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A Doll's Life

By Mary Daily

Published Jul 1, 2017 8:00 AM

Barbie’s connections to UCLA go way back.


Ava DuVernay poses with Ava Barbie. Photo courtesy of UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.

Beautiful, forever-young Barbie has never attended UCLA, but she has connected with Bruins in a number of ways over the years.

In the late 1960s, Erin Libby, who would soon attend UCLA to pursue an M.F.A. in animation, was on the creative team at Mattel, Barbie’s maker. Libby — now a painter in Bellingham, Washington — suggested that Mattel create a Barbie with a suntan. The idea was well-received but hard to execute. Libby and her colleagues made 27 models and “finally got the right shade of tan” by adding chartreuse and shocking pink to the usual formula. Voila! Malibu Barbie was born.

In 2012, in partnership with UCLA and others, Mattel created a friend of Barbie named Ella. She was going through cancer treatment, which left her bald. So she comes with not only a party dress, sparkly leggings, high-heeled sandals, a handbag and pink sunglasses, but also two wigs, a scarf and a headband. Ella has never been for sale. Instead, she is donated by Mattel to children’s hospitals, including UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, for young patients who can relate to her situation.

In 2015, Mattel released an Ava Barbie, in the likeness of writer/director Ava DuVernay ’95, as part of the company’s Shero campaign honoring women breaking boundaries for the next generation of girls. The company set out to make just one Ava Barbie, to be auctioned for charity. But Ava fans wanted more. The doll went into production and sold out quickly, showing the fans’ passion for the doll. Ava Barbie came with her own director’s chair. At DuVernay’s request, proceeds from the sales went to Witness and Color of Change charities.

Today, Erica Lindbeck ’14 is the voice of Barbie for the high-tech version of the doll, as well as for Barbie audiobooks and movies. She got her start when a voice-over producer spoke to one of her classes at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, where she was studying acting. Lindbeck sent the speaker demo reels. He introduced her to his agent, and a few months later Lindbeck was putting words in Barbie’s mouth. A North Carolina native drawn to California by UCLA, she says, “I never want to not do voice-over. When you’re just doing sound, it doesn’t matter what you look like.”

For more than two decades, Mattel has been a committed partner with UCLA pediatrics, providing more than $80 million to support research and care for children and their families. In 1998, the toy company pledged $25 million to UCLA Children’s Hospital, and the hospital was renamed Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. In March 2017, Mattel gave another $50 million to the hospital, which is now UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.