Whether you look at the faces of a Cabbage Patch Doll and are filled with warm tingly feelings of nostalgia or visceral repulsion (hi, me), the history of the moon-faced doll is an interesting one, to say the least.
When they first arrived on the scene in 80s America, along with birth certificates and adoption papers (yes really), people lost their actual minds.
The cabbage patch craze led to people punching each other in toy shops to get their mitts on one. We’re talking the kind of thing we’ve come to expect to see during Black Friday madness. Kids of the 80s just had to have them.
In North Miami Beach a literal stampede of 150 people flattened a 75-year-old man and in Jersey, a pregnant woman faced a similar trampling. In Paramus, a particularly sharp-elbowed woman almost knocked another desperate shopper out cold.
This excessive pandemonium was part of the inspiration for film-maker Andrew Jenks, who is unearthing all this weirdness, and more, in a new documentary titled Billion Dollar Babies. “The brawls and the melees, that kind of passion — and the idea that they made billions,” Jenks is reported to have said.
This new film is set to tell the tale of child-mania, objectively ugly dolls and the lengths desperate parents to secure one – and, how this doughy-fulled craze shaped the retail world forever more.
Jenks has even managed to bag an interview with the man behind it all, the elusive Xavier Roberts, who hasn’t given an interview in two decades, but whose name you’ll find signed on every Cabbage Patch butt.
Roberts started early, first marketing the dolls as a 21-year-old art student following mentorship from Kentucky folk artist Martha Nelson.
Her range of Doll Babies had been produced in a not-too-dissimilar way in 1971. They were soft, round-faced things, with close-set eyes, a pinched nose and small puckered lips framed by cutesy dimples.
But this isn’t the only glaring likeness — they also came with novelty adoption papers and birth certificates.
Roberts would sell Nelson’s Baby Dolls in his shop for a profit. However, once the supply chain ground to something of a stop, he decided to make his own line which he named ‘The Little People’.
This name was short-lived when Roberts was forced to change it, and so — the (maybe not so humble) Cabbage Patch Doll was born. Quite literally. You see, Cabbage Patch Dolls didn’t just appear in their glossy boxes in perfect nick.
No, they were born.
In fact, staff taking on the roles of doctors and nurses at the Dolls Hospital (which still exists today) were explicitly told never to call them dolls, but “babies” as they ‘delivered’ them from huge cabbages.
Wait. it gets weirder. The story behind the emergence of babes from an arguably unexciting vegetable was thanks to Roberts’ wild fiction.
According to Cabbage Patch lore, (yes, there really is such a thing), a ‘curious creature’ that was part bee, part rabbit found a young boy named Xavier Roberts (yep, the same Xavier Roberts) playing in the woods in North Georgia.
He followed the imaginatively named Bunnybee into the woods but — alas, the ‘puffball’ disappeared behind a waterfall, but it was all an elaborate ruse.
After much tee-hee-ing and scampering about the forest, Xavier followed old Bunnybee behind the waterfall and, low and behold, there was a field filled with cabbages where even more Bunnybees were sprinkling magical crystals onto the cabbages.
It’s at this stage, that I’d like to point out that I have made absolutely zero of this up. Zilch. Because it gets even weirder.
Xavier meets a Cabbage boy, named Otis Lee. They shake hands and Otis tells young Roberts that it is his destiny to help the Cabbage Patch babies find homes of their own. And so, Babyland General (the hospital) was promised to Otis and the rest of the Cabbage Patch as a place where they could meet their new, er, owners and “play all day.”
What is perhaps wilder, is that it was partially thanks to this tale that Roberts was able to dominate the toy market, selling the magic of the dolls to children across the US.
Nelson, however, was not best pleased. She felt royally ripped off and went on to sue Roberts. While the case never came to court and they settled for an undisclosed amount out of court in 1985. An accusation that later “hurt” Roberts — according to the documentary.
Whatever you make of Cabbage Patch Dolls, crazed shopping habits and idea theft, this is certainly one to bookmark if you’re looking for an unrelenting trip down what-the-fuck-just-happened-lane, but y’know — in a good way.