All Photographs Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Colorforms began 1985 with all their Lazers Blazing. The cover of the catalogue was an actual Lazer Blazer sticker, against a field of black. The lead item for that year wus “Wuzzles”. These were a bunch of mixed-up animals who lived in the “Land of Wuz”. This concept wus about as contrived as they come. I never could quite figure out what they wuz! But that such a thing could even exist wuz sure encouraging to us, Kiscom and I, as we tried our hand at the same game.
Several years before, when I was bombarding Harry with any variation I could think up to stake a claim on Colorforms, one of the concepts I showed him was “Snoopy 3-D Colorforms”. Of all the product innovations I tried, this one stirred up the least enthusiasm. The fact that it required glasses resulted in immediate rejection. Now, years later, a guy who had been around for years, adapting comic books to 3-D, walked through the door of Colorforms and offered the concept to Len Sausen. And Len, with all the passion of someone who had a vested interest, licensed this generic concept and offered its presenter a royalty of 5%.
Ouch! This stung a little, especially, as I was the guy who had to create the multi-layered backgrounds, just as I would have done for 3-D Snoopy. The vinyl pieces had to be conceived in layers too, with wide white borders to allow room for the double image. Mike and I plowed through these complex time-consuming sets together, “Thunder Cats” and "Golden Girls".
Puzzleforms continued with Wuzzles and Robot Man, a concept that never quite took off.
The name “Color N’ Play” returned on my new contrivance for the year. This involved coloring the background with non-Crayola crayons, then placing it under an acetate overlay and pretending the new full-color lithographed vinyl Colorforms could still “Stick like Magic”. There were two titles, “Cabbage Patch Kids” and “Wuzzles”.
The Rub n’ Play transfer sets continued with 3 new titles, Rainbow Brite and Cabbage Patch appearing on TV, and a third proposed title, so “new" there was nothing to show, “Sectaurs”. Ouch! again. That one Hurt; I'll explain why.
This is as good a place as any to talk about the Weenies. When Coleco took on Weenies, they were working on another concept as well, “Sectaurs”. There were two product managers at Coleco, who were, more or less, in competition with each other to push the line, to which they were assigned. In this case, Harvey Zelman was in charge of Weenies, and Jerry Wood championed Sectaurs. Jerry was winning the race. His product was progressing faster than Weenies.
A Sectaur was, basically, a black glove with a bug body attached. When a child put his hand in the glove, he could make it look like the bug was walking. The effect was dramatic. Then a line of action figures was created to ride the bugs, and that was Sectaurs. Sectaurs was a product oriented concept; the license grew out of the product. Weenies, on the other hand, were Character oriented. Let's face it, they were Mickey Mouse and his pals, reincarnated as hot dogs. There was no central product. But the characters, as was the case with Mickey Mouse, could be applied to anything from toys to timepieces.
Kiscom transported Lullaby Dreamers to CBS Toys, a division of CBS TV, and sold it to them instantly. The deal itself, was Dreamy, even bigger than the Weenies.
Meanwhile, I endured another year at Colorforms. While getting their entire line together, and making sure everything was on time, as well as being on time myself, for every important flea market, antique or toy show on the East Coast, proved to be a full-time job. My body somehow managed it, while my head and heart was with the Sandman, drifting through the Dreamland sky.
Then, one morning, we woke up to discover that CBS, the parent company, had dropped CBS Toys. And that was the end of the toy division, the company, the factory, the employees, and the toys. Everything, including Lullaby Dreamers, which had been renamed, “Sleep Stars”, had to go. We rubbed our eyes in disbelief. Was all this just a Dream? Maybe! Then again, perhaps it really happened, after all, for underneath my pillow, the following morning, I found a big fat check.
Colorforms Puzzle line continued to grow in 1985. This fabulous Robot poster caught my toy collector's eye. Colorforms tracked down its creator, a Canadian artist and toy collector, and it became a puzzle in the line.
They had invested in an ill-fated computer, called the "Adam" that turned out to be a disaster. How bad was it? Cabbage Patch Kid owner’s were supposed to get a birthday card on their doll's first birthday. The postage, alone, would have been millions. Coleco couldn’t afford to send them. Some woman sued, and the story made the newspapers.
Coleco realized they could only afford to introduce one new product. And, primarily because it had a product feature that would look exciting in a 30 second commercial, Sectaurs was the chosen one. Even though, there were 30 licensees on board, and with tens of thousands in advances and guarantees already paid, the Weenies had to go. Ironically, Jerry Wood, eventually left Coleco to go into toy inventing, and worked with Kiscom too.
How sad were we? Devastated! But Coleco made good on the advance and guarantee, paying us in monthly installments, throughout the following year. And so it was that “Close, But No Cigar” was proving to be a lucrative career.
Meanwhile Adam and Andy and I were already working on another property. This time I was flying solo. It was called “LULLABY DREAMERS”.
Every night when the sun goes down, and a million twinkling stars fill the midnight sky. The Man in the Moon, himself, comes out and winks a friendly eye, as silently on the winds of night a majestic ship sails by. It is the Dreamboat, and its Captain is the Sandman, a merry elf-like fellow, who circles the Earth at bedtime, sprinkling his Magic Sand in the eyes of sleepy children everywhere, to transport them to the Land of Dreams.
The Public saw Coleco as a company at the pinnacle of success, overflowing with the proceeds of the Cabbage Patch Kids. So did we. While, in reality, they were in trouble and on the brink of Bankruptcy.
Years later, I met the poster’s creator in person, quite by accident at Atlantic City. He ended up visiting my house, and selling me a fabulously rare Mickey.
Four colorful new puzzles by artist Chris Davenport were also added to the line.
Meanwhile, the Lazer Blazer line continued to grow. And several new titles were added to the expanding list of properties. They were even advertised on TV.
And so Toy Fair 1985 was over, and the year had just begun. As you have seen already, it had its ups and downs. My secret double life continued. The Sleep Stars had blazed by, undetected, in the twinkling of an eye, because they never actually appeared. But Kiscom and I would place another big project, before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, things at Colorforms were getting crazier, by the day. With Chuck and Len at the tiller, the ship of Colorforms began to flounder. And I began to wonder how far off course it would wander into uncharted waters, seemingly, without a rudder. Thinking back to Stan Schwartz’s approach to merchandising, and the wisdom of creating items that logically expanded the Colorforms line, made the items that Len dragged through the door, and paid a 5% royalty for, seem all the more asinine.
Nothing epitomized his lousy merchandising more dramatically than “Toothpaste Toppers” If one were to hold a contest to find the most illogical and ridiculous item that Colorforms could make, this would take the cake. Would you believe screw-on replacement caps for tubes of toothpaste in the shape of the severed heads of He-Man, Skeletor, and Rainbow Brite? The toothpaste (not Included) oozed out of their brains. They were appropriately presented in a “dump display”
As 1985 came to an end, working with Kiscom had become a dream come true, and Colorforms a nightmare. The message couldn't have been more loud and clear. The handwriting was on the wall, or, I should say, spelled out in toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. It told me that the end of my time at Colorforms was near.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I did the creepy packages below. I, especially, hated the one with He-Man, hugging a giant toothpaste tube, complete with Skeletor's head on top. Didn’t his mother teach him to squeeze from the bottom, not the top? This was one of the worst products Colorforms ever produced. Not since “Springtime for Hitler”, was a "production" more likely to flop!