All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
“Magic Elmo” was one of my attempts to play the “Tickle Me Elmo” game. Tickle Me Elmo began life in 1992, as a monkey, called, “Tickles the Chimp.” It was created by toy inventors, Ron Dubren and Greg Hyman, and manufactured by Tyco Preschool. Four years later, Tickles the Chimp was transformed into “Tickle Me Elmo.” And this charismatic piece of Muppet plush became the hottest Christmas gift of 1996. Overnight, both Ron and Greg became fabulously rich. This is the kind of toy invention legend that fuels a toy inventor’s dreams!
Meanwhile, Tyco was bought out by Mattel. This purchase was, to some degree, inspired by Mattel’s desire to put an end to my own line of dolls, called, “C.O.D.s,” because they were outselling Mattel’s own heavily invested and newly reinvented Cabbage Patch Kids.
From that time forward, a new animated Elmo doll appeared, in time for Christmas every year, now manufactured by Mattel. And every toy inventor in the nation tried to think up a clever electronic product feature variation to compete in the annual Elmo sweepstakes.
“Magic Elmo” was my best try to earn a ticket to that lottery. I don’t know if my partners even showed this concept to Mattel. After all, this was just a drawing. without a working prototype. And there was no one else to show it to. What Magic Elmo was intended to do is pretty much self-explanatory. The drawing is labeled clearly. I really liked the Cookie Monster as a bunny!
There is a kind of personal history here, as I owned many of these illusions as a kid. Among the treasures and tricks that I purchased from either Adams Magic Shop, or Johnson Smith, was a telescoping magic wand, a self-illuminating light bulb with a secret battery inside, a rubber flower that spit a stream of water in an unsuspecting viewer’s eye, and a handkerchief that disappeared up my sleeve, faster than the human eye could see. And last, but not least, was a ridiculous light-up bow tie that I wore to school too frequently.
I made one other attempt to sell an Elmo item to Mattel. It was slightly more elaborate than this try, as it had a working prototype, albeit a bear. It can be seen right HERE.
Looking through a pile of product boards, just now, I found the original presentation for Magic Elmo. On the back of the cover sheet, is the original write-up. It’s more complete, and also more complex than I could remember. And it is typical of the way that Kiscom and I worked together. As we brainstormed an idea, Andy or Adam would take voluminous notes, and afterwards, Andy would type them up. My God, we had such fun! Every thought and possibility that crossed our minds got included in the list of product features. We figured that if we threw enough shit at the wall, some of it would stick. Now, that twenty-five years have passed, I realize that most of the products we cooked up were far too complex. I offer this as evidence: