Ruth Mosko Handler may have been — both literally and figuratively — the mother of Barbie and Ken, but her success was strictly business. As a corporate force to be reckoned with (founder of Mattel), she brought “Barbie” and “Ken” to the forefront of the international toy industry. As mother of Barbara and Ken Handler, she wasn’t the woman most likely to be named “mother of the year.”
Barbie and Ruth is a biography of Ruth Handler and, just as the woman herself did, it emphasizes Handler’s business and executive talents. Ruth was not a happy homemaker—nothing could have made her unhappier. She was most at home when she was working, and she was a workaholic. She couldn’t cook and wasn’t a housekeeper; there were people she could hire to do those chores, as well as take care of the children. What Ruth could do, and do very well, was sell and promote.
Long before Mattel, Ruth Handler was merchandising designs her talented but somewhat socially inept husband Elliot produced. From all accounts, she was a dynamo. And that was at a time in our history when women were not accepted as executives; it was hardly considered.
Barbie and Ruth takes us through Ruth’s life as a Jewish girl living in Denver, Colorado, the tenth of ten children. We see her drive to succeed and we learn that, if nothing else, she was a worker. Ruth Mosko thrived on work; as a teenager she went to school and had as many as three jobs at a time. She planned on becoming a lawyer but that plan was derailed by Elliot Handler; theirs was an instant connection that lasted a lifetime.
In their early career — make no mistake, Ruth and Elliot were a team — they formed several small companies, all of which were successful though often on the brink of failure. They were lucky enough to have friends and family who would infuse much needed cash at crucial times. Both Ruth and Elliot were ingenious enough to work out solutions to problem that might have broken other small companies. The day after they received a huge order, the materials were no longer available due to the war. They suggested other materials and the customer doubled the order.