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The Dark Origins of Beloved Childhood Icons

Not all things sugary and sweet are easy to digest. As we perused the origins of the toys and characters that made up our childhood playtime, we were shocked when we found complex, adult themes behind the inspiration for such “innocent” childhood characters. As the saying goes, everybody has a past—including Elmo. Related Stories: That’s All, Folks: Brand Mascots Under Fire Happy Birthday, Barbie! A Look Back at Her Famous Faces The Most Successful Spin-Off Characters of All Time
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Barbie
Cabbage Patch Kids
Elmo
Raggedy Ann
The Little Red-Haired Girl from Peanuts

Raggedy Ann

At thirteen years old, Marcella Gruelle, daughter of children’s author Johnny Gruelle, died after receiving a smallpox vaccination without her parents’ consent. After Marcella’s death, Raggedy Ann became a symbol for the anti-vaccination movement. It’s true that today the lovable, huggable Raggedy Ann is a symbol of sweet and cuddly things, but back in 1915, Raggedy Ann stood for grief and a medical controversy that cost a little girl her life.

_Photo source: liveandlearn.com

Cabbage Patch Kids

Legend has it that Cabbage Patch Kids were designed to desensitize the public to the appearance of mutated children born in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Despite their weird, disproportionate features, the gimmick of adopting a Cabbage Patch Kid (complete with adoption papers) proved enticing for the public and the dolls became a huge fad in the seventies. Nothing like nuclear war and genetic mutation to create a compelling backdrop for a game of “let’s pretend!”

_Photo source: cabbagepatchkids.com

Elmo

Just as there is no light without darkness and no good without evil, there is no Elmo without his diabolical alter ego, The Red Menace. The nickname was created by Sesame Street traditionalists who were angry that the new puppet was taking all the screen time. Elmo didn’t start out as such a screen-hog—in fact, he was sort of an outcast. The puppet, who has been performing since the early seventies, started off as an extra (as in he was a miscellanous red puppet lying around the studio). Cast members experimented with personalities for it, but nothing stuck. Eventually a creative puppeteer created the three-year-old, ticklish, goofy Elmo we know and love (and hate) today. Although Elmo has become one of the biggest childhood icons in the world, he has battled isolation and rejection as well as hatred and judgment, all before the age of four!

Photo source: “gsa.sesameworkshop.org”:ehttp://gsa.sesameworkshop.org/web/street/onair/characters/elmo

Raggedy Ann

At thirteen years old, Marcella Gruelle, daughter of children’s author Johnny Gruelle, died after receiving a smallpox vaccination without her parents’ consent. After Marcella’s death, Raggedy Ann became a symbol for the anti-vaccination movement. It’s true that today the lovable, huggable Raggedy Ann is a symbol of sweet and cuddly things, but back in 1915, Raggedy Ann stood for grief and a medical controversy that cost a little girl her life.

_Photo source: liveandlearn.com

The Little Red-Haired Girl from Peanuts

“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” Ah, the wise words of Charlie Brown, the lovable loser who never had the nerve to tell the little redheaded girl that he loved her. The creator of Peanuts Charles Schulz has more in common with his main character than his name. The little redheaded girl is modeled after Schulz’s ex-girlfriend, Donna Mae Johnson. Johnson and Schulz dated for three years, but when he proposed, Donna confessed she was already engaged to another man. Without his heartbreak, the world may never have known such comic-strip-caption gems like, “Forget it Chuck. Never gonna happen.”

_Photo source: zimbio.com

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