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Mel Birnkrant's “Annotated Archives”
Interview: The Name of the Game, 1991
                   This was a strange "interview".  This fellow contacted me in 1991 and said he was the editor of a "magazine" called the "Name of the Game".  He arrived with a tape recorder.  And while I rattled on about the creation of the OSM, reviving fading memories, he interjected often incongruous and distracting comments.  When the tape ran out the interview stopped abruptly.

                 Convincing me that he loved nothing in life as much as the OSM, he left with a set of Series One, mint on the cards for $1,500. I subsequently learned he flipped it for $5,000. the next day.

                   The magazine itself turned out to be little more than a thinly disguised sales list.  But the tape was transcribed accurately word for word in CAPITAL letters.  It is reproduced below.  Where Possible I've added Illustrations.  I still have the very issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland I used for "inspiration".  The strips of paper that marked interesting pages are still in place.  So you will see what I saw, seeking the Outer Space Men, some forty years ago. 
DATELINE: APRIL 18,1991. NAME OF THE GAME IS VISITING WITH
MEL BIRNKRANT, CREATOR OF THE COLORFORMS OUT
ER SPACE MEN
  

MEL, HOW DID THIS WHOLE ALIEN THING COME TO BE?

IT AMUSES ME THAT THEY ARE REFERRED TO AS ALIENS.  THAT WORD LITERALLY DID NOT EXIST AT THAT TIME (I967) AT LEAST, IN RELATION TO OUTER SPACE.  WE DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO CALL THEM. EVERYTHING THEN WAS SO PEDESTRIAN THAT THEY WERE "THE OUTER SPACE MEN".  SO FEW PEOPLE HAD SEEN THE SPACEMEN PACKAGED, THAT IT SEEMS NATURAL FOR THEM TO HAVE BEEN MISLABELED "ALIENS"

IN THE MID- 1960'S, I HAD A SMALL BUSINESS IN NYC, WHERE MY WIFE, EUNICE AND I WERE MAKING MINIATURE THEATRES, MUSIC BOXES AND AUTOMATONS.  WHEN AN ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, HARRY KISLIVITZ, WHO WAS THE CREATOR, OWNER AND PRESIDENT OF COLORFORMS PHONED AND SUGGESTED THAT I BECOME A TOY INVENTOR/DESIGNER.

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HAVING BEEN FORMALLY TRAINED IN ART SCHOOLS HERE AND IN EUROPE, I THOUGHT I WANTED TO BE A PAINTER.  WHATEVER I DID FOR A LIVING, I DID NOT WANT IT TO DIRECTLY INVOLVE THAT ELUSIVE AMBIGUITY I THOUGHT OF AS "MY ART".  SO, I GOT INTO THINGS, WHERE I WOULD NOT HAVE TO EXPEND THOSE CREATIVE JUICES TO MAKE AN INCOME.
BEFORE LONG, HARRY AND I WERE TALKING, FOR SEVERAL HOURS, EVERY DAY, THINKING UP ALL KINDS OF TOY IDEAS.

THE FIRST THING I DID WAS CALLED THE "SCARY LIGHT".  THIS WAS A STRANGE FLASHLIGHT THAT MADE VERY REALISTIC GHOST IMAGES.  COLORFORMS ASKED ME TO SCULPT A SKULL FOR THE END OF THE TOY, AND I REPLIED, "NO WAY!"  BUT, ONCE ANOTHER GUY HAD DONE IT, I SAID "WHOA, THIS GUY DOES THIS FOR A LVING?  I CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!"  SO, I SCULPTED THE PIECE.  THEN ANOTHER GUY WAS CONTRACTED TO DO THE PACKAGE. AND IT WAS SO HORRIBLE, THAT THE PROJECT WAS GOING TO BE DROPPED.  BY THAT TIME, I HAD BECOME HOOKED ON THE THOUGHT OF VAST ROYALTIES      ...... AND I PANICKED!

SO YOU DID THE PACKAGE TOO?

EXACTLY.  IF I HAD NOT DONE IT, THE TOY WOULD NOT EXIST.  IT WAS "DO OR DIE".  SO, I "DID",  AND IT STILL DIED.  BECAUSE COLORFORMS WAS A TOY COMPANY (AND THIS IS INSTRUMENTAL TO THE SPACEMEN) THAT MADE ONLY "STICK-ON" TOYS.  EVERYONE THERE WAS SOUND ASLEEP.  THE ONLY ONE AWAKE WAS HARRY.  HE WAS AN EXTREMELY INTELLIGENT, CREATIVE AND COMPLICATED MAN.  AS AN ART STUDENT, HE HAD CREATED THE COLORFORMS CONCEPT TO USE IN COMPOSING HIS OWN PAINTINGS. THEN, HE PUT A KIT TOGETHER AND DID ABOUT $50,000, THE FIRST YEAR, SELLING IT THROUGH F.A.O. SCHWARTZ.   THE SECOND YEAR HE LICENSED POPEYE AND DID $3,500,000.

THAT WAS ABOUT 1956 OR SO?

SOMETHING, LIKE THAT. THE IRONY WAS THAT THE COMPANY NEVER MOVED OFF THAT SPOT.

IT WAS THEIR MARKET TO START AND CONTINUE. A PROBLEM OF PRODUCT PERCEPTION AND EXPECTATION?

