Sport and Shave Ken

Today I’m looking at a Ken doll that’s a bit different to most Ken dolls and perhaps, not even meant to be a doll at all.  So, when is a doll not a doll?  When it’s an action figure, of course.  And what makes an action figure an action figure?  Well, they’re just a bit more, well, actiony – like Action Man or GI Joe.  But hang on, Havoc and Dinah-mite are actiony and they’re considered dolls.  Huh.  So, it seems action figures are for boys and dolls are for girls.  And I think today’s Ken doll tried to blur those lines.

Sport and Shave Ken was released in 1980 and is unique for a couple of reasons.  He has a head mould that has only been used once.  It’s very similar to the Superstar Ken mould, but has a mass of rooted, dark brown hair, and the face looks slightly different to the moulded hair sculpt.  He has the Superstar body, with a twisting waist joint, but where Superstar Ken has bent arms, this Ken borrows arms from another doll, outside the Barbie line.  Big Jim was an action figure (so therefore aimed at boys) also made by Mattel, with very muscular, bendable arms with movable wrists.  Sport and Shave Ken has Big Jim arms with two different Big Jim hand sculpts, one with an open hand, and one designed to grip the many accessories he came with.  Now, Big Jim is only about ten inches tall, making Ken quite a bit bigger, but these arms are only a wee bit shorter than the average Ken doll’s (roughly half a centimetre), so they don’t look out of place.

Sport and Shave Ken’s outfit and accessories, were – no surprise – all about sport and shaving.  He came wearing a white nylon tee shirt with a motif that reads ‘all STAR marathon,’ yellow nylon shorts with navy trim and white and navy running shoes.  His tee shirt is reversible for evening wear, and he has a pair of navy nylon slacks too.  His accessories were a tennis racquet, watch, brush, comb, hairdryer, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving mug, two razors, cologne and a brown texta.  The novelty was that Ken’s owner could add facial hair with the brown texta, then ‘shave’ him using the spongey razors, dipped in water.  His box states: ‘Shave him. He’s athletic. He’s all man.’

Sport and Shave Ken in his ‘date’ outfit, navy trousers and his tee shirt reversed.  It’s possible some of his accessories came in both blue and yellow plastic. I’m missing the tennis racquet,  shaving mug and toothbrush.

The sketch of the child playing with Sport and Shave Ken on the leaflet sold with the doll could pass for a girl or a boy, as with the sketch on the doll’s box.

Now, clearly Ken is part of the Barbie line, but there is no clear ‘tie-in’ to a Barbie doll.  Most Ken dolls are more like the ultimate accessory, matching a Barbie release.  Malibu Barbie, Malibu Ken, Free Movin’ Barbie, Free Movin’ Ken.  Even where the link isn’t obvious, it’s still there – Quick Curl Barbie, Mod Hair Ken – both are hair play dolls, but it’s even less obvious with this doll.  I’m guessing he’s linked to Beauty Secrets Barbie, they’re both about grooming and both have bendable arms and wrists, but that link is not clear.  There’s no mention of Ken on Barbie’s box back, and very little mention of Barbie on his, just that he has to get ready for his date with her.  And while there is a child playing with the doll in the box art, it’s a very gender neutral depiction.  It could easily be a girl or a boy.  And I think this was deliberate.  I think this Ken was designed to bridge a gap between fashion doll and action figure.  He was meant to appeal to that little boy who wanted to play with dolls.  Or do I mean action figures?  Unfortunately, his box is still very Barbie pink, so many a parent and child still might have seen this as a ‘girl’s toy.’  A couple of years later, this experiment was repeated with All Star Ken, but this time he was even more actiony, using the moulded hair Superstar Ken face and with two Big Jim arms with grip hands.  Gone was the shaving feature, his outfit was shades of blue with yellow trim and his accessories were dumbells, barbells and a skipping rope.  His box was all about his bulging muscles and all-around athleticism – and not one mention of Barbie, although the box was still pink.  I know of at least one little boy who was very happy to add this doll/action figure to his toy collection.

I think it’s a shame that this attempt at cross gender marketing wasn’t taken further by Mattel – and other toy companies in general.  I know of many little boys that loved playing with their sister’s or friend’s dolls, either openly or in secret.  After all, GI Joe and Action Man needed someone to rescue and Barbie was perfect.  And as I may have mentioned before, my best friend and I loved playing dolls/action figures together.  He had Mego’s Action Jackson and I had Dinah-mite, the female equivalent, so many a day was passed sharing their adventures.  In particular, I think Mattel missed a huge opportunity for a gender neutral toy line, with the Monster High dolls.  Surely, with the right marketing, the online cartoon series and the dolls/action figures would have appealed to girls and boys alike?

Sport and Shave Ken 5 (657x1024)

It’s possible Sport and Shave Ken was issued as a tie-in or companion doll for Beauty Secrets Barbie.  She and Beauty Secrets Christie agree.

When I came across Sport and Shave Ken at a doll show a while ago, I couldn’t resist that hair and cheesy grin. He’s one of those dolls that almost falls into the so-bad-he’s-great category. I love him.  He was only wearing his tee shirt and shorts when I bought him, but I have managed to piece together most of his original fashion and accessories.  I only recall seeing him for sale once or twice, and he’s harder to find on eBay too – at least here in Australia – although I have bought two lots of clothes/accessories to piece together, so he must have been sold here.  Both tee shirts I’ve owned have lost their motif, and this seems a common problem for dolls found out of the box. Interestingly, I have hairdryers and razors in both blue and yellow, so as I can’t find another doll that had these accessories, I’m guessing they may have been issued in both colours.  I’m only missing his tennis racket, toothbrush and shaving mug.  Most 80’s Ken fashions are pretty out there, but when I came across the top from Ken Fashion Collectible #1378 for $1, I knew there was only one Ken who could wear it well.  It’s teamed with brown trousers until I can find the proper rust coloured ones.  Now, I ask you, would you buy a used car from this Ken?

Sport and Shave Ken 1 (679x1024)

The top to Ken Fashion Collectible #1378 suits Sport and Shave Ken to a tee.  I’ve paired it with brown trousers until I can find the rust coloured ones.

More information about this doll can be found at

(C) Jennifer B – All content is subject to copyright and may not be re-published or reproduced without written permission.

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