Let Marcel Proust have his madeleines. For Gen Xers and elder Millennials, there’s nothing like the scent of Strawberry Shortcake and her dessert-themed friends for bringing back fond childhood memories. Strawberry may already be in her mid-40s, but she continues to win over younger fans and maintain an impressive presence in the pop culture landscape, with a Netflix series and plenty of merchandise, much of it in the “classic” style, on store shelves. Here are 10 things you may not have known about this berry sweet cartoon franchise.
1. Strawberry Shortcake started out as a greeting card.
The American Greetings Corporation debuted Strawberry Shortcake on a greeting card in 1979. A few years earlier, executive Jack Chojnacki had noticed how well merchandise with strawberries was selling, and asked his Cleveland team to come up with a strawberry-themed character that would also resonate with fans of the company’s popular “Blue Girl,” Holly Hobbie. A bestselling Valentine’s Day card, Girl with a Daisy, featured a little girl wearing a big bonnet with strawberries. She became the model for “Strawberry Patches,” until the company changed the name because it was already being used elsewhere, and Strawberry Shortcake was born.
2. She was almost lost in a lawsuit.
By the early ‘80s, the Strawberry Shortcake franchise had become a multimedia juggernaut. Sales in 1981 were estimated between $300 and $500 million. In 1982, freelance illustrator Barbi Sargent sued American Greetings. Her claim: Girl with a Daisy, the card that started it all, was her creation, and when executives decided to market their strawberry character, they turned to her and asked her to draw a pinker and berrier version nearly identical to the final product.
The company countered that Sargent was not the creator, but a subcontractor, and part of a bigger team. Surprisingly, the courts disagreed with American Greetings, and Sargent won. Realizing this meant the end of Strawberry Shortcake, Sargent returned the rights to her former employer, saying it had never been about the money, but about getting the credit.
3. Her ‘80s specials never aired on network television.
The first Strawberry Shortcake special, 1980’s The World of Strawberry Shortcake, was rejected by the networks for not meeting educational content standards for children’s programming. These standards were the result of a longtime campaign by parent groups worried that toy companies made shows that were just long commercials for their products. While toy company Kenner, which bankrolled the specials, did not openly admit to doing that, writer and voiceover actor Romeo Muller said as much in 1981.
“I suppose that the show is a commercial, in the largest sense of the word,” Muller told The New York Times. But Kenner found a loophole in the law by syndicating all the specials on independent stations. That loophole closed in 1990 with the Children’s Television Act, which required even independents to follow the rules.
4. She has connections to Disney and the ‘70s porn industry.
The first actress to voice Strawberry Shortcake was Russi Taylor, who starred in all six ‘80s specials. In 1991, Taylor became the voice of the seventh, and to-date longest serving, Minnie Mouse. She even married Mickey—or rather, actor Wayne Allwine, who voiced him from 1977 to 2009—in real life. Character actor Robert Ridgely voiced the villainous Peculiar Purple Pieman in the same six specials. His last onscreen role was as financial backer The Colonel James in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 ode to the porno chic era, Boogie Nights.
5. The Purple Pieman met E.T.
In 1982, The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak—or rather, his Kenner doll—made a cameo in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster sci-fi film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. In a short scene in Gertie’s closet, the camera pans over a shelf of toys, including the Pieman and his distinctive toque and mustache.
6. Charles Schulz may have thrown shade at Strawberry Shortcake.
In 1986, Peanuts artist Charles M. Schulz briefly introduced a character named Tapioca Pudding. Tapioca soon annoyed the rest of the kids with her obsession with getting her image on T-shirts and other merchandise. Sally Brown was particularly incensed, since Linus Van Pelt, her “sweet baboo” asked Tapioca to the movies, and complained to her brother Charlie about “Blueberry Muffin” stealing her man. Peanuts fans were confused by the gag, and surmised that Schulz was taking a jab at the Strawberry Shortcake franchise, which was known for its aggressive licensing, putting characters on every piece of merchandise imaginable. Ironically, Schulz was no slouch when it came to his creations being licensed for merchandising, and in 2017, the same company acquired licensing rights to both Peanuts and Strawberry Shortcake.
7. She has multiple connections to My Little Pony.
Michael Vogel, creator of the latest Strawberry Shortcake reboot, Berry in the Big City, also worked on the My Little Pony reboot, Friendship is Magic, and its offshoots. Several actors doing voices on his show have also worked on My Little Pony. But Strawberry Shortcake’s connections to My Little Pony go back even further. In 1991, Kenner, which made the first Strawberry Shortcake dolls, was taken over by Hasbro, the creator of My Little Pony. And in 2008, Hasbro started producing Strawberry Shortcake dolls based on the franchise’s third reboot, Berry Bitty Adventures.
8. She has grown up over the years, and her style has evolved.
In her very first television special, Strawberry Shortcake celebrated her sixth birthday. Considering that she lived on her own, and owned her own home as well as a bakery and strawberry farm, she was quite mature for her age, The 2003 reboot, however, aged her up a few years, making her a tween, while ditching the little girlish big bonnet and dress for pants and a smaller hat.
The 2009 reboot put Strawberry back in a dress—albeit a more grown-up one—and swapped the hat for a cap, and aged her even more, to a young teen. She also became a café owner, and her friends ran businesses in Berry Bitty City. In the newest reboot, Berry in the Big City, Strawberry still seems to be a young teen, but her style is much more casual, with a jacket over her dress and sneakers paired with her classic green and white striped tights.
9. Strawberry Shortcake and her friends have different incarnations all over the world.
Kenner licensed the rights to their dolls to toy companies all over the world. While most just stuck to the original characters and designs, a few didn’t. Most notable was Brazilian company Estrela, whose line of 5-inch vinyl “Moranguinho” dolls (Little Strawberry, in Portuguese) almost immediately veered from Kenner’s by changing clothes and hats, even the scents, to appeal more to local tastes, making dolls like Little Guava and Little Pineapple. They even made flower-themed dolls, including Little Rose and Little Daisy, and an international line featuring dolls in traditional dress. By the time Estrela stopped making its Moranguinho line in 1992, the company had made 68 dolls, most of them original designs.
10. One character was gender-swapped—more than once.
The 1980 television special The World of Strawberry Shortcake introduced a character named Plum Puddin’. Plum was a very smart little boy who always carried a pencil behind his ear and loved math. Unlike the other characters in that special, including Huckleberry Pie, he wasn’t made into a doll, and wasn’t in any of the next three TV specials. But Plum finally returned to Strawberryland in 1984’s Strawberry Shortcake and the Baby Without a Name, and was released as a doll shortly after. However, this Plum was a girl, and nobody, not even Strawberry, seemed to notice.
Fans have long speculated the change was due to the toy industry believing boy dolls don’t sell well to girls, and apparently that continued to be the case, because the next two reboots featured Plum as a girl, with Berry Bitty Adventures even turning her into a ballerina instead of a scientist. Berry in the Big City, however, goes back to the OG Plum, making him a boy, and a tech aficionado, once again.
A.K. Whitney is a longtime print and online journalist in Southern California, and has written several pieces for Mental Floss over the years. Late last year, she published a cookbook, The Unofficial Strawberry Shortcake Cookbook, with Adams Media, and imprint of Simon & Schuster. The book is her love letter to the fandom she loves so much, and her chance to make and eat as much dessert as possible.