Lilli began life as the character of a comic strip in the 1950s Hamburg, Germany, newspaper called "Bild-Zeitung." The character was good-looking, curvy, fashionable, and quite liberated for her time. The Lilli doll sold first in tobacco shops and other stores frequented by men. Initially, she was intended as a party gag or gift for the man of the house, and she gained popularity among German men at about the same time Hugh Heifner's "Playboy" magazine entertained hip American men in the United States. By the mid-1950s, Bild Lilli's manufacturer distributed the doll to toy stores where she appealed to girls looking for a fashion doll. The doll's popularity spread throughout Europe; Hausser/Elastolin arranged for the production of Lilli in England, Australia, and Hong Kong. Louis Marx & Co. used Lilli molds to produce its "Bonnie" and a 15-inch doll it called "Miss Seventeen." When Mattel's executive Ruth Handler traveled to Europe with her family in 1956, she saw in Lilli exactly the fashion doll she had been trying to get her company's designers to produce for American girls. Handler purchased examples of the dolls to take back to Mattel's artists. Even a casual glance at Lilli and the first Barbies suggests how similar the dolls are. The Barbie doll has remained phenomenonally popular since its introduction in 1959. For years, Barbie--a single product line--accounts for a healthy portion of Mattel's gross sales each year. And Barbie owes her considerable success to her older German cousin.