The Story of the PlayAlong Club Dolls
~ by Mel Birnkrant

Page 3

Speaking of disaster, Hasbro now returned what was left of my original prototypes. They were filthy, their hair a mess, their wires broken, and their original clothes were gone. The boy doll, Betty’s brother Bobby, was missing altogether.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in spite of my offer to return the money I had been paid to sculpt them, Hasbro claimed that my original Sculpy masters "had been destroyed". This would certainly make it difficult for any competitor to do the project in the future. But, they had paid me for the masters, and technically, they were not required to return them.

On the other hand, they were obligated to return my original presentation, and I was not going to let the matter of the missing boy doll rest. My partners, the Obb, now were getting worried, warning me that if I didn’t stop bugging Hasbro they would never buy another product from "us" in the future. Was that a threat or a promise? I was not giving up!

I knew the doll had to be lying around somewhere, but no one at Hasbro could be bothered to look for it. After days of wracking my brain I finally came up with an idea. I made a "Wanted" poster and emailed it to them, suggesting that they hang it in their hallways.

This new "harassment" proved effective! Bobby was found among a pile of girl dolls, still wearing the dreadful dress seen in the poster. And thus, he was returned to me. But my Sculpy masters, months of work, were gone forever.


Now, with my dolls and dreams in ruins, sad, angry and determined, I set about to save them. All it took was work to clean and repair the dolls themselves, but the clothing was a problem. The dolls had come back to me, not naked, but in some of the horrible "fashions" Hasbro had created for them, outfits that looked like they had been gathered from the reject box at Goodwill; so awful, I was almost glad they dropped the project.

When I first dressed the dolls three years earlier, I had relied heavily on Beanie Kids, then on the brink of obsolescence. The clothing I was able to gather then, by searching every local mall and gift shop, had long since disappeared. Now, through the miracle of eBay, within a day, duplicates were on their way!

The Acorn Family

Looking for a merchandising angle, the sort of thing that might have saved the dolls at Hasbro, I renamed them "The Acorn Family", suggesting that they grew like acorns on The Friendz n’ Family Tree. In the century old tradition of Steiff dolls and animals, each of whom has a button in its ear; every Acorn Family member would have an acorn there.

Now, the newly renamed and refurbished dolls, along with a reedited DVD went on the road again. Mattel was still interested in the look and construction, but this time wanted to turn them into Holly Hobby. They asked if I could make a model with a Holly Hobby head on it, and have it done in two weeks time. The answer, of course, was "No"!

Next, Russ Barrie, a leading gift company, well known for its plush toys and Teddies, held the dolls for yet another year, while they decided not to do them. Once more we were compensated, and I was eking out a living from these dolls that seemed forever destined not to happen.

Play Along Toys

Meanwhile, in the four years that passed, while all of this was taking place; in Florida, a bright new toy company was growing. It was called "Play Along".

Play Along began in 1999 by producing a successful line of dolls based on Britney Spears. Other celebrity dolls followed. Then in 2002 the company reintroduced the Care Bears, and the rest is history! Followed by Doodle Bear and Cabbage Patch Kids, all of which were fabulously successful, Play Along grew from a staff of five to well over a hundred employees, here and in Hong Kong. One of those employees in charge of new product acquisition just happened to be our old pal Peter Pook.

Of all the people I have met in the toy industry throughout the years, Peter Pook has always been a favorite. Furthermore, the look and feel of Friendz n’ Family could  trace their origin to "Best Friends", a project Peter inspired me to work on, years ago, when he was at Fisher Price.

Peter, as a long time friend and confidant of the Obb, had been aware of Friendz n’ Family right from the beginning. Now he volunteered to show them to the folks at Play Along. Play Along had achieved phenomenal success, almost overnight, by bringing back classic toys that were successful in their day, and maybe never should have gone away. Now they asked themselves if they were ready to introduce an original property of their own. Could Acorn Family be that property? They were willing to give it a try.

Things were looking Up for Friendz n’ Family!

And Hope was dawning!

The prototypes were entrusted to Peter Pook, who promised to treat them with the utmost care. He planned to send them to Orient to be costed out and replicated.

Play Along seemed to think they could duplicate the dolls by simply copying what was there. I knew they couldn’t. Because of shrinkage and distortion, to get what they saw before them, they would have to begin with the larger sculpts I had begun with. Therefore, I made a hurried set of impressions from the plaster molds the latex prototypes were cast from.

Although the perfect Sculpy masters I had made for Hasbro took several months to finish, these were ready in a week. And everything was then shipped off to Hong Kong. I never saw the dolls again till Toy Fair, which by the way, was just a few months later.

I wish I could find words glowing enough to express how Impressed am I with Play Along? Let me put it this way: In the three years that Hasbro had the dolls, they cast them and recast them, dirtied and destroyed them, and never in those three years did they manage to show us an actual sample. Even at the end, they were still using my prototype dolls to try on fashions.

Play Along, on the other hand, produced the beautiful dolls you now see in the stores in just a few weeks time. They were rushing to have them ready for a secret test at Toy Fair. Even if they passed that test, it would still have to be decided whether to do the dolls immediately or hold them for the following year.



Prototype Photos and Story Text copyright (c) 2007 Mel Birnkrant and the Obb
PlayAlong Stock Photos (c) PlayAlong Toys Inc.
Trollz photo (c) Hasbro Inc.
Web Page Design Copyright 2007 (c) PrillyCharmin's Dolls