Malibu Stacy: The Untold Story of ‘The Simpsons’ vs. Barbie

As The Simpsons had repeatedly demonstrated, the same clashes and controversies actually tend to resurface in the culture, making the show look like it is written by time travelers or soothsayers. Weinstein attributes this to any parallels between their script and the new Barbie movie. “It sounds like it’s the modern answer to questions asked 30 years ago,” he says.

As the episode continues, Lisa Simpson seeks out Stacy Lovell, the reclusive creator of Malibu Stacy, hoping that the entrepreneur will listen to reason and mass produce a plaything with a more uplifting message. Lisa motivates her by playing into her sense of vengeance, since she was long ago forced out of her own company. Then Lisa plays on her pride, pointing out that the original doll is modeled on Stacy herself. “I’d be mortified if someone ever made a lousy product with the Simpson name on it,” Lisa declares, in a sly jab at her own show’s merchandising enterprise.

To play Stacy Lovell, The Simpsons looked to the A-list, recruiting Body Heat and Romancing the Stone star Kathleen Turner. “David Mirkin was hired to become the showrunner,” Oakley says. “I think he brought it up in the room and said, ‘How does Kathleen Turner sound?’ And I’m sure we were like, ‘That’s perfect.’

Turner, an Oscar nominee for Peggy Sue Got Married, had also lent her smoky voice to the animated bombshell Jessica Rabbit in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. She said yes to The Simpsons in part because the story resonated with her own upbringing.

Turner’s father was a diplomat with the US Foreign Service, and some of her childhood was spent in Venezuela, far from American pop culture and the Barbie craze that overtook her generation. “I didn’t come back to the States until university, so I missed all that growing-up girl shit,” Turner tells Vanity Fair, in an interview conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike. “But I never had dolls. Anytime somebody tried to give me a doll—which my family stopped trying to do—all I would do is rip their heads off. I didn’t want any stupid dolls.”

The Teen Talk Barbie controversy is one Turner had forgotten about until now, although the description makes her bristle anew. “I hope I did know that then,” she says. “It must have been rage. I must have been so angry.”

The Simpsons intrigued her, but she wasn’t convinced just by the offer. A bona fide movie star, she hadn’t appeared in a television series since the late 1970s, when she got her breakthrough on the soap opera The Doctors. “They asked me, but the first thing anyone always has to do is to send me a script because I don’t say yes to anything without reading the material,” Turner says.

Weinstein and Oakley’s teleplay struck a nerve. “I have to say that I really loved that show. I really did,” she recalls. Stacy Lovell was the perfect counterweight to Lisa Simpson’s sunny idealism. “Her skepticism, her cynicism, and then being converted, being compelled by the girl…” Turner says. “It was just deliciously funny. And sad.”

When Stacy Lovell is finally won over by the little girl’s insistence, the reclusive toymaker rises from her high-backed chair and hurls a glass full of liquor into the fireplace, creating a momentary inferno—which quickly flares out. It foreshadows the failure to come, and the perils of buying into hype.

“I mean, the woman was right. She was a good businesswoman,” Turner says. “Her saying ‘We won’t sell a single doll’ of course becomes true.”

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