Elysia Roman is a charming young lady, who is
eight years old, and in the third grade. She is also
learning to play the harp, and is currently
studying with the renowned harpist, and
composer, Dewey Owens.
On December 3, 2001, as part of a class
assignment, Elysia interviewed Mel Birnkrant,
about his career as a "toy inventor".
After the interview, Eunice gave Elysia a sneak
preview of the new doll that Mel has just created.
She is the first and only child in the world to see
it! The doll was shown to Mattel the following
day, and they liked it enough to ask for it to be
sent out to them for revue.
Thus, the first step was taken in what might,
hopefully, be a long journey. If Mattel returns it,
as is usually the case, the journey will be short. On the other hand, if all goes well, and
they chose to produce it, at least two years will pass before it appears. Elysia will surely
be an accomplished Harpist, by then.
You have asked many perceptive and insightful questions. Some will be easy to answer,
but others, that I see here, will be hard.
Elysia: 1. What interests you about inventing or making toys?
Mel: Your first question, is a particularly tough one. I could write a book on the subject,
and still not arrive at the complete answer. But let me say this about that:
When I grew up in Detroit Michigan, some 60 years ago, the world around me seemed
pretty dull. And at 3 or 4 years old, that world was all I knew. There was no television, and
there were not even any "toy stores". But there was one wonderful place: the J.L.
Hudson Co., a big department store in downtown Detroit. Somewhere on the 12th floor,
was the "Toy Department". And that Toy Department seemed to me to be the one place
of True Magic in the World.
Upon stepping out of the elevator and approaching the Toy Department, one could hear a
tiny bell ringing. It was a distinctive sound, not quite like a doorbell or a gong, but
something that combined the two. It resonated pleasantly, like the plucking of a harp
string. "Boing Boinggggg", I realized, in later years, the number of "boings" was a
simple code, intended to summons one employee or another. But, to me, that captivating
sound meant only one thing: The toy department was near! All a person needed to do was
follow the bell, and it would lead them to the Toys. My heart beat faster with excitement
and anticipation every time, I heard the sound of that bell.
Sometimes, I would hear a bell, just like it, in other stores, "Mommy, There's a Toy
Department here!" I'd squeal, tugging at her hand. There never was. There was only one
Toy Department in Detroit, and the J.L. Hudson Company was it!
Around Thanksgiving time, like the Magic Christmas tree in the "Nutcracker", the J.L.
Hudson Company's Toy department grew in size and became HUGE. And high up on a
balcony overlooking it all sat Santa Claus, himself. I remember ascending a hidden
stairway in a long line of children to "visit him". My emotions were a mixture of thrills,
excitement and sheer terror, as the line moved slowly along.
Eventually, I stepped out onto Santa's balcony, long before my "turn" to sit on his lap
arrived. I looked down, and there before me lay "TOYLAND", the place that embodied
all the Magic and Enchantment in my known universe. The slow moving line offered me
the opportunity, for what seemed like an eternity, to gaze in awe and wonderment at the
majestic vista below. It was a Glittering city of toys, with every shelf and showcase
teeming with delights, not to mention de lights twinkling everywhere? And the music and
the sounds and the hubbub and smell of Christmas, on it's way.
The interview with Santa was something of a disaster. "What do you want for Christmas,
little boy?" he asked. I couldn't answer. I was tongue-tied. I didn't have the skill to
articulate my words, or my thoughts. How could I, how dare I, attempt to explain to Santa,
that I Wanted it All? How could I ask to stay, forever, there in Toyland? "Toyland,
Toyland! Little girl and boy Land". I had heard in a song, that "Once you pass its borders
you may ne'er return again".
In a well practiced attempt to move things along, Santa offered some generic suggestions,
"How about a football or... [I can't remember what]?" I sheepishly agreed that those
items would be fine. The fact was, I had no idea what I wanted, beyond just wanting to
possess, and embrace Toyland, and remain there, forever.
Well, Elysia, This was the hardest question, and thus, this will, I hope, be the longest
answer. What interests me about making toys? Maybe It's just my futile attempt to live in
By the way, I did "grow up", somewhere along the line, and had children of my own. And,
alas, I found the song was true. Once you've [grown up and] passed the borders of
Toyland, you Can't return again. But, God knows, I've tried. And somewhere, deep inside
me, I have never stopped hearing that little bell ringing, ever so faintly and far away,
forever telling me that the Toy Department is near.
Elysia: 2. What do you make your toys out of?
Mel: What do I make my toys out of? Anything and everything! Stuff I find around the
house, materials I get from the art supply store, and above all, stuff from the toy stores. I
go there a lot to buy toys, from which I "harvest" parts to make my own toys. There is
also a wonderful material called Super Sculpy. You can get it at the craft shop. You can
make anything you can imagine out of it, and play with it until you like what you have
done, and then bake it in the oven and it will last forever. I make all my dolls out of that.
Elysia: 3. How many toys do you try to sell per year?
Mel: As many as I can! Seriously, I consider myself LUCKY if I can sell just ONE!
Elysia: 4. What do you like about your job?
Mel: I think what I like best about my job might be the fact that I don't have a Job!
Working at home and being self-employed is nice. I also find it very gratifying and almost
Magical to be able to Imagine something in my mind, and then make it become Real.
Having a toy manufacturer duplicate it a million times, from time to time, is nice too.
Elysia: 5. What don't you like about your job?
Mel: What I don't like about my job is also the same thing I like about it, the fact that I
don't have one. Sometimes, having a job is good, especially when you don't have any
money. Working at home has its bad sides too. 1. You don't ever stop working. 2. Because
you are there all the time, but involved with work all the time, your family feels ignored. 3.
I hate it when a toy manufacturer ruins something I designed, and makes it look so bad,
that I am ashamed of it, then duplicates it a million times.
Elysia: 6. How long have you been inventing toys?
Mel: I guess I have been inventing toys, since I was a kid. I think the first toy I invented
was when I was about 10. I had a car that ran by a hand held battery pack with a wire
attached to the car. A rubber squeeze bulb and hose steered the wheels. It was very crude
and primitive by today's standards, but it was the first toy car like it, at the time, which
was 55 years ago. Anyway I removed the auto body and constructed a robot body to
replace it. My uncle thought I was a genius, and told my parents that we should sell my
idea to a toy company. What a joke! The irony is, I had created the first toy robot years
before its time, and in those days, when toy inventing was easy, we Really Could have
sold it to a toy company.
Elysia: 7. What are some of the toys you made or invented that are for sale to the public?
Mel: Right now, if you look real hard
at Walmart, you can find a series of dolls
by Fisher Price called "Color Me
They sell for under $10 and came out
Very Pretty. Fisher Price definitely did a
Fabulous job on them. I also have a
of small dolls coming out, early next year
called "Babbling Babies". They listen
chatter in Baby Talk to you and each
Elysia: 8. Where do you get your ideas for toy making?
Mel: That is a mystery. If I knew where my ideas came from, I would get a lot more of
them. They, sometimes, come from someplace deep inside me, and sometimes, that idea I
find deep inside me got there from someplace far away. We ALL are full of ideas, but
most of us never ask ourselves, or bother to search around in our heads to discover them.
Elysia: 9. I understand that you collect Mickey Mouse. About how many Mickey Mouse
figures do you have?
Mel: How many Mickey Mice do I have? Both Too Many, and Not Enough. I have never
counted. This is Mouse Heaven.
Elysia: Why did you start collecting Mickey Mouse in the first place?
Mel: Why did I start Collecting M-I-C-K-E-Y? "Y"? Because, I like him! Although, I
liked the toys I saw and knew as a kid, I never liked them enough to collect them. It was
when, as an adult, I discovered there was a Golden Age of Toys, from a time before I was
born, full of Amazing toys, more Wonderful than anything I ever knew, that I began to
collect toys. Mickey was just one of the many wonderful things I discovered. Because,
there were so many wonderful Mickeys created, I have acquired many Mickeys, and
many Minnies too.
Phew! After all is said and done, Elysia, the
life I've lived
is a perfect representation of...
THE FOUR STAGES OF LIFE:
1. You believe in Santa Claus
2. You don't believe in Santa Claus.
3. You are Santa Claus.
4. You look like Santa Claus
Merry Christmas, and Best Regards, Mel
Here is a little surprise for visitors
to this web site. This little dolly is
one of Mel's prototype inventions.
She is more than a prototype now,
this adorable baby and thousands
of her sisters are traveling on a
boat from China, even as I work on
this web page. She will be on toy
store shelves in a few weeks. After
January 2002 be sure to look for
this new doll series named
Mel has not yet seen the finished
product so we do not have photos
to show you. It will be interesting to compare the actual Babbling Babies with this photo of
his original creation.
Click here to see MORE
of Mel's Doll and Toy Inventions!
All images of Babblin' Babies and other Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant,
are Copyright © Kiscom, Birnkrant
Web Page by Cynthia Stevens