The Barbie collection were the only toys I kept out of storage and at home with me. I had know plans on selling the Barbie dolls in the toy store. I had something else in mind for them ...
Above: The land of pop culture, Hollywood (and my idol Marilyn Monroe), perfect year-round weather, spectacular coastlines, and a safe place for "All Types" - a few reasons why I ❤️ California!
"I'm a Barbie Guy, in a Barbie World
Life in plastic, it's fantastic..."
The California yearning had gotten so strong that in November 2009, putting relationships and reputation at risk, I left Kansas City with a car packed tight and two cats and headed west to Los Angeles on a dream-seeking, soul-searching journey. As the Universe worked its magic, I found my dream wasn't in LA but beautiful San Diego where I stayed for two months (thank you Universe) before heading back to KC. In 2011, partner John Bode and I decided to relocate to San Diego, start life anew, and the following year we made the California Dream a wonderful reality.
The 1990s was an exciting time to be a newbie Barbie collector. Now living in Kansas City, Missouri, I fanatically looked forward to near weekly excursions to favorite retail outlets—favorite toy stores such as Toys R Us and Children’s Palace, and discount department stores like Walmart, Target and K-Mart. It was fun to stalk the toy aisles to see what newly issued Barbie doll was waiting to be added to the collection! As for vintage dolls, these were the years before eBay, and most of the older Barbies I acquired were found at flea markets and antique malls around the Kansas City area or given to me by friends and salon clients.
Above: When I did television interviews and talks at book signings to promote From ABBA To Zoom, I always brought token Barbie dolls with me to share to the audience. I took Mod Hair Ken and Live Action P.J. with me for a June 2005 interview with news anchor Dan Weinbaum on KMBC-TV in Kansas City.
Below: My most notable TV appearance was on the Discovery Channel's Pop Nation show, which aired nationally for Christmas 2005. Labeled a "Pop Culture Expert/Author" by Discovery, I appeared as a "talking head" and talked about...you guessed it, Barbie.
Above: Throughout the years of collecting, writing and promoting a book I worked as one of Kansas City's top hairdressers, hailed as a "Master Stylist" and "Blonde Color Specialist" (on the right is model Megan with one of my acclaimed highlights). I was truly blessed with wonderful clients.
It was fun in KC but a BIG change was in the air...
Above: My Manx cats, Lucy and Misty, were my companions on the dream-seeking journey to California in 2009 (left); John Bode and me closing on our San Diego home in July 2012 (center); We were honored when real estate agent Trent St. Louis featured our upcoming move in a story in the July 26, 2012 issue of San Diego LGBT Weekly (right).
Below: Moving west to San Diego in September 2012; "We did it!" John and Me on the beach in our new home state.
“Anne, I’m not nutty, I am just hooked on dolls!”
~ Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls
"(Go west) Life is peaceful there.
(Go west) Lots of open air.
(Go west) To begin life new.
(Go west) This is what we'll do.
~ "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys
Above: Some of the fun surprises with the book: From ABBA To Zoom for sale in the gift shop of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. (left); Star Trek actor George Takei with his copy of From ABBA To Zoom (center); and Pop star Rick Springfield signed his own entry in my author's copy (and he called me "Dude!" Awesome) (right).
Behold the Valley of the Dolls
A Barbie Collection in Portraits
by David James Mansour
The Talking Ken and Malibu Ken my mom bought me to play with the neighborhood girls (left). That's me, age 8 - a dreamy-eyed boy who loved dolls (center). My book Behold the Valley of the Dolls is dedicated "to all the little boys who play with dolls" (right).
Meet my other assistants at From ABBA To Zoom, the Corgis: Bode is hard at work sleeping on the job, while Martha is most likely thinking, "Geez, he's making me pose with another doll again."
Above: In 2010, I added another occupation to my resume, blogger. For the next two years I wrote a pop culture blog, From ABBA To Zoom: A Universe of Pop Culture. It received quite a few pageviews, numbering in the 100,000s, by the time I ended it in late-2012. This is noteworthy because it was my an early start of photographing Barbie and other dolls, as many were the subjects of my blog entries (below). It was a sign of things to come...
