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Inside the Cabbage Patch Kids craze that fueled Black Friday

Christmas morning, 1983: All the gifts in the Fleming house had been unwrapped, or so I thought.

But then a package that had been hidden behind the tree “caught” my dad’s attention.

It was for me. Tearing the paper from the oddly shaped box, I came face to face with a chubby face smiling at me. My own Cabbage Patch Kid.

The name on your birth certificate? Zena Dena.

She was amazing and I felt like the luckiest kid in the world.

That year, everyone had asked Santa for a Cabbage Patch Kid, but the big guy couldn’t deliver them to all the deserving kids for reasons too sophisticated for my kindergarten brain to understand.

I recently asked my mom how she got my precious Zena Dena.

I had long imagined her waking up at dawn, walking into Toys “R” Us, grabbing a bat and fighting her way to the doll.

Cabbage Patch Kids creator Xavier Roberts poses with the popular toys in the 1980s.
Courtesy of Billion Dollar Babies

But there were no elbows.

“Our neighbor had some and asked me if I wanted to buy one for you,” he told me.

Not every Cabbage Patch Kid had such a bloodless introduction to their loving homes.

In a new documentary premiering Friday, “Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Children,Director Andrew Jenks peels back the layers of cabbage leaves to tell the bizarre story of how these baby-sized stuffed animals became a pop culture monster and ushered in an era of violence in retail. Black Friday.

It wasn’t just an American phenomenon, as shoppers in England also clamored to get their hands on Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983.
fake images

Forty years ago, adults flooded shopping malls and toy stores, physically fighting to get their hands on this “It” toy.

In November 1983, the stories (and injuries) piled up quickly.

Police were called to a department store in North Miami Beach after a horde of 150 shoppers ran over a 75-year-old man.

In Bergen County, New Jersey, a pregnant woman was allegedly trampled in a Child World store. In Paramus, a woman He elbowed another until he was “almost unconscious.”

“The fights and the hand-to-hand combat, that kind of passion and the idea that they made billions,” Jenks told The Post about what drew him to the subject.

The documentary “Billion Dollar Babies” premieres Friday.
Courtesy of Billion Dollar Babies

First, Jenks tracked down Kids creator Xavier Roberts, a task that took months and involved hiring a private investigator.

“With Xavier I had not done a single [long] interview in about 25 years. It’s not that we couldn’t get an interview with him, we couldn’t find him. There were rumors that he lived in France. There was a mystique to him,” said Jenks, who eventually landed an extensive session.

“I wanted to be rich,” Roberts admits in the film.

The soft-spoken Southerner with the flashy cowboy hat accomplished that goal beyond his wildest dreams.

At Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia, baby dolls were chosen from an elaborate fabric cabbage patch.
Courtesy of Billion Dollar Babies

Then an art student, he first introduced the soft sculpture dolls around 1977 and called them “Little People.”

Inspired by Walt Disney, Roberts created an entire fantasy world in a large house in Cleveland, Georgia, which he called Babyland General Hospital.

There, “little people” were essentially “born” and plucked from an elaborate patch of fake cabbages.

Staff dressed as doctors and nurses treated the newborns with a special TLC prescription.

The babies were not purchased by consumers; They were adopted and came with a birth certificate.

The daughter of licensing guru Roger Schlaifer received a coveted Roberts creation for Christmas.

Enchanted by the history around him, he saw the “magical quality” of the dolls and their earning potential.

Schlaifer obtained the worldwide licensing rights, insisting that this would be the “first billion-dollar children’s brand.”

Xavier Robert and Della Tolhurst, who was president of their company, are interviewed in the new documentary “Billion Dollar Babies.”
Courtesy of Billion Dollar Babies

On August 9, 1982, Coleco Vision bought the rights and changed the dolls’ name to Cabbage Patch Kids.

Marketed to both girls and boys, they came with a healthy moral framework for how to raise a child.

“They said it was good for children to have a stuffed animal. “I didn’t have to be a GI Joe,” Jenks said.

The dolls were mass marketed but were also unique, with different hair and eye color combinations.

Each had their own unconventional name.

The unifying characteristic: all of their butts bore a copy of Roberts’ signature.

Artist Martha Nelson Thomas’ “baby dolls” looked like Cabbage Patch Kids. She fought a four-year legal battle, saying Roberts stole her idea.
Courtesy of Billion Dollar Babies

As the craze increased, Cabbage Patch Kids were all over the media and Coleco couldn’t keep up with the demand.

“Coleco had to stop their ads and make an announcement, and that created even more demand,” Jenks said.

Like this: the store fights.

Shoppers in Commack, New York, waited three hours in the rain outside Toys “R” Us to buy a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1983.
Newsday via Getty Images

But there was also a legal battle between Kentucky artist Martha Nelson Thomas and Roberts over the origin of the dolls.

Beginning in 1971, Thomas had created handmade, soft-sculpted “baby dolls” that resembled Cabbage Patch Kids. Roberts was the manager of a craft store that sold some of Nelson’s creations.

In the film, Roberts says the accusation that he stole the design of his Little People lookalike “hurt.”

However, she admitted that Thomas showed her his technique, which she combined with her own quilting experience.

“I learned a lot from her,” he added of Thomas.

These sweet faces caused near-riots in 1983 when demand for the red-hot Cabbage Patch Kids skyrocketed.

“It’s two people with a similar idea, taking different paths,” said Della Tolhurst, who was president of Roberts’ company Original Appalachian Artworks. “I don’t think so [Thomas] “She had the same drive as Xavier…She was more of a folk artist and wanted to continue being that.”

In 1984, they reached an undisclosed settlement.

“There was a broader question between capitalism and art: was something stolen or inspired? I wasn’t expecting those bigger questions while making a documentary,” Jenks said.

“Some of the reactions were definitely the opposite of the very sincere and touching ones [Cabbage Patch Kids] He came from.”

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