselves from the word doll, as such a strategy only diminishes the art of creating dolls while stigmatizing the very market that they are trying to reach or develop.

So to all the guys out there who are too macho and insecure to accept the obvious about their "retro cloth action figures", and to all the guys who aren't and simply know an awesome toy when they see one, have fun with your dolls!

A Chronological list of "Boys Dolls"

1915 Raggedy Andy dolls are made as the "boy doll" companion for Raggedy Anne

1964 Hasbro introduces G.I Joe 12 inch dolls, known as Action Man in Europe.

1965 Gilbert debuts their 12 inch James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E doll series. In 1967 the Gilbert toy company is purchased by Gabriel Industries.

1965 Louis Marx and Company debuts their Best of the West series of 12 inch action figures which have removable plastic costume pieces and accessories.

c1965 By the mid 1960's Mattel had an assortment of talking dolls and puppets that depicted popular characters such as Bugs Bunny, Bozo the Clown, Herman Muster, and Woody Woodpecker.

1966 Ideal produces Captain Action and several costume sets

c1967 Mattel produces Captain Laser, a 12 inch action figure which they later reissue in 1978 for the Battlestar Galactica 12 inch figure of the Colonial Warrior. The Body was also used for the 12 inch Cylon.

1967 Mattel produces dolls based on the Doctor Doolittle movie, including a 6 inch bendy doll with fabric clothes, and an 19 inch talking doll.

1971 Mego debuts their 8 inch Action Jackson doll which sells poorly forcing the company to rebrand the doll. They reuse parts from existing stock to create the "World's Greatest Super Heroes" doll series in 1972. The first four dolls are based on DC Comics characters Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman. Throughout the decade many additional superheroes are added to the line including both DC and Marvel Comics heroes, as well as Tarzan, Conan, and Isis. Mego also produces many additional 8 inch doll collections based on Planet of the Apes (1973), Star Trek (1974), Mad Monsters (1974), American West (1974), Tex Willer (1974), Jet Jungle (1974), Ultraman Leo (1974), World's Greatest Pirates (1974), Robin Hood (1974), Wizard of Oz (1974), Super Knights (1975), One Million Years BC (1975), The Waltons (1975), Fist Fighting Superheroes (1975), Casshan (1976), Happy Days (1976), Starsky and Hutch (1976), Our Gang (1976), Space 1999 (1976), Teen Titans (1977), Zorro (1977), Chips (1978), and Dukes of Hazzard (1981). Beginning in 2004 the Figures Toy Company begins reissuing several of Mego's doll collections, and in 2013 began reissuing the DC Comics superheroes dolls. In 2008 Dr. Mego and EMCE Toys began reissuing the Mego Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and more recently Marvel superhero dolls.

1971 Mego introduces their 12 inch male fashion doll series "Broadway Joe Namath", based on a celebrity football player. This is quite possibly the first instance of a doll being based on an celebrity athlete.

1971 Mattel debuts their 9 inch Big Jim doll series which is produced until 1986. Collections within the Big Jim series include dolls based on Tarzan, Grizzly Adams, How the West Was Won, and Karl May. Big Jim's P.A.C.K. dolls were also introduced in 1976.

c1973 In the early 1970's the R Dakin company produced 8 inch to 10 inch dolls based on cartoon characters including those from Disney, Luney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and many others. A 10 inch Disney Pinocchio doll similar in style to the Dakin doll was later produced by Applause in the late 1990's.

c1975 During the1970's the Knickerbocker toy company produces their Snoopy and Belle dolls which are similar to the cartoon Dakin dolls only larger. Similar Snoopy dolls are later reissued by Another Determined Production in the early 1980's and the Tonner doll company in 2015.

1973 Gabriel begins producing their exceptional Lone Ranger 10 inch doll series which also includes two 8.5 inch dolls. The bodies for the 8.5 inch dolls are later reused for "The Boy" doll in Gabriel's Lassie toy series (1976). The Ideal toy company later uses the same 8.5 body for the Dave Seville doll in the Alvin and the Chipmunks series (1983).

1974 Mattel debuts the Sunshine Family collection of dolls marketed for girls. The male doll body from this series is later reused to produce dolls marketed for boys including Welcome Back Kotter (1976), Space 1999 (1976), and Mork and Mindy (1980).

