Celebrating an Icon: Strawberry Shortcake Turns 40
Strawberry shortcake the dessert has a shelf life of about three days when kept in the refrigerator. Strawberry Shortcake the iconic 1980s character, though, has been around for 40 years and hasn’t spoiled yet.
The redheaded, vaguely-strawberry scented doll was invented by Muriel Fahrion, an artist who now lives and works in Tulsa. Fahrion came up with the character, familiarly known as Strawberry, back in 1979 when she was working as an illustrator for American Greetings, the well-known greeting card company. According to an interview with The Ringer, Fahrion’s boss told her they wanted “something that has daisies, strawberries, a rag doll, and the colors are pink and red.” From that vague outline, Fahrion drew a set of six sketches of a little freckle-faced girl in green stockings. Fahrion also came up with Strawberry’s best friend, Custard the Cat at that point and released the little characters into the world.
Of course, as anyone who grew up in the 1980s knows, Strawberry Shortcake was much more than a greeting card character. That was thanks in part to Fahrion, of course, but also to a man named Bernie Loomis. According to Tulsa World, Loomis was a toy developer and marketing genius who “saw potential in a little film called Star Wars and acquired licensing rights. Boom.”
After his success with Star Wars, Loomis wanted to find a toy that would appeal to girls who perhaps weren’t interested in battles between Jedis and Stormtroopers and rebel fighters. Loomis decided that Strawberry Shortcake was going to be the next big thing—and he was right.
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Fahrion kept her day job making greeting cards while working with a small team of people on the Strawberry Shortcake project on a budget of around $1,000. When the characters were fully fleshed out, Fahrion reportedly gave the drawings to her older sister, Susan Trentel, who took the images and turned them into the first Strawberry Shortcake doll. Loomis loved them and come 1979, Strawberry Shortcake rag dolls were rolling off assembly lines, the first major brand designed explicitly for licensing.
The doll was a hit and little girls across the South started clamoring for more Strawberry Shortcake, Custard the Cat, Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, Raspberry Tart, and everyone else who lived in Strawberryland.
Soon there were Strawberry Shortcake greeting cards and dolls, of course, but also plushies and plastic toys, sheet sets and bedspreads, lunch boxes, clothing, sleeping bags, lamps, books, and eventually an animated series. Fahrion told Tulsa World that she knew her little creation was a star when she saw an animated version of Strawberry Shortcake skipping across a screen for the first time. “I had chills,” she told the paper.
Strawberry was so successful, she earned a profile in People in a story called, “Who’s Red and Sweet and Filthy Rich? Strawberry Shortcake, Toyland’s Newest Tyke-Coon.” Strawberry grossed $100 million in her first year in existence. Strawberry Shortcake was a very big hit.
While Fahrion, who lives in Tulsa and still draws, loves Strawberry, she also loves her other creations: She also helped create the Care Bears and the Get Along Gang and, if you want, will create something just for you. Fahrion sells art and does commissions for fans who reach out to her via Facebook, Instagram, or through her Patreon.com, a website that allows fans to connect and support their favorite artists, which of course includes the Southern woman who created Strawberry Shortcake.