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Mattel's darling, Barbie, is still glamorous at 40

She's reinvented herself numerous times since her debut in 1959, but the doll's still got it. "She's just so beautiful," croons an admirer at Barbie's birthday bash.

She debuted in 1959 as a classic pin-up girl: spiked heels, black and white strapless bathing suit, bee-stung lips, powder blue eye shadow.

Last week, after 40 years and various incarnations _ businesswoman, teacher, rock band member and World Cup soccer jock _ Barbie dazzled fans again in a glamorous gown inspired by her first outfit. Accents included black gloves, rhinestone jewelry and a bouquet of 40 miniature pink roses.

"She's just so beautiful," said Linda Costello, a 46-year-old accountant who was one of hundreds at the 40th Anniversary Barbie's unveiling at the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers.

The ceremony was the highlight of a three-day National Barbie Convention, a mecca for collectors of the 11{-inch plastic icon that has enraptured millions of young girls.

"There are so many different kinds of Barbie that there's one that appeals to everyone," Costello said.

She wasn't kidding.

There's the Erica Kane Barbie modeled after Susan Lucci, the All My Children star who finally won an Emmy this year with her 19th nomination. Like The X-Files? Go for the Scully and Mulder _ aka Ken, Barbie's longtime boyfriend _ duo.

There's also Los Angeles Dodgers Barbie, Horse Lovin' Barbie, U.S. Marine Barbie, NASCAR Barbie, Baywatch Barbie and Snow White Barbie, all priced between $20 to $50.

Fans of The Wizard of Oz can snag a Dorothy Barbie for a mere $280 or a Madame du Barbie sporting a silver ballgown designed by Bob Mackie for $225.

Barbie, a product of the El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel, was born when Dwight Eisenhower was president, Ben-Hur won Best Picture and Fabian and Frankie Avalon made teenage girls swoon.

She evolved with the times _ a mini-skirted college graduate in the 1960s, a sun worshiper and disco dancer in the 1970s, a briefcase-carrying executive in the 1980s and finally, a professional women's basketball, soccer player and NASCAR driver in the 1990s.

The mother lode for collectors is a pristine copy of the first Barbie that has never, ever been removed from her original box.

"That could go for $5,000 or more," said Stacy Morris, 36, a collector from Spokane, Wash. "But something like that is extremely rare. Most have been taken out of the box at least once."

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To mark Barbie's 40th birthday, photographer David Levinthal created a series of large-format, color-saturated Polaroids for an exhibit called Girlfriend!: The Barbie Sessions. Organized by the San Jose Museum of Art, it will be in Florida at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach Nov. 13-Jan. 16, 2000.