As Warner Brothers prepare to roll out the much-hyped “Barbie” movie, starring Margot Robbie, this summer, the real-life saga of the iconic doll’s creator is more of a horror story than a Hollywood fairy tale.
The creator of a slew of popular toys besides Barbie — including Hot Wheels and Chatty Cathy — Mattel VP Jack Ryan once threatened the life of one of his own children during a paranoid, gun-crazed, cocaine-fueled standoff with LAPD’s SWAT unit.
This and other shocking revelations about the brilliant, but seriously troubled Ryan come from his eldest daughter, Ann Ryan, who’s shopping a memoir and has a podcast, “Dream House,” about her life growing up in the shadow of Barbie and her father.
“My father was drinking and using drugs, cocaine, and he was paranoid,” Ann, 68, told The Post of the frightening police stand-off in an exclusive interview. “He thought people were after him, that they were listening to him electronically. He believed that people were eavesdropping on him, and in a particularly delusional moment, claimed that they were ‘moving the walls.’ He was not in good shape.”
In the spring of 1977, Jack left Mattel, then the world’s largest toy company, as chief designer.
He was in a vicious legal battle, having sued to recover millions of dollars in toy royalties that Mattel had stopped paying him. (Mattel Films is one of the producers of the upcoming $100 million “Barbie” movie.)
According to Ann, her sister, Diana, then 20, was taking time from college to stay with their father in his bizarre faux castle — complete with drawbridge and moat — in the exclusive Bel Air section of Los Angeles.
“My sister had this idea that she was going to become some sort of savior for dad and help him turn his life around,” Ann said. “They had a confrontation and I suspect he thought she was the enemy. By then, the castle looked like post-World War II Dresden.”
A playboy and swinger who married five wives, including actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jack designed and built the castle where he infamously threw sex orgies — even as he lived there with his two daughters and their mother, Jack’s first wife, Barbie.
Ann was 22 when she got a call from one of her father’s colleagues who was working at the castle.
“He did not elaborate. He just said something awful was going on with my father and that I needed to come up to the castle immediately,” she said.
The incident was ignited when Diana walked into a small kitchen adjacent to her father’s third-floor bedroom and discovered one of the burners had been turned on — and was heating up a pan of shotgun shells.
Thinking her father was planning to “blow up the castle,” Diana telephoned the police.
“When I got up there, there were tons of cop cars outside the gate and SWAT team vehicles. I was stunned. I didn’t know what was going on,” Ann recalled.
“His colleague came running out and said, ‘You have to come in. Your father’s holding Diana hostage.’ The police thought maybe I could talk some sense into my dad. They didn’t know what else to do.”
Instead, she got dragged into the madness.
“He dragged me into the house, into the breakfast room, and the cops had me get under the table. That room looked out onto the hallway where my father and Diana were at the top of the stairs,” Ann said. “Dad was holding a gun to Diana’s head, and there were cops with their guns trained on him.
“Diana was trembling and crying. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d seen him act out before, but nothing this extreme and dangerous. I felt helpless. When the SWAT guy encouraged me to say something to my father, I could hardly form the words — like in a dream when you want to scream, but can’t make a sound. It was an out-of-body experience.”
She eventually found her words and pleaded with her father to stand down.
“I said, ‘Dad, Dad, it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Let Diana go.’
“I don’t remember anything specific after that except that at some point he lowered the pistol and cops came out of everywhere and grabbed him and grabbed my sister. I think I blacked out emotionally.”
Jack was taken into custody and soon admitted to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
From there, Ann said, he went into a detox program at a private hospital in Santa Monica.
According to Ann, frightening gun incidents were not unusual when her father, who kept a stash of guns under his bed, was high on cocaine.
He shot out some of the leaded glass windows in his bedroom and shot holes in the ceiling, thinking people out to get him were in the attic and on the roof.
One night when one of his girlfriends was living in the castle, Jack came into her room, woke her up, and told her “’they’ were up in the attic,” Ann said. “He was naked and carrying a shotgun, and insisted she go up in the attic with him. She followed him up, but no bogeymen were found and he calmed down eventually.”
Ann said she wouldn’t characterize her father as a “gun nut” but, when she was 19 and had moved into her first apartment in Beverly Hills, he gave her a shotgun as a housewarming gift.
“If someone comes to your door that you don’t know, just rack the gun, that will send him running,” Ann remembers her father telling her.
When the famed toy creator learned that cops were often shot with their own guns, and wrestled away by perpetrators, he is said to have invented a ring that communicated electronically with the gun so that only the cop wearing the ring could fire the gun.
With a degree from Yale and having studied at Harvard, Jack worked for one of America’s premier defense contractors, Raytheon, during the Cold War, helping to design the ground-to-air Hawk missile and the air-to-air Sparrow III missile, both of which were ordered by the Pentagon.
Creative and inventive, he saw a lucrative future in designing toys and joined the startup Mattel, which had been founded by married couple Ruth and Elliott Handler.
Mattel would become huge and rich as a result of Jack’s patented inventions, Barbie in particular.
In the late 1970s, Jack was forced out of the company by Ruth, who despised his lifestyle and had launched a campaign claiming that Barbie was all her idea — gave Jack no credit for his creation.
The inspiration for Barbie, America’s first truly feminine toy doll, was based on an X-rated adult novelty doll called Bild-Lilli, a popular floozy cartoon character in a German tabloid.
Spotted in a store window by Ruth during a European vacation, she brought it home, gave it to Jack, and told him to use his engineering wizardry to turn it into a moneymaker.
Despite Jack’s and Mattel’s financial success with Barbie, Ruth resented him, despised his libertine lifestyle, and was jealous of the acclaim he received for his many toy designs.
In the late ’70s, Ruth forced Jack out of the company and halted millions of dollars in royalties Mattel owed him — forcing him into serious financial difficulties, and ill health.
Ironically, Ruth herself would be forced out of Mattel in 1975 after she pleaded no contest to the crime of cooking the company’s books and was sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service and a $57,000 fine.
Depressed about his dealings with Mattel and his own deteriorating health issues, Jack killed himself with a gunshot at age 64 in 1991.
After that, Handler published a self-serving book, “Dream Doll,” in which she claimed all credit for Barbie’s creation and success and barely mentioned Jack.
She died in 2002 at age 85, without ever having set the record straight.
“My father put his heart and soul into everything he did for Mattel, which continues to profit from his contributions to this day, but he never got the credit he deserves,” Ann said. “They broke my father’s heart.”
Despite her father’s scary troubles, Ann said, “I don’t want my book to be a Mommy Dearest. I want to be able to celebrate my father’s genius and creativity. I have made peace with him. I am just sad that during his lifetime that I wasn’t able to appreciate him and have the kind of relationship I wish I had had.”
So do we believe the stoner and his daughters or the sane people?