All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
PART 2: THE REALIZATION
How confident were we that Tyco would like Special Deliveries? Very! So confident, in fact, that on this rare occasion, KISCOM took me with them to Tyco’s offices in Mount Laurel New Jersey for the presentation. I had been there several times before, because of the ill-fated concept, Invasion Earth, and later, Doggie Bag Doggies. Two of Tyco’s executives, David and Richie were my favorites. David’s job was finding outside products, and Richie was in charge of making them a reality.
We showed Special Deliveries to David, and he immediately called Richie into his office to see them. They spontaneously agreed: “We’re making these!” And that was that! Beginning, right there and then, we were off and running. Hooray! Rarely in the world of toy inventing does acceptance come so quickly or easily. The same thrill had happened several times before for us with Baby Face, Animax, and Weenies! But this time was a little different, a little better, for we already knew and liked these guys immensely.
Their first order of business was to hire me to sculpt a dozen heads, each with a different expression. Baby Face had not escaped Richie’s attention, and he was fully aware of my propensity for pumping out expressions. I made the twelve heads out of Super Sculpey.
This collage shows only eleven that are different. Can you detect which two are the same?
Technology had advanced considerably in the few years since Baby Face. The ability to make copies of my Sculpey heads in wax, while slightly enlarging them to compensate for shrinkage had improved dramatically. Now, Tyco sent me seven wax copies to finish and perfect. This task proved to be much easier than doing the same for Baby Face, just a few years before.
Tyco also supplied me with neck joints to install. Therefore, the hot wax machine I used on Baby Face came out of storage. Studying these seven faces, I see that there are some expressions missing here that later appeared in the stores, which tells me that sometime after I finished these, they sent me more.
Working on these dolls with Tyco was mostly wonderful. Nevertheless, there were a couple of developments that qualified as disappointments. The first, was the fact that they chose to eliminate the flocking on the heads. I gather that decision was born out of both cost cutting efforts, and, in my opinion, misplaced aesthetics. Admittedly, it saved some money, which meant the dolls could sell for less, and secondly, some unimaginative individuals saw babies that were slightly fuzzy as slightly weird. The illusion that these dolls were sewn, not molded out of plastic was perfect! What a shame they dropped that unique feature!
Years later, I made some dolls called "Friendz n’ Family" that were flocked in the same way. And, to this day, ladies in Russia, who worship them on Pinterest, are convinced that their flocked heads, hands, and feet are actually hand sewn. And they try to duplicate them in fabric. I never fail to smile at their failed attempts, while reading of their frustration in translation.
The second disappointment was the name, "Special Delivery." Unfortunately, Tyco’s legal department soon learned that the name Special Delivery had been trademarked, earlier that very year, by a company called, Ashton Drake for a porcelain doll sculpted by a man named, Titus Tomescu. Ashton Drake had trademarked a whole bunch of nearly generic names, like “Cute as a Button,” and “Clean as a Whistle.” Each was connected to one doll, only, in a line of many. These dolls were rather “high end” at about fifty dollars each, for the collectors market. Tyco offered Ashton Drake more money than this single doll would ever make to merely let them share the name. But they refused emphatically. Meanwhile, KISCOM and I maintained that the name Special Deliveries was so generic that a qualifying addition to it, like the word "Very," could have made it useable. But Tyco’s legal department preferred to play it safe.
Just the other day, after all these years, curiosity got the better of me, and I looked up Titus Tomescu’s “Spedial Delivery” doll, which, even though, it disappeared a year after it was made, still appears on eBay. At the risk of displaying a hint of sour grapes, I’ll dare say that it resembles one of the Pinheads from Tod Browning’s movie, “Freaks” to me. Is this just my imagination? What do you think?
So, aided by their ad agency, Tyco came up with a new name. The name was “C.O.D.” Oy Vey! What is a "COD?" Any kid who's learning how to read can tell you, "It's some kind of Fish!" We hated the name! So did everyone at Tyco. That's what was so strange! Even though, nobody really liked it, they stuck with the name COD! It stands for “Cuddle on Delivery.”
Meanwhile, there was one very subtle nuance involved in the manufacturing of CODs that, perhaps, no one has ever noticed, except me. I find it hard to believe that while Tyco eliminated the flocking, they went to the trouble, and extra expense, to include this nuance on the menu. One of my favorite techniques to expedite the illusion of life, involves the avoidance of eyes, blankly staring forward, catatonically and doll-like. On the other hand, positioning a figure's eyes to look up, or down, or slightly to one side, helps to imply an inner life.
This was easier said than done in the case of CODs, as the eyes consisted of only an iris and a pupil with no whites. The solution I came up with was to gently shift the pupil on the iris, positioning it slightly to one side, to suggest that the doll is not staring straight foreword. This, of course, would never happen in real life. And it required manufacturing special eyes, and keying them to look in the same direction, on each variation.
I can’t believe I found the following drawings. They are my handwritten instructions to Tyco’s product development department, explaining how to make the eyes. Their design was deceptively complex. A flat tab would assure that the eyes were positioned correctly in each head. Doll eyes like this had never been done before, or since. I was amazed that, even though, the effect was subtle, Tyco took the extra trouble to execute my design.
