At the height of He-Man's popularity in the early 1980s, Mattel and cartoon studio Filmation discovered an interesting demographic detail about the series: 30 percent of its audience consisted of girls. To help satisfy the unpredicted demand for a female fantasy character, the companies conceived of She-Ra, twin sister of the massively-muscled swordsman and sworn protector of Grayskull’s honor. In honor of the new Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, here are 10 little-known facts about the warrior princess of Etheria.
1. TOY STORES DIDN'T KNOW WHERE TO STOCK SHE-RA.
Despite being an offshoot of the hyper-masculine He-Man line, She-Ra was officially described as a “fashion action doll” by Mattel, a strange amalgamation of sword fighting and hair-combing. That left stores with the dilemma of whether to place her near her Barbie brethren or among the testosterone-laced aisles of action figures. While some stores situated her adjacent to He-Man, Sears put her next to dolls in their catalog; others split the difference and stocked her in both departments.
2. SHE-RA GAVE BARBIE A BOOST.
In the toy world, “flanker” lines are created to help support a main toy product by expanding a category and raising interest. In She-Ra’s case, Mattel saw her as a way of boosting attention for their high-profile Barbie line, which had grown stale. In an interview with He-Man.org, Janice Varney-Hamlin said, “Barbie sales had flattened out at the time, so introducing a competitive fashion doll line that we owned should expand the size of the entire category and allow the Barbie business to grow.” In 1986, after surviving an onslaught from rival Jem and the Holograms, Barbie posted $350 million in sales.
3. SHE WAS VOTED MOST LIKELY TO "HOLD BACK TEARS."
A late 1980s study arranged by the Institute for the Study of Women and Men at the University of Southern California graded different lines based on what girls thought their toys were most or least likely to do. Barbie was expected to be “out on a date”; She-Ra was thought to be less apt to cry. She was also preferred as a mentor over Barbie, with one girl remarking, "I like her because she knows what she wants and how to get it.” (A boy who was asked his opinion said, “She-Ra's strong and really smart. All Barbie is worried about is wearing her clothes and living in her dream house.")
4. SHE-RA'S HEADDRESS IS AN UPSIDE-DOWN MASK.
The original She-Ra fashion action doll issued in 1985 featured a winged headdress that could be flipped upside-down and worn as a mask, but girls in focus groups disliked this feature. Mattel strayed from the idea, buyers were rarely aware of it, and Filmation had her sporting a more conventional tiara in the animated series.
5. MATTEL BOUGHT OUT A RIVAL "SHEERA."
Before Mattel launched the line, they took notice of author Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel, Ladies of Mandrigyn, featuring a character called Sheera. Despite no obvious similarities, Mattel decided to purchase the ancillary rights to the books for $25,000 so no competing toy companies would muddy the waters with a competing Sheera line.
6. SHE-RA HAD A LUST ANIMATION SPECIALIST.
For reaction shots where She-Ra needed to be overly expressive, producers counted on one female animator in particular. According to show writer Bob Forward, the woman in question “threw lust into everything … [the director] used her for everything where he wanted passion.”
7. MATTEL'S BOYS' DEPARTMENT BLAMED SHE-RA FOR HE-MAN'S FALLING SALES.
Despite an aggressive marketing campaign, She-Ra was unable to duplicate the success of her cousin: According to former Mattel employee Roger Sweet, roughly $60 million worth of She-Ra merchandise was sold in 1985, a pittance compared to the $400 million He-Man brought in the following year. But sales subsequently plummeted: According to Hamlin, employees in charge of Mattel’s boy lines were adamant that She-Ra was responsible for their declining sales. (In fact, it was likely over-saturation in the action figure market that led to the character’s demise.)
8. SHE-RA MADE IN STORE APPEARANCES.
Hamlin, who was in charge of marketing for girls' merchandise at Mattel, hired actresses to appear in character as She-Ra for toy stores. She recalls that when she was auditioning women for the part, a sizeable number of male Mattel employees would suddenly appear in hallways.
9. SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE MOVIE.
Masters of the Universe, the notoriously under-budgeted 1987 feature, was originally intended to include She-Ra; concept art by production designer William Stout was even commissioned. But director Gary Goddard felt it would be best to concentrate on He-Man for the first film. (It would be the only film.)
10. SHE-RA WAS NEARLY IN A ROCK BAND.
Fans bemoaned a statement by onetime cartoon property owners Entertainment Rights in 2006 where it was mentioned She-Ra was being considered for a radical reinvention. “We’ll probably re-launch She-Ra featuring a rock-and-roll band and a girl with long blond hair who will have a guitar instead of a sword,” CEO Michael Heap told World Screen. The idea never went anywhere, however, and She-Ra has yet to be resurrected.
A version of this story ran in 2015.