Above: Jacqueline Susann's 1966 book Valley of the Dolls, the 1967 movie adaptation, and Russ Meyers' 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls are inspirations for Behold the Valley of the Dolls. Below: My photo tribute to the dames in the Dolls with Barbies reimagined as Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, and Sharon Tate (left). Here's a bit of pop culture trivia for you - The Malibu Barbie was inspired by Sharon Tate's character Malibu in the movie Don't Make Waves (right).
Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie Collection in Portraits - Three years in the making of my book... and it was a whole lot of FUN!
I'd been dreaming to live in California my whole life. I believe we all have a place in the world that calls us - perhaps for some people there’s many places. I loved growing up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. and living in Kansas City, where life had been so good to me, yet I continually yearned to “Go West.” The first time I visited California was Los Angeles in 1993. I knew the moment I arrived I was “home.” My senses, my soul, my spirit felt something wonderfully familiar, as if I had lived here before. California is where I belong.
Above: The toys I'd collected over the years would become the inventory for From ABBA To Zoom: Vintage Toys.
Below: That's me at my From ABBA To Zoom work desk with assistant Misty (note the token Barbie dolls on display), and busy shipping out toys for Christmas 2014.
All the obsessive pop culture collecting brought me a bit of notoriety. In 2016, Planet Dolan placed my "Toy Land" at #4 in their countdown of the "9 Creepiest Bedroom Shrines in the World."
(In all fairness this wasn't my actual bedroom, nor did I sleep in here, it was just a spare room in my Kansas City home I picked to display the toy collection.)
"You gotta have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?"
~ Oscar Hammerstein II
A couple shot of me posing with my collection, circa 2009. Along with Barbie, I collected other dolls and toys. I fervidly searched antique malls and eBay looking for the toys from my 1960s/1970s childhood.
These six Barbie & the Rockers received as a birthday gift by Darren Karr in 1987 would inspire a collection, numbering over 10,000 of Barbies, dolls and other toys, such as lunch boxes and board games.
"The Man of POP"
"At the end of a hallway lined with 60s-era paintings of large-eyed children by schlock-artist Margaret Keane, David Mansour has devoted an entire room to his toy collection. It’s breathtaking, if you’re into toys; an obsessively-organized room stacked floor-to-ceiling with shelves of Barbies, Kens, vehicles, Bratz snotty-girl dolls, lunch boxes, robots, bobbleheads – a collection arrayed and displayed as groups of mini-collections. Whatever recessive genetic trait causes collecting behavior, Mr. David Mansour has it real bad.”
~ Verge Magazine, December 2005
In the spring of 2016, Barbie and other dolls became subjects of my camera, inspiring me to launch Behold the Valley of the Dolls, a showcase of photography, artwork, and doll collection. The title is a nod to Jacqueline Susann’s best-selling 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls and its 1967 big screen adaptation, starring Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate; as well as director Russ Meyers' 1970 cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; and the old proverb, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Pop culture and Barbie, in my world they go hand-in-hand. I've been enthralled with both since I was a little boy. This is the story about how I become a renowned Barbie and toy collector, a "pop culture expert/author," hailed as "The Man of POP!" This is how I followed my California dream and landed in the "Valley of the Dolls" as a Barbie photographer and author of Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie Collection in Portraits, narrated by personal photographs.
Above: Me on Zuma Beach in Malibu and at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in August 1993. I was visiting California for the very first time and felt like I finally came "home."
"Just take in this gorgeous sea of Barbies and Kens from over the years dressed in dreamy, fashion-plate finery."
~Stan Williams, The Elegant Thrifter
Although I’ve always photographed Barbie dolls on the shelves of my collection now I started photographing them elsewhere: outside around the neighborhood, on beaches, atop mountains, alongside canyons, in the park, at the swimming pool, and just about every place in my San Diego home. I also created themed photo projects, such as “The Pride Project,” a showcase of America's diverse LGBT community with an assortment of Barbie and Ken dolls portraying gay types; “It’s a Barbie Christmas,” festive Barbie photographs centered around vintage Christmas decorations and on-location holiday shoots at Balboa Park and Silver Strand State Beach; and “Barbie goes POP!,” a series of scenarios featuring various American pop culture icons incarnated by Barbies and Kens. The idea of a Barbie photography book came into concept at this time as well...
