This past week Mister Boomer was once again reminded that he is, in fact, an aging boomer. In a conversation with a co-worker, he was regaled with the previous day’s occurrences and how the co-worker’s supervisor just wouldn’t shut up. Whether under the influence of caffeine or psychotropic medication, her supervisor rambled on more than usual. “I heard her,” said Mister B, “she was a real Chatty Cathy.” When his co-worker returned a blank stare, Mister B realized that the person to whom he was speaking would have no recognition of the term, having not been born when the Chatty Cathy doll was popular.
Mattel Toys, Inc. produced Chatty Cathy dolls from 1960 to 1964. Doll makers had been experimenting with some form of talking doll since the 1800s, but it took Mattel and the Baby Boom Generation to popularize a production model to the level of Chatty Cathy.
The doll “spoke” by means of a ring located on the doll’s back. Pulling the ring activated a pull-string mechanism that in effect played a track on a phonograph record inside the doll. Mattel chose June Foray to record the 11 phrases the initial production-run doll would speak. Ms. Foray is well-know to boomers for her cartoon voice over work. She was the voice of Rocky the Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend Nell Fenwick and practically every female character on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and Rocky and His Friends as well as Lucifer the cat in Disney’s Cinderella, Granny in Tweety Bird cartoons, and Ursula in George of the Jungle. She had performed voices on Woody Woodpecker cartoons and also appeared on The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Tom and Jerry, had numerous roles in Disney animated movies and voiced many other TV and movie characters. She continued to voice Looney Tunes characters through the 2000s. In January of 2016, news of her death spread across the Internet, but was quickly branded a hoax.
Chatty Cathy’s phrases from 1960 to ’64:
I love you
Will you play with me?
Please change my dress
Please brush my hair
Where are we going?
Please carry me
Let’s play house
I hurt myself!
Tell me a story
Chatty Cathy grabbed the imaginations of Baby Boom girls, including Mister B’s sister. Some time between 1960 and 62, Sister Boomer received a Chatty Cathy from Santa for Christmas. This was a bit unusual in the Boomer household, as brand names were generally eschewed in favor of less expensive imitations. Sister Boomer got her brand-name Chatty Cathy and later, Barbie.
The Brothers Boomer were fascinated by the pull string mechanism, looking to inspect it whenever they could, much to the complaints of their sister. A pre-teen Mister B was, however, spooked by the creepy gaze of the doll, conjuring up episodes of The Twilight Zone in his mind. Chatty Cathy became Sister B’s constant companion so much so that within a few weeks Mister B was sick of hearing, “Please brush my hair.” As time went on she continued to play with her Chatty Cathy, but pulled the string less often. More than likely, once the doll’s repertoire was committed to memory, the novelty wore off.
Mister B wasn’t able to pin down an origin for the term, “Chatty Cathy.” It may have been a label that pre-dated the doll and therefore made sense as a name for a talking doll. Or, it may have originated with the doll’s appearance since the mechanism allowed little girls to make the doll speak repeatedly, to the chagrin of others within earshot. Nonetheless, make no mistake: boomers know a “Chatty Cathy.”
The doll was brought back in 1969, with the voice of Maureen McCormick from the Brady Bunch, then again in 1998 and 1999 for the collectors’ market. Original Chatty Cathy dolls are selling online for hundreds of dollars, with the most sought-after in original boxes.
Did you, or your sister, have a Chatty Cathy doll, boomers? Have you ever caught yourself referring to someone as a “Chatty Cathy”?