Volley of the Dolls

UPDATED 09/09/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/09/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

WHERE IS DON KING WHEN YOU REALLY need him? A high-stakes, big-name fight between evenly matched opponents is under way, and the fright-haired promoter is nowhere in sight. No, not Holyfield versus Tyson. This one is Barbie versus Miss America. And it isn't pretty.

Miss America is a line of dolls developed by Kenner Products under license from the Miss America Organization. Mattel Inc., which has produced Barbie dolls for 32 years, thinks Miss America's head is too similar to Barbie's copyrighted cranium. Jim Kipling, Miss America's lawyer, counters, "We think our dolls are as different from Barbie as people are from one another."

In March, Mattel complained to the U.S. Customs Service, and shipments of Miss America (who is manufactured in China) were intercepted. "We detained Miss America," says a Customs spokes-woman, "pending a decision on whether she infringed on [Mattel's] copyright."

Actually, Customs blocked the entry of only three of the five Miss America models. Raquel and Justine, who have a different head shape, were allowed in. The others—Devon (a blond dance major), Tonya (a black aspiring veterinarian) and Blair (an Olympic gymnast in training)—are cooling their spiked heels in a government warehouse.

Naturally, the folks at Kenner are miffed. "We believe Mattel did this at a time when it would do us the most harm, after we had already taken orders from our customers and were due to make shipments," says Kipling. "In essence we are being punished for competing with Barbie." (Mattel declined to comment while the case is in litigation.)

Early last month, Customs officials found Devon, Tonya and Blair guilty. "Consequently," says the spokeswoman, "instead of detaining Miss America, we have seized her."

So the first round goes to Barbie. The second round will be in federal court, where Kenner's appeal will be heard soon. Will Barbie, whose worldwide sales reached $740 million last year, keep her undisputed championship? Or will Miss America win her freedom and keep her head? May the best doll win.

[This article contents a table. Please see hard copy of magazine or PDF]

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