I was featured regularly as the person to comment on Barbie by the print media throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In 2005, Barbies from my collection made the pages of the Kansas City Star three different times, including the coveted Front Page of the newspaper's Sunday edition on May 31, 2005 (right).
Along with the Barbie dolls, I accumulated an extensive collection of other dolls, toys, action figures, lunch boxes, board games, books, and pop culture memorabilia. In the 2000s, toy collecting was the BIGGEST obsession in my world. In my Kansas City, Missouri home I dedicated a spare bedroom as the “Toy Room,” which housed the collection. This room was filled with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelving units, overflowing with dolls and toys displayed in collections and mini-collections. Friends loved to visit this room and referred to it as a “toy museum." The Barbie collection stood in center displayed on an assemblage of shelving units I tagged "Barbie Island."
Above: The four corners of the "Toy Room" at the peak of collecting, circa 2010.
Below: The Barbie collection, or what I referred to as "Barbie Island," stood in the middle of the toy collection.
The pivotal moment of Barbie collecting occurred in 1987, September 21, my birthday to be exact in Lawrence, Kansas (home of the University of Kansas - "Rock Chalk Jayhawks!"). I was a young hairdresser, first year in a salon, and as a birthday gift a friend gave me with the entire Barbie & the Rockers set, a rad new wave band consisting of six neon-hued, big-haired dolls. This gift reignited a love for Barbie I haven’t felt since childhood. Before I knew it these six Barbie dolls grew into an obsession, er, I mean collection numbering over a hundred by the end of the 1980s.
Remember that obsessively-organized room stacked floor-to-ceiling with shelves of toys? It's August 2012, a month before the move and all toys are packed and will be put in storage in Kansas City where they will remain until I return in September 2013 to move the toy collection to California (right).
Behold the Valley of the Dolls Photography
Above: I've always been a collector at heart! Looking back to earliest childhood I was always collecting something: Archie comics, 45rpm records, Wacky Packages stickers, Mad magazine, and Farrah Fawcett (in a scrapbook) - these were a few of the many things I collected in younger years!
Above: I brought Malibu Barbie and Malibu Ken back to the beach (after years of Mid-West living). Below: Working a Barbie shoot on top of Cowles Mountain (at 1,591-feet Cowles is the highest point in the city of San Diego!
Barbie and me, we go back a long way! 1961 to be exact, the year I was born and the second year of production of Mattel's “Teen-age Fashion Model.”My earliest playtime memories involve Barbie—the most popular and best-selling doll in the world—and, fittingly I share the same birth year with her long-time boyfriend, Ken. My parents didn’t have an issue with me playing with dolls. When I was eight-years-old, I overheard a conversation involving mom with another parent who criticized me playing with a Barbie. Mom replied with something along the lines of “He’s a child. A doll is a toy and children play with toys.” Rose Mansour had my back, and she was cool
"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.
I've been for a walk, on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm, if I was in L.A.
California dreamin', on such a winter's day."
~ "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & the Papas
"Behold - to perceive through sight or apprehension; to gaze upon; it was a pleasure to behold the beauty of the sunset."
"I believe what makes my book, Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie Collection in Portraits, unique is every single beautiful photograph was shot inside a homemade 'studio' I created from a cardboard box pulled out of a recycling bin."
~ David James Mansour
The move to San Diego marked the end of the many years of toy collecting. In preparation for the move I downsized my belongings and sold off quite a few toys. Still a majority of dolls and toys remained; these were boxed-up, journeyed west with me, and put into storage. In May 2014, I retired from hairdressing after 28 years and opened a vintage toy web store, "From ABBA To Zoom" (named after my book). I operated it for seven years (closing in May 2021). The store's inventory consisted of the toys, dolls and other pop culture items that I collected over the years. As far as Barbie is concern, I never stopped collecting her after relocating to California. I had something else in store for her...
Above: What a thrill! I'm a published author! Holding my book for the very first time in June 2005 (left); at a book signing event at Borders in Overland Park, Kansas in July 2005 (right).
Below:From ABBA To Zoom the #1 Bestselling Pop Culture Encylcopedia on Amazon.com!
