We’ve all seen pictures of the amazing Bild Lilli doll, but few of us are lucky enough to own one. The Bild Lilli has a fascinating history, and if you thought she started as a beautiful doll, have I got a story for you!
It all started back in 1952, in the bustling city of Hamburg, Germany. Reinhard Beuthien, a cartoonist for the Bild-Zeitungm Newspaper, (or the Bild for short) created a new cartoon for the enormously popular tabloid style newspaper. The paper published gossip stories, had topless women on the front page, and reported other (often inflated) dramatic stories. Today it is still Germany’s largest newspaper, in terms of circulation.
The star character in Beuthien’s cartoon was named Lilli. She was a beautiful, sexy, blonde woman who you’d often find sitting in a fortune-tellers tent. The cartoon showed her with her girlfriends, men, and sometimes even her boss. Despite the era, she had no problem talking about rich men and sex. During the day she worked in a newspaper office, and after hours enjoyed the company of rich men. She wore tight skirts and low cut shirts. She would often ask taboo type questions such as “Can’t you tell me the name and address of this rich and handsome man?” or “I could do without balding old men, but my budget couldn’t”. The highly popular cartoon ran daily from June 24, 1952 to January 5th, 1961.
In 1953 the Bild contacted Max Weissbrodt, a designer from the O. & M. Hausser Toy Company in Germany, and asked him to design a novelty doll based on the cartoon character. Using Reinhard Beuthien’s drawings he designed the first prototype doll. On August 12, 1955 the first Bild Lilli doll was available for purchase. She came in two sizes; 7½ and 11½ inch. Each doll came in a clear plastic tube, with a tiny Bild Newspaper, and eventually a round stand captioned “Bild Lilli”. The majority of the dolls had blonde hair, but there are a few rare brunettes out there too. The dolls are unmarked and very fragile. They have unsealed hand painted faces that can be washed off with water.
Bild Lilli was originally marketed as a gag gift. She could be found in bars, cigar shops, and other male establishments. Some people even referred to her as a sex toy. Parents did not approve of the doll, but in spite of their disapproval, she eventually became very popular with children. Many beautiful clothes were created for her in the styles of the 1950’s. There were furnishings and other accessories designed specifically for her too.
Over 130,000 dolls were produced in the eight short years she was for sale. In 1964 Mattel acquired the rights to the doll and production was immediately halted. The Bild Lilli doll was removed from the marketplace.
Today the German Bild Lilli is extremely collectible and commands a high price on the secondary market. The 11 ½ inch is more popular to collectors than the shorter version. She was exported to the United States and other European countries, but her name was changed to Lilli Marlene” or just “Lilli”. Don’t get her confused with all the clones (such as Hong Kong versions) on the secondary market that were produced in the 1960’s. Once Mattel owned the rights, the Hausser Company sold her head molds to a British Hong Kong based company (Dura-Fam Ltd.). Later they leased or sold other head molds they still had on hand to other companies around the world. Even though the dolls look similar, they are much lower quality and they are not the true Gorgeous German Bild Lilli.
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