With Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” poised to make a big pink splash at the box office, the classic doll has re-entered the cultural consciousness in a major way. But for Pegi Goodman ’73, Barbie has always loomed large.
After graduating from Kenyon with a history degree and a talent for costume design, Goodman began building a career in art and creative direction. Eventually, a freelancing contact recommended her to Welsh Publishing, a children’s magazine publisher looking for an art director for their new periodical: Barbie Magazine. With that, Goodman entered doll world.
A centerpiece of each issue was the “photo drama,” which Goodman describes as a comic illustrated with photographs rather than drawings. “So, when the cover was ‘Barbie on the Moon,’ our set designer made a moonscape and built sets the size of tables. We styled the dolls, placed them —some feet were nailed down to keep them from falling over — and photographed them. Upon her return to earth, we had Barbie go to the White House to get an award from the President. That was back — I'm really dating it — in the days of Reagan. We had a mockup of a room in the White House, and we had Ken in a pink tuxedo. My doll stylist cut a Barbie doll’s hair so it looked like Nancy Reagan’s and dressed her up in a red gown. And at the end, Barbie woke up. After all, it was just a dream.”
Certain set-ups necessitated creative thinking to get the right shot — Goodman recalls cutting off Ken’s forearm, drilling holes and adding modeling wire to give the stiff doll arm the bend needed to make a phone call — and she would fly to Mattel headquarters in California to pitch each issue. “The first time I went out, I showed them a layout for Halloween,” Goodman recalled. “The color scheme for that page was, naturally, orange and black. And the Barbie creative director looked at me and says, ‘Barbie doesn't like orange.’” In the end, the Halloween story’s palette was green and black.
“We photographed Barbie for the cover of every issue,” said Goodman. “But we were also really a magazine for girls. There was fashion, there was beauty. We had an advice page with content like, what to do if you have a problem with your best friend. It was really a great magazine for little girls.”
In the pre-Photoshop years of publishing (Goodman worked on Barbie Magazine from 1985-94), photo-retouching was costly. “Mattel wanted us to make it look like Barbie was real, so any manufacturing seams in her arms or anywhere else had to be removed,” said Goodman. “The denouement was when we decided to send Barbie on an adventure to Rio.” Carnival costumes were crafted from feathers and fabrics sourced from New York’s Garment District and expertly hot-glued together. “Lots of necks, lots of arms, lots of legs were on display. And the retouching bill was through the roof,” she said. Ultimately, the price of such shoots became too unwieldy for production. “The Barbie photo drama died, and we had killed it.”
Since then, Goodman’s design career has taken her in a variety of directions, from a stint at Marvel (“I have to say, I have a greater affinity for Barbie than I did for The Hulk”) to freelancing in creative and graphic design and working with clients as varied as Rolling Stone Magazine and The Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In the end, Barbie brought Goodman to many unexpected places, from meeting her husband Greg Leeds after he was hired as the art director for GI Joe (“It was as if Barbie and GI Joe were dating”) to a meeting with Jackie O (yes, that Jackie O) about a tentative Barbie fashion book that never saw the light of day, an afternoon Goodman describes as a “career highlight.”
Though she’s less close to the Barbieverse these days, Goodman is looking forward to the movie, noting that while “she’ll probably be able to find a few anachronisms,” the visual style Gerwig and her production team have crafted evokes the familiar old Barbie aesthetic well. Goodman remembers those days of photo dramas and hot glue with fondness: “It was really one of the best jobs I ever had.”