In 1992, a hair salon client, newspaper journalist Jill Silva, asked me to help with a "Barbie for President" makeover titled "Blond Ambition," she was writing for the Kansas City Star. (The premise was if Barbie was running for President, voters wouldn't take her serious with all her fluff.) This story was the entire front page of the newspaper's Sunday Look section on September 13. I cut Barbie's fluffy blonde locks off and gave her a "take me serious" brunette bob hairstyle. We redressed her into a classic black and white houndstooth with pearls ensemble. I vote Barbie very Presidential!
Living the California Dream! I encourage you to follow your dreams. I believe once the decision is made, the Universe opens up the possibilities.
"It's a question of what a person really is. Yes, Kansas City writer David Mansour is a published author. Yes, he makes his living as a hair stylist. He enjoys both occupations. But at a deep, subconscious level, deep down to his bones, David Mansour is an archivist."
~ Verge Magazine
Above and below: Balboa Park, beaches, canyon trails, city streets, even over The 163 freeway - I took the dolls out and about on photo shoots around San Diego!
For the next two decades, I’d travel to the Golden State any chance I got—from Los Angeles to San Diego to San Francisco—and at the end of every single visit I'd be sad to leave. There are many things I find appealing about California, particularly Southern California: its pop culture landmarks, the history of Hollywood, the perfect year-round weather, the beaches, and the open acceptance of those of us society considers “different” (like a gay man who photographs dolls for a living).
In the summer of 2018, I created a prolific photo project, photographing scenarios of Barbie dolls in my collection, based on pop culture icons from movies, television, music, and more. I titled it "Barbie goes POP!" and below are the final 12 prints from this shoot.
Above: In December 2016, my Barbie photo art went on exhibit for the first time at Lestat's Coffee House on Park, located in the University Heights neighborhood of San Diego (left). Seeing "Barbie goes POP!" photo project as canvas art for the very first time in September 2018 (right). Bottom: A selection of my Barbie photo art work.
Above: Some of my theme photo projects included "The Pride Project," "It's a Barbie Christmas," and "Barbie Goes Hollywood." Below: "Be My Valentine Barbie" and "Barbie Goes MOD"
Above: In 2011, nine of my Back-to-Basics Barbies were selected to be supermodels for an actual fashion shoot. It was for the February edition of Kansas City Spaces magazine, titled "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," and these beautiful dolls modeled the latest spring fashion accessories! Below: You know you're a "Barbie Guy" when you're in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and you skip out on an afternoon of sight-seeing so you can visit the "World's Only Barbie Store" like I did in March 2011. That's the store's Barbie Pink VW parked curbside.
Above: Photos courtesy of Stan Williams, NYC author/photographer/blogger (The Find) when he visited KC and photographed my toy collection. Stan featured the toys in an Elegant Thrifter blog, "Fabulous & Frugal Fun: A Toy Story."
Above: 20-something Me, first year as a hairdresser, styling the hair of a favorite client, at Headmaster's in Lawrence, Kansas in 1987 and organizing a then-fledgling Barbie collection in Kansas City in 1989 (right).
All the pop culture swirling around the dolls and toys were the inspiration for me to write the book, From ABBA To Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century.(Of course, there’s a lot of Barbie entries in its 548 pages.) Coinciding with From ABBA to Zoom's publishing in 2005, the toys and I received a lot of media attention. We were featured on many TV shows, from local morning news spots to national coverage, most notably CNBC’s Squawk Talk, in a home interview among the toys, and the Discovery Channel's Pop Nation TV show, in which I appeared as a “talking head” and talked about... you guessed it, Barbie! We appeared in countless American magazines and newspapers across America, including USA Today. To promote the book I did seemingly hundreds of talk radio interviews across the USA and Canada, discussing pop culture and toys, and traveled for book signings, in which I brought a display of toys, including Barbie and Ken dolls). I was hailed as an “Aficionado of American Pop Culture,” a “Pop Culture Expert,” and the “Man of Pop.” When the local Kansas City media needed someone to comment about Barbie I was the “Barbie Guy” to interview. Throughout this time I maintained a career as a top hairdresser and colorist in KC with the most loyal clientele. This was truly an exciting time in my life!