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Raising Barbie

Mattel executive marvels at doll’s recent claim to fame.

Judy Willis ’79.  Photograph by Jim Purdum

Judy Willis ’79 and the world’s most famous doll go way back. Inspired by the release of the blockbuster film Barbie, Judy Willis ’79, who served as senior vice president for business affairs at Mattel, Inc., for two decades, had this to say about the sweetheart cultural phenomenon.

Working at Mattel was a dream. I traveled to twenty-two countries, negotiating the licensing of franchises like Hot Wheels, Harry Potter, World Wrestling, Formula One—and Barbie. Every year when the new Barbie line came out, I wanted every doll. I never had kids of my own, but I loved buying Barbies for my nieces and nephews.

The Barbie movie was fascinating. It had all the dolls I remember and included a lot of history of Mattel, like the character of Rose Handler, Barbie’s creator, who played her mother in the movie. And I loved Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. Barbie had more publicity than any movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Everybody was wearing pink, and restaurants had Barbie-themed menus, which I’m sure they didn’t have the rights to… It was all just unbelievable. 

Back in my time, we could never have imagined a Barbie movie. Mattel was strict about her image—no low-cut dresses, she was a bride but never got married—but things changed over the years. Mattel relaxed the rules to evolve with society, changing her body type, introducing diversity, and producing Barbies with careers like teachers, pilots, presidents, and astronauts. The possibilities are endless. Barbie can be anything.

And here’s a tidbit from Willis’s own fairytale:
My law school journey at BC was incredible. It paved the way for an amazing career, through which I was able to help my family and give back to charities. BC Law changed my life, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it provided. I’ve had a wonderful life.