Something wonderful happened during this two-year photo project: I rediscovered my Barbie collection and fell more in love with the dolls (yep, I’m a sentimental sap). I removed a collection of vintage Barbies from storage to display on a shelving unit, placed beside my work desk to admire and be inspired. I added new but old (as in vintage) dolls to my collection I overlooked in buying in the early years of collecting, such as Walk Lively Miss America and the elusive Barbie with Growin’ Pretty Hair (feeling a “Barbie Who’s Who” would be incomplete without such dolls). The Barbie Who’s Who Project was a prolific endeavor… and I enjoyed every minute photographing it! I shot nearly 1,400 Barbie and Ken dolls in thousands upon thousands of photographs, and while doing so another idea came to mind: I want to turn this into a book—I want to share this with others who adore Barbie as much as I do....
The Barbie Who’s Who Project
Photographing dolls out and around San Diego, including Balboa Park (above left), University Heights (above right), the San Diego Bay at Harbor Island (below left), and Hillcrest (below right).
"I'm a Barbie Guy, in a Barbie World
Life in plastic, it's fantastic..."
So I got to work. I painted two canvas backdrops—pink for the Barbies, blue for the Kens, and added a sprinkle of glitter on each. At the time my Barbie collection had been in storage since making the move to California in 2012. I brought out a box at a time from storage and began photographing each doll inside, one by one. Every doll was placed on a clear plastic Barbie stand and photographed in a uniformed portrait style, including a full-body shot and a variety of close-up poses. I nicknamed this photo project the “The Barbie Who’s Who Project.” Throughout this project I also created many photo shoots, showcasing dolls in common groupings and in pop culture themes.
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.
Other dolls I loved as a kid were Liddle Kiddles (above left), Crissy and Velvet (above center), Flatsy (above right), Dawn (below left), and Blythe (below center). Blythe's enormous round eyes made her look as if she stepped out of a Keane Big Eye painting (below right)!
"The Man of POP!"
Me, 2nd grade!
Above: Jacqueline Susann's 1966 book Valley of the Dolls; the 1967 motion picture adaptation (one of my all-time favorite films); and Russ Meyers' 1970 cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, along with life-long adoration for Mattel's Barbie are inspirations for Behold the Valley of the Dolls. Above center: A photo taken from a Look magazine cover story on the "Dames in the Dolls," from September 1967. Above right: An art piece I created in the spring of 2019 titled, "Sharon Tate in Behold the Valley of the Dolls."
Below: In 2018, I photographed a tribute to Valley of the Dolls, restyling Barbie dolls as the movie's main actresses and characters: Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara, Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles, Sharon Tate as Jennifer North, and Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson.
“Anne, I’m not nutty, I am just hooked on dolls!”
~ Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls
It was an exciting time to be a newbie Barbie collector in the 1990s. These were the years before eBay, and most of the vintage dolls I acquired were given to me by girl friends and hair salon clients (once I arrived for a dental appointment and my dentist presented me with her childhood Barbie dolls, plus the Barbie United Airlines Friendship plane from the early-70s); or they were found at flea markets and antique malls around Kansas City, where I moved in 1988. The newly released dolls came from my regular excursions to retail stores, such as Toys R Us, Children's Palace, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Venture. It was in the early-1990s when I began receiving coverage as a "Barbie Collector" by the local media, notably the Kansas City Star and KCTV-5 (in which me and collection was featured on a morning news segment, filmed in my home).
Above: Four shots courtesy of Stan Williams, NYC author/photographer/blogger (The Find) when he visited KC to photograph my now-renowned toy collection. They were featured on Stan's Elegant Thrifter blogsite in June 2010.
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 the early start of photographing Barbie and other dolls for the blog entries -- a sign of things to come.
"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
Behold the Valley of the Dolls
A Barbie Collection in Portraits
by David James Mansour
Above: A "Barbie Beach Party" photo shoot on beautiful Silver Strand State Beach, just south of Coronado.
Below: I took a handful of dolls into our neighborhood Florida Canyon for a shoot. It was a bit dusty but so beautiful, as the seasonal spring flowers were in full bloom!
Above: Me, busy photographing the "Barbie Who's Who Project"--all shot inside a little homemade photo studio box! It was a 16-month photo project and man, it was FUN! Below: Barbie dolls waiting their turn to be subjects of my camera.
Barbie and Me: The Early Years
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 the spring of 2016, Barbie and other dolls became serious subjects of my camera, which inspired me to launch Behold the Valley of the Dolls, a showcase of photography, artwork, and doll collection. As before-mentioned, the title is a nod to Jacqueline’s Susann’s best-selling 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls and its 1967 big screen adaptation (one of my all-time favorite films), 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.”
Above: Having fun with Barbie: In a calculated try-out system, judged by me and Darren Karr, the best of the Barbies and Kens made the cheerleading squad, circa 1990!
