In 1965 Hasbro took a rather non-traditional route in creating a doll that would win little girls' hearts. Rather than the usually tarted-up Barbie clone, with beach house, closets full of clothes, sports car, and preppie boyfriend, they went in the exact opposite direction: a doll who had practically nothing, barely even the clothes on her back - and who even held out her hand as if she were asking for a coin.
Little Miss No Name was the doll that (perhaps cynically) sought to pull little girls' heart-strings as an object of downright pity. The doll is dressed in rags, barefoot; and - most pitiful of all - a very large, wet tear cascades down her smooth little dirt-smudged cheek. LMNN goes straight for the pity card, and plays it like a pro: her very reason for existence was to elicit feelings of love and protectiveness from children, who would presumably take the doll home and care for her the way she should be cared for.
Of course, even including the tear, LMNN's most striking feature is her pair of enormous brown eyes. This was very much in keeping with a pop-culture trend of the day, which could best be summarized as Waifish, Pitiful Children With Frickin' Huge Eyes. The mid-60's was a time when a lot of people hung such pictures above their mantelpieces or in rec rooms - children or cutesy animals with enormous peepers, staring plaintively at the viewer in some silent plea of compassion or some other vaguely uncomfortable emotion. The artwork of Margaret Keane (whose husband Walter apparently provided the marketing genius) was especially popular and widespread; but one could open practically any mass-market publication (especially comic books) and find offers to send away for little posters featuring attention-starved kids or pets. Little Miss No Name was certainly inspired by such artwork, although reportedly the Keanes weren't actually part of the team involved in designing the doll.
Unfortunately, our Little Miss No Name was not a huge seller. But then, how could she be, when faced with the enormous marketing machine virtually throwing glitzier, more accoutrement-laden dolls at America's little girls? ('Besides,' the pinheads in the boardroom might have argued, 'the product has no ancillary sales attached to it - we can't upsell kids on clothes or playhouses or vehicles or gadgets; homeless orphans don't have those things!')
We (okay, me) here at Pop-Cult are often smart-alecks out to take a cheap shot as often as we speak profoundly of a pop culture item. But let's set that aside for just a moment:
Maybe it took a special sort of little girl, a girl with real love in her heart, to want to purchase and take home a Little Miss No Name. Certainly, this toy should have awakened many children's need to themselves act as surrogate parents, to take care of something smaller and more needful than themselves. Surely this is one of the functions of toys, and why almost all little girls - even those who are still toddlers themselves - feel an almost instinctual urge to carry around a 'baby,' their doll, whose needs they can look after and upon whom they can bestow love and attention.
Sure, Barbie is an enticing toy, which little girls can use to vicariously act out their fantasies of consumption, popularity, and mating rituals; but Barbie doesn't seem to need anything for herself. What kid ever felt the need to hug a Barbie doll simply because it seemed to need a little affection?
Little Miss No Name, aside from whatever cynicism was employed in her creation, gave little girls a truly needful doll with whom they could express honest feelings of compassion and mercy. God bless those girls who chose her for this purpose.