Birthday Girl Barbie

Since she first came onto the scene, Barbara Millicent Roberts, aka Barbie, has captured the imagination of millions of girls.

And, as Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, while the one-time teenage fashion model is getting on in years, you might never know it.

Barbie is turning the big 5-0.

"I think she looks great … she's still hot," said one Barbie fan.

She made her debut at the New York Toy Fair in 1959. Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler modeled Barbie after a sexy German doll named Bild Lilly.

In the five decades since, the fashionista has changed with the times, from the pill box hats of the 1960's, to the sun-kissed Malibu Barbie of the 70's, and the big hair of the 80's, becoming the top selling doll of all-time.

"What was it about Barbie that struck such a nerve in America?" Kauffman ask M.G. Lord, author of "Forever Barbie."

"I think Barbie really was in a lot of ways the first feminist. She kind of pointed the way out of the kitchen for little girls," Lord said.

Barbie's not all about play. She's enjoyed 108 careers; as a nurse, astronaut, doctor, Marine and, long before Hillary, Barbie was a presidential candidate. Her newest job? A TV chef.

She's also traveled in style.

And then there are the men in her life, including a very public breakup from long-time boyfriend Ken in 2004.

"Barbie actually had her midlife crisis at 45, you may recall she ditched Ken and took up with this guy Blaine from Australia. He looked like the pool boy -- it was really embarrassing," Lord said.

For collector Joan Hudson, who has more than 1,000 Barbie's in her Brooklyn home, it's the early dolls that remind her of her own youth.

She had a ponytail and curly bangs, which is how we used to wear our hair -- she wore clothes that we used to wear. She's been very reflective of the different eras," Hudson said.

At the Barbie Design Center outside Los Angeles, Mattel is bringing the doll back to those roots with their latest creation, a tribute to the very first Bathing Suit Barbie.

And for a limited time, Mattel is even throwing back the price tag to just $3 -- the original 1959 price.

The company hopes the birthday celebration will boost the bottom line. Like the rest of America, Barbie is hurting in this economy. Sales took a huge hit during the 2008 holiday season -- down 21 percent.

But Barbie General Manager Richard Dickson says that the plastic princess will reign queen.

"Competition comes and competition goes, and Barbie will always prevail," Dickson said.

"I think Barbie is absolutely part of the one-word Cher, Marilyn, Elvis, icon pantheon. And I think Barbie is going to last even longer than any of those icons," Lord said

"But if she's 50 years old, I assume we're not going to see menopause Barbie?" Kauffman asked.

"No, I don't think you'll see Barbie go through that change," Dickson laughed.

She may be 50, but it doesn't look like Barbie has any intention of slowing down. She's still making an impact all around the world and that includes a big splash in the biggest market on the planet -- China. Click the Play button below to see CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton's report.