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).
Fast forward to 1987, September 21, my birthday to be exact, in Lawrence, Kansas (home of the University of Kansas – "Rock Chalk Jayhawks!"). The pivotal moment of Barbie collecting occurred on this day. 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.
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.
In 1974, on the eve of puberty and the start of seventh grade, with childhood naivety at its peak, the unavoidable happened: I got caught playing with dolls by the neighborhood bully (in all fairness it wasn’t a doll but a Big Jim action figure). By next morning, the neighborhood bully told everyone on the school bus, who told everyone in the school hallway, who told everyone in the classrooms, and so on and so on. I was outed as a “boy who plays with dolls.” At best I was called a “sissy,” at worst I was called names too hurtful to mention, and was the target of school bullies through the remainder of middle school years. High school years were easy and I experienced actual popularity, helped by having the cute shaggy-haired looks of a late-70s Tiger Beat teen idol (e.g. Leif Garrett). I graduated high school, went to college, started a hairdressing career, grew up, and didn’t give Barbie much thought.
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).
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! (And thank you Andrews McMeel Publishing for giving a first-time author a chance.)
Above: Pink for the Barbies, blue for the Kens, and a full-body shot, a portrait shot, and a variety of close-up shots for all!
Below: Some of the theme portraits I created, include two Marilyn Monroe Barbies (Gentlemen Prefer Blonde and Seven Year Itch (left); Barbie and her family, circa 1966, including younger cousin Francie, preteen sister Skipper, and sibling toddler twins Tutti and Todd (center); and Troll Barbie with a gang of actual Trolls (right)!
Behold the Valley of the Dolls Photography
There were other dolls I loved growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Mattel’s diminutive Liddle Kiddles were top favorites. Stricken with measles in the first grade, mom and dad gave me both cowgirl Calamity Jiddle and fireman Bunson Bernie Liddle Kiddle dolls as a get well present. I was especially fond of the wearable Lucky Locket Kiddles and floral-scented Kiddle Kolognes. Thanks to my kid sister who got spoiled with all the latest dolls I also played with Crissy and her “grow hair” family, including little cousin Velvet; Dawn, a groovy six-inch-high fashion doll line; Flatsy dolls, whose flat shape gave them the catchy tagline, “They’re flat—and that’s that!,” and Blythe, whose color-changing, enormous round eyes made her look as if she stepped out of a Margaret Keane Big Eye painting. But, despite the other dolls, Barbie was always the one who had my heart.
I like to photograph other doll lines as well as Mattel's Barbie. These include LIttle Miss No Name (above left), Bratz (that's a Bratz drill team kick line I shot in the playing field of Roosevelt Middle School in Hillcrest) (above right), Tiffany Taylor (below left), Blythe, with a pair of Keanes (below center), and World Doll's Marilyn Monroe (below right).
"One two three and four is five.
Everybody here is a friend of mine.
Whatever happened to the Duke of Earl?
Pop Goes the World."
~ "Pop Goes the World" by Men Without Hats
Above: With a creativity and a little help from filters I can turn my Barbie photography into works of art.
Barbie and pop culture, in my world they go hand-in-hand. I've been enthralled with both since earliest memories. This is my story, narrated by personal photos, recollections and excerpts from my upcoming book, Behold the Valley of the Dolls!
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 Island" in the middle of the toy collection (left).
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!
My Barbie collection growing, growing, and growing! My collection in the 1990s (above), in the 2000s (below left), and in the early-2010s (below right). By the early-2000s my collection filled up with other dolls and toys alongside Barbie. I fervidly searched antique malls and eBay looking for the toys from my 1960s/1970s childhood. Through it all, Barbie remained #1 in my heart.
"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.
Above: Finally moving the toy collection cross-country to California in September 2013 (left); busy shipping out toys that sold on-line for Christmas 2014 (center); posing in the photo studio with Bode, my sweet Corgi assistant.
Below: Shop From ABBA To Zoom... It's FUN!
Above: G.I. Joe (left) and Big Jim (center) -- Action figures or dolls or both?
Below: Young Me, with the teen idol Tiger Beat looks (e.g. Peter Frampton & Leif Garrett).
Barbie and Me: The Early Years
In March 2018 I came up with the idea of creating a photo studio with a cardboard box that I could set up various Barbie shoots inside. I found a 16x19 box, laid it on its side, cut off the flaps, and lined it with white tissue paper. I got artist canvases for backdrops, color art paper for flooring, and discovered that placed by a south-facing window in our condo I could use San Diego’s consistent sunny days to naturally light up the photo box (on average, there are 266 sunny days per year in San Diego). Then another idea came to mind, and a big one at that, What if I photographed my entire Barbie collection, every single doll, in my little homemade ‘photo studio' box?!
Above: 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.
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
"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
“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
In a corner of the sky.
You are reaching for a cloud,
And another way to fly."