And, now, Behold the CODs! The dolls you see, here and below, are actual production models. The fact that they so closely resemble what Tyco was given in the beginning is something of a Miracle. My years in the toy industry have taught me, sadly, that such faithful reproduction of an original presentation is a rarity.
Working with the folks at Tyco proved to be wonderful. And it shows! The dolls that they produced were amazingly faithful to both the look and spirit of the originals. And all the features were still there. The surprise of discovering if the baby is a boy or a girl remained. The tell-tale postmark on the baby’s diaper and the postage stamps that were either blue of pink were cleverly hidden, behind a cardboard insert diaper. And the baby’s wristband still revealed his or her uniquely secret name. The box contained an album of colorful stamps as well. And, best of all, the dolls were adorable!
Tyco even captured the essence of the package, which, in spite of an overdose of information, still managed to convey the postal theme. A series of pictorial postage stamps on the sides and back cleverly conveyed the dolls many features. The package promised a lot for just twelve dollars, and its contents delivered! There was no disappointment factor.
Working on this website, now, twenty years later, I’m learning many things about the CODs that I didn’t realize at the time. At that moment in KISCOM’s history, I was always busy, working on the Next project. Therefore, I paid little attention to many things that were happening, right before my eyes. For instance, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that some of the COD logos are pink and others are blue. You can see that on the doll packages below. I wonder why? If I, the baby’s father didn’t notice this difference, I doubt that others noticed either.
Consequently, I just came up with a theory. Could these logo colors be a clever clue, hidden in plain sight, revealing to Tyco’s shipping department, the gender of the doll inside? Whether the baby was a boy or girl was merchandised as a secret. And Tyco carefully kept the blue or pink stamps on the diaper hidden, behind a printed cardboard diaper. On the other hand, it was a given that girl dolls were a more popular that boy dolls, at least, in 1996, when the CODs were made. Dare I say these words today? Thus, shipments would have to be weighted accordingly.
In the two cases of six dolls each that Tyco sent me, which, by the way, I never opened, until last week, Two packages had blue logos, and four were pink. If the logo colors realy did reveal, to those in the know, the secret gender of the dolls inside, two blue and four pink would have been the perfect mix.
Another caring touch I didn’t notice, until yesterday, is the fact that the black dolls had their own unique packaging, with customized photography. Having been in the toy industry for over forty years, I can testify that such sensitive nuancing was not always the case. Naturally, there were ethnic dolls in the early days, but the packaging was often generically Caucasian, whatever the doll’s race.
I thought the ethnic dolls were great. One of the things I liked about them was the fact that Tyco had given them realistically colored eyes. Which, alas, was not always the case with many of the dolls that were white. Various shades of blue were fine. But some had strange unrealistically colored eyes, like bright lavender and Kelly green. I found these colors disconcerting. They shattered the illusion of life.
The second accessory was another mailbox. This one was of the commercial variety. It transformed into a highchair, complete with a spoon a bowl, a bottle, a bib, and a teddy bear toy with a spinning umbrella. The doll was also unique, although a different one is shown on the package. The doll that came with the set is the one I photographed above, with two small teeth in front. That's the only COD package I ever opened, and I did that many years ago. Everything else is factory sealed, and is destined to remain so.
Beyond the dolls, themselves, Tyco manufactured three clever, and rather spectacular, play sets. I participated in these, although, those drawings have been lost. Many of my early drawings for this concept have been misplaced, which is not to say there aren’t plenty remaining. And you will see them on the next page.
The first of the three accessories was a Mailbox of the residential variety that turned into a cradle. It came with a variety of accessories, a nightgown, a blanket, and a pillow. The set also included a unique doll, not available in the standard series. This nuance was not mentioned in the copy, but it is apparent to me, as I am tuned in to the expressions. Apparently, Tyco did not want to miss a sale, due to the fact that the potential buyer might already have the included doll.
There was one more elaborate accessory, a mail truck that magically turned into a stroller. Apparently, it had a working horn, and light-up headlights, and made the sound of a baby giggling. I never saw this item in person. And the fact is, I’m not sure that Tyco ever shipped it. But it did appear in their Catalogue, which you will see on the final page.
Meanwhile, the page that's coming next is the main reason I undertook this new website. It consists of a treasure trove of long lost drawings, recently rediscovered. They tell the story of what might have been if the CODs meteoric rise to fame had not been terminated in mid-stream.
The following comment is a footnote:
Earlier this evening, I was paging through my partner’s product book, and quite accidently, I came across the page dedicated to CODs. Pasted to one corner, was this strange fragment of a photo. I guess, someone at KISCOM snapped it years ago. It shows part of the original presentation at the time it was shown to Tyco. It tells me something that I had totally forgotten. Namely, that the missing boards that accompanied the original presentation were in color. I can see that from this photo, even though, it’s black and white.
I have long ago stopped wondering why I spend my time doing this website. By now, I realize it’s because it’s fun, more fun, and more productive than working on a crossword puzzle. Every product that I write about is like solving a mystery. The deeper I get into each short history, the more clues I discover, as, bit by bit, and piece by piece, I exercise my fading memory. Discovering clues, like the one above, never fails to excite me.