PLEASE SUPPORT W42ST
W42ST runs on limited resources to keep Hell’s Kitchen connected, updated and upbeat. Access is totally free. Please consider supporting what we do so that we can continue our work!
Gay Bob doll (circa 1977)
Complete with plaid shirt, cowboy boots, gold chain necklace, murse, and a single blue earring, Gay Bob was considered the ‘world’s first gay doll’. Anatomically correct – we have SEEN THE PROOF – and, to modern eyes, a tad cliched, he was created by inventor and former advertising executive Harvey Rosenberg, who described his plastic brainchild as “looking like a cross between Paul Newman and Robert Redford.”
Bob’s box doubled as a cardboard closet full of illustrated clothing and accessories, should he tire of this particular Village People vibe. It also meant he could come out – literally – as many times as he wanted.
His manifesto read something like this: “Hi boys, girls, and grownups. I bet you are wondering why I come packed in a closet. ‘Coming out of the closet’ is an expression which means that you admit the truth about yourself, and are no longer ashamed of what you are.”
He continued: “Gay people are no different than straight people. If everyone came ‘out of their closets’ there wouldn’t be so many angry. frustrated, frightened people. Remember, if Gay Bob has the courage to come out his closet, so can you.”
Rosenburg plowed $10,000 of his own money into production of the toy after his marriage broke up and his mother fell seriously ill. He wanted his next projects to mean something, he said. “We had something to learn from the gay movement, just like we did from the Black civil rights movement and the women’s movement, and that is having the courage to stand up and say ‘I have a right to be what I am.’”
Although Bob was enormously controversial at the time – anti-gay groups claimed an openly gay toy could lead to other ”disgusting” dolls like “Priscilla the Prostitute” and “Danny the Dope Pusher” – he soon had a new breed of queer playthings muscling in on his territory. And Bob’s own family grew to include brothers Marty Macho, Executive Eddie, Anxious Al, and Straight Steve (he lived in the suburbs and dressed in blue suits), and sisters Fashionable Fran, Liberated Libby, and Nervous Nelly.
But we’d dearly love to see the original Gay Bob in the flesh. If anyone in Hell’s Kitchen is the proud owner of a Gay Bob, please email email@example.com — we’d love to meet him!
This story was first published in the September 2015 issue of W42ST Magazine.