All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
I’m having lots of fun today. While looking through almost inaccessible storage areas for ancient items that I can’t seem to find, I am discovering other things instead. Here is a product that I forgot completely. This is all the more surprising to me, as it actually got made. Unfortunately, it was manufactured in England, not the USA. I guess, I have no reason to complain, after all, my wife of 55 years now, was also made in England. Nonetheless, the entire country is no bigger in size and sales than a medium sized United State. So, royalty wise, a toy that’s marketed in America has the potential of selling 49 times more, here, than the same toy might earn if manufactured and sold over there. What jogged my memory today, was not only finding the finished manufactured product, but also the simple drawing that led to it creation.
Attempting to reconstruct these memories, I find myself pleasantly reminiscing, reliving a time when I could whip out a concept and a sketch like this in all of five minutes, or less. Those were delightful days. In this case, while I was on a roll, I did another sketch, as well, using the pup I’d just created, in a related concept. This is an example of the adventuresome road I traveled, as one idea led to another, exploring paths that often surprised me.
Of course, if an idea seemed worthwhile, I’d have to build a working model to prove that it was viable. Therefore, a hunting trip, through the aisles of Toys R Us came next. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor, I set out on a quest for body parts, bits and pieces of electronic innards that I could harvest from the still warm carcasses of other toys. When I had dug up all the elements I needed, I built a working mechanism, and hid it inside an ordinary generic dog that I also purchased at Toys R Us. By this time, I had learned that with an idea like this, what a pooch looked like didnt matter, the toy company that bought the idea would change it, anyway, and seldom for the better.
The finished prototype worked perfectly. Roll-Over Rover rolled over, barked, and panted dramatically, and he did all this at the command of clapping hands. As you might have remarked already, the act of rolling over wasn’t particularly original. When I was a kid, I had a wind up cat toy in the image of Disney’s Figaro that did that very thing. What made Roll-Over Rover special was the fact that he could speak, and listen too. He would perform his single trick, when he heard his master clap his hands. Added to that, Roll-Over Rover changed direction, every time that he rolled over.
Then my partners took him out and sold him to a company in England, called “Character Options, which was a division of Scholastic dot com. One would be hard pressed to find its name inconspicuously hidden on the box. Nonetheless, they were destined to become an eager customer and our new best friend. And, thus, this simple concept that began with just an instant sketch, and mechanics that I slapped together in a day, was installed inside the body of a licensed character that was immensely popular in Britain, and even made a brief appearance in the USA, “Clifford, the Big Red Dog.”
Studying the cross-sell ad, on the back of the package, I suddenly realized that this company had also licensed “Tugger,the playful pup.” Like Rover, Tugger, who was originally called,“Tugs ‘n Tumbles,” started out as just a simple sketch that there was also no need to color. Now, after enjoying considerable success in the USA, here was Tugger, colored red, and born again as “Clifford Tug ‘n Play.
For those of you, who have not met Tugger, here he is, starring in his own musical commercial that, at one time, played incessantly on American TV.
I recently discovered this original pencil drawing for an early Tugger variation. A sketch like this with patches could easily be cleaned up on the copying machine. I notice that there is no mention of the motorized tugging action that made Tugger so much fun.
Sometime after Tugger’s short sweet run was over, Playmates came back to KISCOM, and said, they’d like to license him again. This time, he would become the Grinch’s dog “Max” in the live action movie of Dr. Seusse’s Christmas classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” starring Jim Cary. Like the Tugger variation, described in the drawing above, there would be no action. Max would merely make a growling sound, when the Santa hat he held in his mouth was tugged. This is, probably, a rare toy now. Rare, because it didn’t sell! And Playmates must not have given us any samples. The Toys-R-Us price label on the package tells me that I actually bought this thing myself.