All Photographs Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Why an over-sized dollar bill appeared to be appropriate for the catalogue cover in 1977, escapes my memory today. But it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe because Colorforms was making money, or just because a dollar bill was fun to draw. The president’s signature was Harry’s, and the treasurer’s was that of Colorform’s comptroller, Henry Friedman. Even the little colored hairs embedded in the paper were there. The cover FOLDED OUT to reveal the entire dollar.
This year's New Line (all mine) was an attempt to create a series of basic Pre-School Colorforms Play Sets for younger children, sort of inspired by Fisher Price’s Little People line. Did I say “sort of”? Maybe “shamelessly” inspired by, would better apply. The sets featured “Bigger Pieces for Little fingers”. The characters also had a Colorforms logo look about them. I did the comps, as usual, and Mike Strouth finished them. Years later, when I was no longer with Colorforms, he would continue to grow this line.
The Pre-School Play Sets also introduced another play variation that entered the Colorforms repertoire here, the Fold-Out panel for Inside-Outside play. It stuck around to be used again in many more Colorforms toys to follow. Would I ever run out of royalty expanding variations? At this point, there was no end in sight.
Here’s yet another: “The Count’s Colorforms Castle”. It featured an “innovative” counting device. When a child inserted his finger in the mouth of the pussy face above the fireplace and turned the dial, a series of objects would appear in the counting room window. Then with a touch of the Secret Lever, actually the dragon’s tail, the correct number would appear in the Magic Picture.
The artwork for this set, and several other Sesame Street Colorforms toys, was done by MIKE SMOLLEN. Of all the talented illustrators, who ever tried their hand at creating art for Sesame Street, he was the Best, in my opinion. He was one of my favorite people as well.
Last, but not least, was this total rip-off, of the Fisher Price Sesame Street Play Set. Why Fisher Price didn’t sue us, remains a mystery! Mike Strouth did the finished art. The “original” comp was done by… Hummm….. I can’t remember.
OK , Here’s a concept I CAN be proud of. “The Holly Hobbie Magic-Glow Doll House”. Like “Tricky Mickey magic Colorforms”, before it, it owes its inspiration to optical toys I became familiar with in Europe, and rediscovered as “Boutique Fantastique”. I can find no better words to describe it than these I wrote in 1977:
A Bright New Idea from Colorforms! A beautiful Stand-up Doll House by day becomes a world of enchantment by night. When placed before a lamp or other light source, Stars twinkle in the sky, the full Moon shines magically through the bedroom window, tiny Gaslights seem to glow, and in the hearth a cheery Fire blazes - Kindling fond memories of an Old Fashioned Childhood! With Holly, Heather and a house full of charming Colorforms furniture.
“Holly Hobbie and Heather Pop-Up Picnic” My God! I loved working with Bill Basso. If you study his charming artwork on the finished toy below, and compare it to my comp, you will see why. I based the comp on art by Holly Hobbie herself. But Bill, as always, did it HIS way and made us both, Holly and me, look bad.
Did you think I was running out of Ideas? Not Yet! Behold the awesome “King Kong Panorama Play Set”. Eighth Wonder of the World. I wasn’t monkeying around! This Kong Size Colorforms had more play area and more plastic than ever before. The massive gate on Scull Island opened wide to reveal a Spectacular 32” Jungle Panorama inside. (Dinosaurs not included).
The other side featured the New York Skyline as seen from the top of the World Trade Center. This set is a sad collectible, indeed. King Kong where were you when we needed you? The artwork was by Bill Basso.
Two years later the “Raggedy Ann Surprise Package” was still in the line. But this time the Package had been redesigned. Gone were the pink candy stripes, and the name was changed to, “8 Great Activities”. In fact, the entire activity line had been redesigned, They were no longer called “Busy Fingers”. The Packages were less busy too.
“Color n’ Play” had undergone the most radical transformation. Because the crayons smeared and rubbed off so easily the name was changed to “Color and Re-color. Thus, its biggest fault became a feature. Talk about making lemonade! But there were also other factors at play. Crayola woke up to the fact that Colorforms had produced a product and a package that Crayola should have done themselves. They sent us a legal notice, warning that if we didn’t stop using diagonal Crayola-like lines on our product, they’d take our crayons away.
Here’s my comp for Holly Hobbie, intended to be "Color n’ Play". It was produced as "Color and Re-color" too.
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The name “Sew Ons” survived the change. The new packages looked like the others, boring and all the same. I find it hard to believe I willingly took part in this mass transformation, but I actually remember creating these somewhat messy mock-ups shown here in the catalogue
The 1977 Catalogue ended with a whimper, old fashioned “Sewing Cards”: Holly Hobbie and Mother Goose. The Holly Hobbie set uses actual artwork borrowed from Holly. Mike Strouth did the “Mother Goose Sewing Cards” himself.