Ideal’s first Tammy doll was issued in 1962 and came with a stand and fashion booklet.
Ideal’s first Tammy doll was issued in 1962 and came with a stand and fashion booklet.

By A. Glenn Mandeville

Many people in the 1960s (including doll collectors) thought that Ideal’s Tammy doll was a wholesome representation of a teenage girl — more so than the apparently sophisticated Barbie doll by Mattel. These people would be somewhat correct, however there is a lot more to the story.

A closeup of the original Tammy doll.
The original Tammy doll.

To start with, when Barbie debuted at Toy Fair in 1959, she was not as well-received as Mattel had hoped. Some felt her obvious figure and “teen-age fashion model” career did not mirror the standards of many parents of the era. Undaunted, Mattel took the Barbie doll directly to the children via television and The Mickey Mouse Club. With a high-quality wardrobe and fashion booklets, Barbie was definitely a high-quality product for a very low price.

Three booklets featuring Ideal's Tammy and the Tammy's Family Doll Fashions.
The fashion booklets were beautifully drawn, much like the Barbie fashion booklets, with artwork depicting teenage activities.

Many of Barbie’s critics did not understand that the doll’s figure was not meant to mimic that of a real person but to allow for fabric to be draped on Barbie the mannequin! Naturally, competitors were paying attention to all this criticism, and the Ideal Toy Corporation started developing their own plan to enter the highly competitive fashion-doll race.

Over the course of many, many meetings, a viable concept was developed and put into production. Starting out with the premise that Barbie, modeling strapless formals and sundresses, was over the top, the key word for developing the doll became “wholesome.”

Two versions of the Pepper doll, Tammy's younger sister.
Tammy had a little sister, Pepper, who also had a fantastic wardrobe and cute little accessories.
Closeup of two versions of Ideal's Pepper doll.

Ideal’s concept was for a doll that looked more like an average young teenage girl. All they needed now was a marketing approach that differed from what Mattel was offering and a standout name that the public would link with the word “wholesome.”

The timing could not have been better. In 1957, Debbie Reynolds’ portrayal of a teenage girl in the movie Tammy and The Bachelor had teenage girls everywhere clamoring for more of Tammy. This would lead to a hit single record of the movie’s title song performed by Reynolds, as well as three more Tammy movies starring a young, vivacious, and popular Sandra Dee, who was already a heroine to young teenage girls and their mothers.

A booklet showing a girl playing with two dogs on the cover. It's titled "Weekly News" and says "What's New - Pepper" and "Copy 35 cents" on the cover.
Many cute accessories were available for all the dolls, such as this little booklet that actually had the story of Pepper in it.

For a doll character whose life revolved around pizza parties and family get-togethers, the name Tammy clearly represented a wholesome, appealing image.

Ideal released the first 12-inch Tammy doll in 1962. Though by that time, Mattel had sold over 6 million Barbie dolls, Ideal thought that their entry into the fashion-doll race would be a success. And for a while, they were correct.

A doll depicting Tammy's Dad (left) next to a doll of Ted, Tammy's brother. The illustrated box lids are shown next to each doll.
Tammy had a brother, Ted, as well as a dad whose name, Mr. Turner, was only mentioned in the story books.

Soon Tammy had a brother, Ted, and a little sister, Pepper, along with doll likenesses of her mother and father. Pepper had a personality all her own and a wardrobe that could best be described as cutesy. Tammy’s parents weren’t named, just called Mom and Dad. However, in the story books available, they were given the last name of Turner. While Barbie’s parents were mentioned in the Random House books and even named George and Margaret Roberts, they did not exist in doll form.

A doll still in the box wearing a belted dress and pearl necklace. The box top next to it reads "Tammy's Family: The Dolls You Love to Dress" and "Mum" next to the illustration of a woman.
Tammy’s mom, Mrs. Turner, had separate fashions, while Mr. Turner had to share clothes with brother Ted.

Ideal’s doll line was working out quite well, and Tammy and her family were available in most of the major catalogs and stores of the day. For those first few years, it appeared that the fashion-doll market had room for multiple companies to succeed. But by 1965, the picture started to change.

Five dolls, from left to right: Tammy's little sister Pepper, Tammy, Tammy's mom and dad, and her brother Ted.
The basic Tammy family together.

Barbie’s wardrobe was designed by Charlotte Johnson, whose attention to detail was often compared by many to Madame Alexander. Mattel heavily promoted the quality of Barbie’s early fashions, including the fact that there were zippers that really zipped and little extras such as compacts with a tiny puff. Plus, Barbie’s image had softened into that of a typical teenage girl from Willows, Wisconsin, who happened to be pretty and popular. The focus was now on her being a cheerleader and getting ready for college.

A boxed fashion for Tammy with a fancy prom-style dress and accessories, including jewelry, corsage, and makeup items.
As the 1960s progressed, Tammy fashions became more grown up for both Tammy and her new friend Misty.

Ideal responded by introducing a new Tammy doll with a slimmer body and even a hairdo similar to that worn by Barbie at the time. This new doll also had a boyfriend, Bud, who was very hard to find on the market, and a host of new friends, including Glamour Misty, who was tied into Clairol hair products. Gorgeous accessories were available for Tammy and her friends, yet it was beginning to look like Tammy was becoming more and more like Barbie and moving further away from the original wholesome image from 1962.

A redesigned Tammy doll in a dress and jacket with faux-fur trimmed hood.
It soon became evident that Tammy’s outfits would have to become more sophisticated to compete with Barbie.

Ideal eventually phased out Tammy and her friends, though because the toy business operated differently in the 1960s, many Tammy items remained available via catalog outlets and even in the mom-and-pop toy stores of the day for many years. Today, Tammy remains a favorite with doll collectors and still lives up to the company’s motto for her: “Tammy is the doll you love to dress.”

A slimmer, more sophisticated version of the Tammy doll in a box with a clear plastic cover, made to look like a phone booth.
The slimmed-down version of Tammy was sold in this unique phone booth packaging, which has clouded with time.

A. Glenn Mandeville is the author of numerous books on dolls and doll collecting and writes his Curious Collector column for each issue of DOLLS magazine.