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The real-life story of the Barbie movie's tax & IRS references

Margot Robbie as Barbie in the iconic doll movie_Warner Bros
Margot Robbie as the title character in the Barbie movie based on the iconic doll. (Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

I haven't seen the Barbie movie yet, but as fan of filmmaking and owner as a child of a couple of Barbie dolls, I have been following the stories about the script, production, costumes, sets, and stars.

But what really caught my attention were the tax remarks by the character portraying Barbie's creator.

Barbie arrived in American stores in 1959 thanks to Ruth Handler, who along with her husband had founded the doll's corporate manufacturer Mattel a decade earlier. Many were skeptical of an adult doll for girls, particularly one with a notably grown-up figure. Handler, however, correctly perceived there was a niche to be filled at a time when baby and paper dolls dominated.

Handler is played by Rhea Perlman (yes, Carla from television's Cheers). In the Greta Gerwig–directed film, Perlman as Handler repeatedly (reportedly, since as I noted I've not yet seen the movie) mentions the Internal Revenue Service and tax evasion.

Why did Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script with her partner Noah Baumbach, include this definitely not Barbie dream world reference? Because Handler, who died in 2002 at age 85, did have a major legal run-in with Uncle Sam.

Financial legal troubles: Handler's tax troubles, however, weren't connected to her individual filings. Rather, in 1978 Handler was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

That year, The New York Times reported that Handler and another Mattel executive were charged in a 10-count indictment of, among other things, falsifying internal business records concerning earnings and sales in 1971, 1972, and 1973 so that they could influence the market price of the toy company's stock. In 1971 alone, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report alleged that Mattel's reported pretax income of approximately $34 million may have been overstated "in the approximate magnitude of $15 million to $20 million."

Handler continued to publicly maintain her innocence, but pleaded no contest to charges the government levied against her. She could have received 41 years in prison for all the charges, but under the plea was ordered to pay $57,000 in fines and serve five years of probation. The judge also tacked on 500 hours of community service per year.

Barbie and more: Given that tax connection, this weekend's Saturday Shout Outs go to several stories about Handler, her financial and health troubles, and her iconic doll.

Let's start, since the ol' blog is about taxes, with The New York Times' Feb. 17, 1978, article, 4 Ex‐Officers of Mattel Among 5 Indicted on Conspiracy Charges.

The more current Vanity Fair magazine piece Ruth Handler: Sex Toys, Financial Crimes and the Origin of Barbie has more on, well, the things noted in its clickbait headline.

The ABC News website reprints a USA Today article with the bit more restrained title of Scandal tainted long career of Barbie's creator.

Yahoo cuts right to the chase it its post Here's What That IRS Joke About Ruth Handler In 'Barbie' Actually Refers To.

Finally, there's Ruth Handler's Role in 'Barbie' Movie Explained, Barbara Cameo Debunked, an Us Magazine piece posted at Yes, AOL, like Barbie, is still around.

Enjoy the scoop on Handler, Barbie, and the small role taxes have in the movie.

And if you haven't decided whether to buy a ticket, this trailer might help you make up your mind.


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