Toy of the Week: California Ken


Over the summer, I wrote an article about the first Ken(s) I received, Roller Skating Ken. I also wrote about how those first Ken dolls lost limbs and eventually were so difficult and frustrating to play with that I ended up throwing them out. 

Unfortunately, there’s only so much Barbie can do without Ken in a social sense. At that time, most girls playing with Barbie dolls eventually wanted to take them out on a date or throw a wedding. What’s a wedding without a groom? 

So it was eventually time to get a new Ken and of all the male dolls on the shelf at that time, I picked California Ken. The face and head sculpt had not changed much in the six years between Roller Skating Ken and California Ken. He still had blond painted-on hair and blue eyes. However, he wasn’t coming apart as easily as his predecessors did, so that was nice. 

Why did I choose this toy? 

Well, his outfit is right in front of me on my shelf. When I dressed up one of my current model male dolls in Roller Skating Ken’s outfit, I also dressed up a male doll from the early Fashionista line in the clothes that came on California Ken. I’ve left him in this outfit for a while, hoping to find the fish necktie to complete the look, but that must have disappeared. 

When was this toy produced? 

California Ken has a 1987 date when I searched for him on Google, but I couldn’t find anything more specific than that. I didn’t need a specific date, but the ability to narrow it down to a season might have been nice. 

Is it still being produced (in some form)? 

Barbie and Ken have both had multiple makeovers in the years between playing with them in childhood and the dolls I have now as an adult collector. 

One of the biggest differences is with the higher-end dolls in the adult collecting line (referred to as “Looks”). Those dolls have full articulation from their heads to their feet.  

The dolls from the lower-priced Fashionistas line (such as this model) have straight limbs. Their articulation is only in their head movements. The Fashionista line dolls’ knees don’t even bend which makes seating them quite a challenge. 

Was there a cartoon? 

Not at that time. Cartoons came later and were mainly “direct-to-video” productions. Most of our Barbie storytelling “canon” came from the commercials we saw either after school or on Saturday mornings of other girls playing with what we thought was “their” Barbie dolls. 

However, this particular doll came with a mini-comic, much like the ones that were included with Masters of the Universe or Princess of Power dolls. 

Was there an established villain in the canon? 

Not at that time. Stories with antagonists appeared to come later. On the other hand, when my playgroup had a particularly domineering individual, they tended to appoint themselves the pot stirrer. I’ve mentioned previously that I was usually reluctant to buy “villain” characters. Purple Pieman, Misfit Stormer, and Count Chocula are as menacing as it gets in my toy collection. 

Where did I acquire this toy? 

From what I remember, it was the Kmart across the street from the strip mall that had our Hancock’s Fabrics in it. I have complicated feelings about Kmart both as a customer and as a former employee. 

The Kmart we shopped at when I was very young (for things like socks and underwear) had that weird liminal lighting where it could look like nighttime at 2:00 in the afternoon during Daylight Savings Time. Outside of Daylight Savings Time, it could look like it was midnight when it was actually 7:00 P.M. It’s an Old Time Pottery now and I still get that strange feeling when I go in there. 

The Kmart I worked in had much better lighting, but it’s been a Home Depot for at least a decade now. 

Do I still have this toy or any of the packaging? 

I’m not sure about the actual doll. I think he might be one of the dolls in line for cleaning and restoration. I remember he and Shana from the Jem line both had the sticky legs issue. 

Their legs are clean, however,  their paint is very splotchy, so this Fashionista Ken has been wearing most of California Ken’s outfit. I think right now, he’s just missing the fish-shaped necktie, an orange plastic frisbee, and a yellow soda can with sparkly green decorative stickers. I substituted a pretend can from a modern accessory set here. There was also the aforementioned mini-comic. 

Did I have any other toys from this line? 

I had other Barbies, but not one that matched this style. I also replaced my Skipper around the same time, but she was from a different line called Sun Gold. 

Did anything surprise me about this toy? 

Just how little Ken had changed from the early 1980s to the end of the decade compared to now. The painted-on blond hair was the same and so were his blue eyes. 

Back then, if a child wanted a male doll with brown hair, your only option was the friend, “Todd”. Tracy, Teresa, and Miko were the brunettes. Midge was the red-haired female and Christie was the Black doll. 

Today’s Barbies come in a much wider variety of sizes/body types, ethnicities, and hair and eye colors and styles. Even some of the male dolls have rooted hair now. 

About Karen Flieger 75 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.

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