In 1962, Mattel produced a talking doll that was destined to become a favorite childhood companion. Chatty Cathy spoke eleven different phrases when the ring protruding from the back of her neck was pulled. I pulled that string often just to hear Chatty Cathy say, “I love you.”
For months, Chatty Cathy was next to me every night as I slept. In the morning, I would gently tuck her small frame under the bed covers with her head on the pillow where her face would be the first thing I would see at night when I entered my bedroom.
One evening, I joined my mother in the living room to watch an episode of one of our favorite programs, “The Twilight Zone.” I was no stranger to scary television programs. Both of us were fans of horror and science fiction, having spent many evenings engaged with such horror classics as “The Outer Limits” and “Chiller Theater.” I learned early that television was make-believe and in 1963, at the ripe old age of seven, I considered myself scare-proof.
This evening would be very different.
The Twilight Zone episode that evening was about a talking doll. Like Chatty Cathy, Talky Tina, was a favorite companion of the little girl in this episode. Long before there was a Chucky, the most lethal maniacal doll on any screen was Talky Tina. From the moment she entered the little girl’s home, this doll was set on destruction. Wind her up. She might fool you with an expression of love, or in a more honest moment, threaten you with death.
Talky Tina did not like the girl’s father. From the beginning of the episode, this man is characterized as belligerent and, perhaps, even abusive. He had opposed the purchase of the doll and, instead of enjoying the delight of his daughter over her new companion, he throws a tirade when the little girl comes home with her. He immediately plots to either discard or destroy the doll, but his every attempt to rid his home of Talky Tina is met with failure. With each attempt, he is taunted by the doll and her early replies of “My name is Talky Tina and I think I could even hate you,” are eventually replaced with threats of harm.
In the final scene, we see him fall down the steps over the doll who has gingerly positioned herself on one of the steps. He breaks his neck and the doll tumbles down the steps landing next to his twisted body. The noise awakens the mother and as she picks up the doll next to her husband’s body, we hear the most famous line of the program come from Talky Tina. “My name is Talky Tina and you better be nice to me.”
After the program, I left the living room and headed up the staircase for my bedroom. Inside the bedroom door, I could see Chatty Cathy tucked in my bed. The room was dark, but her eyes, dimly lit by the hall light, seemed to look directly into mine. I was immediately filled with fear.
I snatched her from the bed and threw her across the room. She landed against the wall and the force resulted in decapitation.
I picked up the pieces of my broken doll and placed her in the closet covered by a blanket. I was sure she was angry with me and spent countless nights watching the closet door, waiting for her to emerge to seek revenge. For years, Chatty Cathy remained as the monster in my closet.
I did not see her again until the day I moved away from home. I found her broken body and head in the closet under the blanket and a pile of clothes. I pulled her string, but Chatty Cathy said nothing.
As an adult, I have very different monsters to battle. Some of them take shape as stress, fatigue, hurt or anger. Real-life monsters can be difficult, and conquering them is often a work-in-progress, despite my plots of their demise. At times, the monsters bring pain; other times they appear as warnings when life is off-kilter and in need of change. As much as I fight them, it does little good to tuck them in bed or hide them in the closet.
Still, on any given night, I still might find myself staring at that closet door. I keep it closed – just in case.