Talking presidential dolls play to patriotic emotions

Monday, December 22, 2003

— If Barbie is attracted to leaders of the free world, Ken may have a rival or two.

Toy Presidents Inc., a tiny Houston company, is selling 13-inch-high dolls of President George W. Bush that utter 25 different phrases from the commander in chief. He's the first of a series that will include former Presidents Clinton, Reagan, Kennedy, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.

Each presidential doll wears clothing reminiscent of his era, such as Lincoln's top hat and Bush's navy suit, red tie and black cowboy boots adorned with the presidential seal.

"We almost want them to be little time capsules," company President Jesse Combs said.

Unlike other dolls that have poked fun at presidents, these are intended to be respectful. For instance, you won't hear the Bush doll say "subliminable" or the Clinton doll say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

Instead, comments include Reagan saying, "America is back, standing tall, looking into the '80s with courage, confidence and hope." Kennedy says, "The cost of freedom is high, but Americans have always paid it."

Bush's phrases include, "This great nation will lead the world, and we will be successful."

"It's so easy to be thrown into the novelty category, and that's not what we wanted," said Combs, 29. "There's a 'Pull my Finger' Bush doll out there. That's great, but you get it, you laugh, and then the novelty wears off and you've wasted 30 bucks."

The dolls, which sell for $29.95, have a little humor in their skivvies. The Bush doll sports boxers with the Stars and Stripes, while Lincoln wears plain old white. Clinton will wear red silk, while Kennedy's will have the Navy seal.


AP Photo

Jesse Combs, president of Toy Presidents Inc., holds a doll of President George W. Bush as he talks about the company's other figures, at the company's Houston headquarters. The other presidents shown are, from left, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Each presidential doll wears hand-stitched clothing reminiscent of their era, such as Lincoln's top hat and Bush's navy suit, red tie and black cowboy boots adorned with the presidential seal. The dolls also talk; an embedded computer chip plays 25 different phrases the presidents uttered during their administrations.

Of the 50,000 Bush dolls Combs had manufactured in China earlier this year, 8,000 have sold since August, mainly through small toy retailers and the Internet.

A surge of patriotism after Sept. 11, 2001, inspired the dolls, Combs said.

That day he and company vice president Dwayne Crosby were across from the White House when they saw smoke rising from the Pentagon after a hijacked airliner plowed into its side.

Eventually, the company also plans to produce first lady dolls, but Crosby said the challenge was to find a prototype body that isn't like that of Barbie.

"Imagine Barbara Bush's head on a Barbie," Crosby said.