~ "(Theme from) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" by Stu Phillips
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 (It's AWESOME!) (right).
I had been “California Dreaming” my whole life. In 2012, my partner John Bode and I made the California Dream a reality by moving to sunny San Diego. 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. This was the end of the many years of toy collecting. In May 2014, I "retired" from hairdressing after 28 years and opened an on-line vintage toy store, From ABBA To Zoom (named after my book). The store's inventory consists of the toys, dolls and other pop culture items that I had collected over the years. As far as Barbie is concern, I never stopped collecting her after relocating to San Diego. I had something else in store for her.
I was sandwiched between two sisters who had the latest Barbie dolls and accessories. My big sister Paula, a classic Baby Boomer, ten-years older than me, played with the first Barbie dolls: from the original straight-legged Barbie and all her accessories, like the mid-century modern Dream House (“Here’s where Barbie lives!”), to the “more poseable than ever” Twist ‘n Turn Barbie. My kid sister Kim, a Generation Xer, six-years younger than me, played with the dolls of the 1970s: from the Sun Set Malibu Barbie and her accessories, like the sunny-hued Country Camper (“the swinginest camper on wheels”), to the “glamorous model poseability” Superstar Barbie. Of course, I loved playing with all their Barbies!
The Barbies of my 1960s/1970s childhood: Stiff-legged Barbie and Ken (above left), Twist 'n' Turn Barbie (above center), Talking Barbie and Ken (above right), Malibu Barbie and Ken (below left), Superstar Barbie (below center), and "my two Kens," gifts from mom: Talking Ken and Malibu Ken (below right).
Above: I've always been a collector at heart--looking back to earliest childhood I was collecting something: Archie comics, 45rpm records, Wacky Packages stickers, Mad magazine, and Farrah Fawcett (in a scrapbook) - 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), along with some friends for a photo shoot on Mission Beach. 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! Read about it
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." I was blessed with wonderful clients.
It was fun but a BIG change was in the air...
In December 2017, my partner John Bode presented me with a new Canon camera (my first pro camera ever) and I got right to work photographing a series of Christmas shoots, around my home and around San Diego, including Balboa Park (above right), and a Christmas Day shoot on Silver Strand Beach with Malibu Barbie and Malibu Ken (below).
"I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.
Life in plastic, it's fantastic.
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere.
Imagination, life is your creation."
~ "Barbie Girl" by Aqua
"The Pride Project" - A shoot I created for San Diego Pride in July 2017, in which I photographed Barbies to represent various types in the LGBT community, as well as the gay icons we love best, such as Cher, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor. (below). For this project I built a homemade photo box to use as a studio and hung a Pride flag as the backdrop. Loyal Corgi Bode was always there to lend a hand, ... er paw (above center).
Fortunately my parents were cool and didn’t have an issue with their son playing with dolls. When I was eight-years-old, I overheard a conversation involving my mother with another parent who criticized me playing with a Barbie. Mom said something along the lines of “He’s a child and a doll is a toy and children play with toys.” Mom had my back, and yes, she was cool. She gave me the original Talking Ken as a Christmas present from Santa Claus in 1969 and later bought me Malibu Ken to play along with the girls-next-door in our suburban Virginia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Decades later, in my adult collector years, Rose Mansour regularly gave me Barbie dolls as Christmas and birthday gifts, and in return I presented her with them too.
"Behold - to perceive through sight or apprehension; to gaze upon; it was a pleasure to behold the beauty of the sunset."
Above: 20-something Me, first year as a hairdresser, styling the hair of a favorite client, at Headmaster's in Lawrence, Kansas in 1987 (left) and organizing a then-fledgling Barbie collection in Kansas City in 1989 (right).
Enjoying the California Dream! I encourage you to follow your dreams. I believe once the decision is made, the Universe listens and opens up the possibilities.
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.
“'You’ve got to climb Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls' went the opening to Jacqueline Susann’s wildly popular 1960s novel, Valley of the Dolls. For this book, I've taken a spin on Jacqueline’s iconic tagline with, “You’ve got to climb Cowles Mountain to Behold the Valley of the Dolls.” (Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the city of San Diego.) Needless to say, you’ll find plenty of dolls here—the eleven-inch-tall plastic variety type, with glamorous fashions and fabulous hairdos—but unlike Valley of the Dolls, you won’t find any pill popping or booze swigging, scandalous sex or bitchy catfights, or a Hollywood star’s rise to fame and her inevitable fall. But before we make the climb to Behold the Valley of the Dolls let’s start at the beginning…"
~ The opening to David Mansour's Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie Collection in Portraits, 1959-2019
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 Toy’s “original teenage fashion model.” My earliest memories have Barbie as the most popular and best-selling doll in the world. And, fittingly I share the same birth year with her long-time boyfriend, Ken. I guess you can say I’ve been hooked on dolls from the get-go.