All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
“Upsy-Daisy Elmo” was another entry in my ongoing attempts to win the annual Action Elmo Sweepstakes. This one, in my humble opinion, was more than valid. And I pulled out all the stops to make his case, including building a working model that was flawless and fantastic.
The idea, of course, is not original. Tumbling toys, usually powered by windup motors have been around since the 19th Century. There are several in my own collection. Some of which are quite rare. I have, more or less, all of the great ones, from pristine mint examples of the Schuco tumbling Mickey to the even rarer, only two known, Schuco tumbling Felix, and the only known tumbling Bonzo. I also have assorted tumblers, that include Charlie Chaplin, Popeye and simple clowns, rabbits, and acrobats. And this is the rarest tumbling toy of all, the only known example of a tumbling celluloid Mickey Mouse. And, amazingly, he still has his original box. So what could be new and different about this idea? Well, first of all, its size. No tumbler I’ve ever seen was large, or powered by batteries and an electric motor. More importantly, my version of this toy could speak and make wisecracks and funny remarks, as it tumbled over. And all of this was housed in an almost soft and cuddly plush toy.
Not taking any chances that the item could only be seen as Elmo, I built the mechanism inside a generic bear that I purchased in the toy store. And gave him a generic name: “Tumbling Teddy!”
For once, I really outdid myself on the mechanics. Teddy worked Fantastically! The motor was geared down, so that a tiny motor, powered by two AA batteries could not only turn him over, but also energize his voice. I'm not sure where the power switch might have been placed in Elmo, Grover, Ernie or Mickey; in their foot, maybe. But, as Tumbling Teddy was a bear, I hid it in his tail. This provided an additional element of play, as, sometimes, when Teddy turned over, he landed on his tail, and this triggered him to tumble over again. Sometimes, he summersaulted twice, or even three times in a row.
This is a sort of Product Write-up. It’s not the official one, which has been misplaced, but one that I wrote to accompany the model when I was requested to send it directly to a toy company. I found this letter in my computer. Strangely, I didn’t mention the talking feature. Teddy’s prerecorded smartass voice said some audacious things that were really very funny. In fact, it was his voice and attitude that, more than anything, made Tumbling Teddy unique and amusing.
And, here are the two key product drawings. They couldn’t be more straightforward and specific. They show exactly what the look and concept was about. This time, my partners and myself believed we really had a winner. Alas, Upsy-Daisy Elmo. Roll-over Grover, and Topsy Turvy Ernie, failed to impress the folks at Mattel and Sesame Street. “Sometimes,” we told ourselves, “that’s just the way the Cookie Tumbles!”
Meanwhile, Tumbling Teddy has been hibernating in the secret storage space, beneath the floor behind my desk, for over thirty years. I rediscovered him, the other day. When I supplied fresh batteries, he made a lame attempt to tumble, but only had the strength to make it half way. His voice, on the other hand, is just as strong as ever. He can still say: “Let’s get ready to tumble!” and “Wheeee! That was such fun!”
But wait! It’s not over, until it’s over! You’re going to get to see Tumbling Teddy roll over, after all. My partner Noah arrived here last week, with a truckload of memories, the remnants of our partnership, from many years ago. The Obb is vacating their headquarters, and the building has been sold. Among the many boxes of history that Noah brought me was this video made by his brother, Andy. I never knew that it existed. As usual , it’s all one uninterrupted take that ends when Tumbling Teddy tumbles off the table.