1975 Regal Toy produces the 12 inch Bobby Orr doll. The head is soon changed making two distinct variations of the doll.

1975 Kenner produces their 12 inch Six Million Dollar Man doll series followed in 1976 by the Bionic Woman doll series.

c1975 In the mid to late 1970's Mego offered their 18 inch plush toy Softies dolls which included Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Lone Ranger and Wizard of Oz characters.

1976 Hasbro debuts 9 inch Super Joe line

1976 Remco produces the McDonaldland character doll series which has both 6 inch and 7.5 inch dolls. Each doll, with exception of Grimace, has a lever on the back to control the doll's head. In 2008 Huckleberry Toys reissued the dolls without the lever on the back.

1976 Mego debuts 9.5 inch dolls with collections based on Flash Gordon (1976), Doctor Who (1976), Steve Goalgetter (1977), Franz Beckenbauer (1977), Kristy McNichol (1977)

1976 Mego produces 9 inch Muhammad Ali dolls.

1976 Mego debuts their 12 inch male and female fashion dolls with the Sonny and Cher series. Additional 12 inch dolls include the Richie fashion doll line (1976), Captain and Tennille (1977), The New Avengers (1977), Superman doll series (1978), Batman and Robin (1978), Wonder Woman doll series (1978) Spider-Man, Hulk and Captain America (1978), Kiss (1978), Laverne and Shirley (1978), Moonraker (1979), Buck Rogers (1979), Mighty Mightor (1979), Star Trek the Motion Picture (1980), Black Hole (1980), and Jordache male and female fashion dolls (1981).

1976 Knickerbocker introduced their Sesame Street rag dolls of Ernie and Bert which are available in several different sizes, from 4 inches to 25 inches. The dolls become very popular toys for both boys and girls.

1978 Kenner produces the 12 inch Star Wars doll and action figure series, with some of the action figures being . Han Solo is added to the series in 1979, and the doll body is reused that same year to produce the Hardy Boys doll series. The Han Solo doll, with the same head sculpt, is later reused in 1982 to produce the Indiana Jones doll based on the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

1979 Mattel produces a Sport and Shave Ken 12 inch doll which reuses the arms and shoes from their 9 inch Big Jim doll series. Additional Ken dolls are also made using the Big Jim arms.

1979 Knickerbocker produces Star Trek the Motion Picture 13 inch plush dolls with plastic heads.

1980 ERTL produces the Wrangler cowboy 12 inch fashion doll

1981 Knickerbocker produces a series of four Sesame Street poseable dolls that are 5 and 6 inches tall.

1983 Galoob produces a 12 inch Inspector Gadget doll

1983 Galoob produces a 12 inch Mr.T doll which is available in talking and non talking format.

1985 Hasbro produces Fido Dido 13 inch rag dolls

1986 Hasbro introduces their Jem and the Holograms doll series which includes the male character Rio.

1986 Mattel introduces Real Men, as series of finger puppet dolls based on sports including football, soccer, boxing and skateboarding. The set also included a female cheerleader.

1986 Mattel introduces Barbie and the Rockers as competition for Hasbro's Jem doll series.

1987 Mattel introduces their Spectra 12 inch fashion doll series which includes one male character, Tom Comet. The same doll body was reused for many ken dolls including Hot Skatin' Ken/Winter Sports Ken (1997), Olympic Skater Ken (1997), Harley Davidson Ken dolls (1998 and 1999), Grand Ole Opry Ken (1999), 40th Anniversary Ken (2001), Lord of the Rings Legolas and Aragorn dolls (2004), Speed Racer (2008), the Ken Fashionistas series (2009) and many others. The same doll body was also used for the male dolls in the My Scene toy line (2003) however the hands and feet were made larger to match with the larger doll heads used in that series.

1990's During the 1990's Mattel produced several doll series based on Disney princesses and their male companions including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and Peter Pan (1997) among others.

1991 Hasbro reintroduces 12 inch G.I Joe dolls to the market once again using a completely redesigned doll body. The new male doll body is used for numerous doll collections including Street Fighter II (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Action Man (1995), Star Wars (1996), Batman & Robin movie (1997), Terminator 2 (1997), Planet of the Apes (1998), Universal Studios Monsters (1998), and Planet of the Apes Movie (2001).

1993 Marchon, makers of Grand Champions girl horse jokey dolls, produces two Frontier Riders male doll and horse sets which include a cowboy and an aboriginal doll. These 6 inch dolls were marketed for boys.

1994 Playmates produces an extensive series of 9 inch dolls based on all of the Star Trek TV programs and movies that had been made up until that point including Star Trek Voyager, and also marketed dolls based on new Star Trek movies as they were released in theaters.

c1995 Exclusive Premier produces several Mego inspired collections of 9 inch dolls including Happy Days, Dukes of Hazzard, Chips, Gilligan's Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Brady Bunch, Honeymooners, Munsters, Get Smart, Blues Brothers, Grease, Babylon 5, White Christmas, James Bond, and Casablanca. Their celebrity doll series include George Burns, Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy.

1996 Mattel release the Ken and Barbie two pack set based on the original Star Trek TV series.

1996 Equity Toys produced an 8 inch doll and a large talking doll based on the live action Pinocchio movie.

1997 Hasbro produces 12 inch Quest for Camelot dolls

1997 ToyBiz produces the Famous Covers 9 inch doll series based on Marvel Comics superheroes.

1998 Playmates produces 12 inch dolls based on the film Star Trek Insurrection. Additional 12 inch Star Trek dolls followed based on the various TV series and films.

1999 Hasbro produces a series of 9 inch DC Comics superhero dolls

1999 Toy Biz produces a series of 9 inch WWF Wrestling dolls as well as a series of smaller action figures with doll clothes as accessories, such as jackets or T-shirts.

1999 Wildstorm toy company produces 11.5 inch dolls based on Gen 13 comic books. These dolls have a unique stylized slim doll body.

1999 Breyer, markers of girl horse jokey dolls, includes some 7 inch cowboy dolls in their line of toys including a rodeo rider with a bucking horse.

1999 Mattel produces 12 inch fashion dolls and a 12 inch action figure style doll based on the Disney Tarzan movie.

1999 Toy Biz produces an extensive series of 10 inch action figures and dolls for their Marvel Universe series.

2000 Mattel debuts Max Steel 12 inch dolls to compete against Hasbro's Action Man.

2001 Toy Biz begins producing their series of 12 inch dolls based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

2002 Side Show Toys produces 12 inch dolls based on The Dark Crystal.

2003 Toy Biz produces two version of their Increadible Hulk 13 inch doll based on the movie.

2004 Mattel introduces Blaine as Barbie's new boyfriend. The doll reuses Ken's body. By 2008 Ken is back with a new face design and Blaine is out.

2004 Classic TV Toys, a division of Figures Toy Company, produces Mego style 8 inch dolls based on The Munsters and I Love Lucy.

2005 Mattel introduced a new fashion doll series circa 2005 called Monster High which had completely redesigned male and female dolls. Although this series would have appeal to boys as well as girl, oddly, Mattel is marketing the series exclusively to girls.

c2005 Disney Stores offer two 10 inch articulated dolls based on Nightmare Before Christmas

c2005 DC Comics offers an extensive series of 13 inch collectors dolls as part of the DC Direct collection.

2006 Hasbro introduces their 8 inch G.I Joe: Sigma 6 action figure series which have fabric accessories and costume pieces.

2006 Hasbro introduces their 9 inch doll series based on Marvel Comics superheroes and marketed under the titles Marvel Signature Series, Spider-Man Origins, and Marvel Legends.

2006 Mattel offers several different sized dolls based on the Superman Returns movie.

2009 Diamond Select produces a set of 19 inch Star Trek dolls based on Kirk and Spock.

2010 Mattel introduces the 8 inch Retro Action DC Heroes series which is based on Mego superhero dolls.

2012 Bif Bang Pow produces a series of 8 inch Mego style dolls based on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.

2013 Disney offers 12 inch dolls based on their new Lone Ranger film starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp.

2013 Breyer introduces a new 8 inch doll series that includes two male cowboy dolls.

2014 Mattel produces two 12 inch dolls based on the Divergent movie. The male doll, Four, has a more muscular doll body than Mattel's previous fashion dolls.

2014 The Figures Toy Company produces 8 inch Mego style dolls based on the 1966 Batman TV series.

Photos and text © Mike Artelle 2010, 2014