COLORFORMS WAS A COMPANY, WHERE EVERYONE WAS VERY COMPLACENT. IT WAS THE DREAMED ABOUT SALES, FORCE IN "DEATH OF A SALESMAN." THEY JUST CALLED THE BUYER UP, AND SAID "WE GOT BARBIE, MICKEY MOUSE, ETC., ETC.. HOW MANY COLORFORMS DO YOU WANT?"

ONCE YOU'D SEEN ONE, YOU'D SEEN THEM ALL.

NO ONE REALLY WANTED TO WORK, EXCEPT HARRY.   HE HAD CREATED COLORFORMS.  SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT HAVE BEEN CONTENT TO JUST COLLECT THE MONEY AND LIVE WELL, BUT NOT HARRY.  ALL HE WANTED TO DO WAS REPEAT THE PROCESS WITH A NEW IDEA.  IF HE SAW AN IDEA, AND HE LIKED IT, HE WOULD DO IT.  THERE WAS AN IDEALISM GOING ON WITH HIM THAT WAS TOTALLY IN DEFIANCE OF ALL THE LOGIC, WITHIN THE TOY INDUSTRY.  HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING PRODUCTS THAT WOULD SIT ON THE SHELVES, NEXT TO THE STICK-ON LINE. BUT IF HARRY HAD AN IDEA FOR A BICYCLE, HE'D PRODUCE A BICYCLE! AND HERE YOU HAD THIS SALESFORCE, MADE UP OF MEN, WHO DIDN'T WANT TO WORK AND SELL ANYTHING NEW.

HARRY FINALLY TOLD THE SALES MANAGER "YOU SELL THIS LINE OR YOU GO."  THE POOR GUY TOOK HARRY SERIOUSLY, KNOCKED HIMSELF OUT AND DID "GO" - ANYWAY - HE  DIED OF A HEART ATTACK A FEW WEEKS LATER.

THIS HAD GONE ON FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS (2-3), AND IT WAS A LOT OF FRUSTRATION.  WE KEPT PRODUCING THE STUFF, POURING EVERYTHING INTO IT AND IT WASN'T EVEN GETTING A FAIR PLAY.  WE HAD NO CONCEPT OF WHAT GOOD MERCHANDISING WAS.  WE THOUGHT IF IT WAS A GOOD IDEA, COLORFORMS COULD MAKE IT, AND PEOPLE WOULD BUY IT.  UNFORTUNATELY, THEY WOULD NOT BUY IT FROM COLORFORMS.

WE WERE TALKING ON THE PHONE ONE NIGHT, AND I MENTIONED THAT I ADMIRED THE MATT MASON LINE, AND THE WHOLE WORLD WAS EXCITED ABOUT THE COMING OF THE MOON LANDING.   IT SEEMED TO BE AN AREA THAT WAS KIND OF HOT AND INTERESTING.  ONE OF THE CURIOUS THINGS ABOUT "THE OUTER SPACEMEN" WAS THAT THEY WERE REALLY THE FIRST BOY'S  "FANTASY" ACTION FIGURES.  UP UNTIL THAT TIME, THERE WAS THE DRESS-UP GI JOE DOLLS AND CAPTAIN ACTION, WHICH WAS STILL A JOE VARIATION.   THE IDEA OF AN ACTION PLAY FIGURE FOR BOYS HADN'T ACTUALLY HAPPENED YET.   WELL, THE FIRST THING WAS MATT MASON.  I THOUGHT THIS BENDABLE FIGURE WAS WELL-CRAFTED AND BEAUTIFULLY DONE.  MATTEL ALWAYS HAD A PRISTINE QUALITY, AND IN THIS FRESH NEW FORMAT THE MASON STUFF HAD A WONDERFUL LOOK.  OTHER
THINGS THEY DID TENDED TO LOOK LIKE THE ULTIMATE PLASTICIZED AMERICA, SEEN FROM A CALIFORNIA VANTAGEPOINT.  BUT, THIS HAD A TOTALLY NON- SHOPPING MALL QUALITY ABOUT IT.

WITH COLORFORMS AT TIMES VOU WERE ABLE TO ACHIEVE A REASONABLE COMPROMISE OF ART AND COMMERCIALITY?

IT WAS WONDERFUL, THE COLORFORMS FORMAT!  WITH WHAT I'M DOING NOW, THE INVENTING.... YOU THINK OF AN IDEA AND YOU GO OUT AND TRY TO SELL IT.   THEN YOU WATCH THEM DESTROY THE IDEA, IF THEY DO BUY IT. AND, ALL YOU DO IS BEG THEM TO BUY IT, AND YOU HOPE THEY BUY IT, AND DESTROY IT. YOUR DESIRE CAN'T GO FURTHER THAN THAT.  HERE'S MY HEART AND SOUL, TRAMPLE IT PLEASE. BUT, DON'T REJECT IT.  I NEED THE MONEY.

AT COLORFORMS YOU HAD A SITUATION WHERE YOIU WERE SET-UP IN HOUSE WITH OPERATIONAL CONTROL.

THAT PART WAS GREAT, BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, IT WAS A HOPELESS THING, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO WAY COLORFORMS COULD SELL MOST OF THE STUFF WE WERE MAKING.  BUT HARRY NEVER STOPPED TRYING, OR SPARED THE EXPENSE. HE WAS A REAL DREAMER.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE COMPANY DID NOT GROW.  FOR YEARS AND YEARS, IT JUST STAYED STAGNANT. AND HARRY AND I WERE FRUSTRATED, BECAUSE NOTHING WE DID TOGETHER EVER WORKED.  AND IT WASN'T THE FAULT OF THE THINGS.  IT WAS THE FAULT OF THE PEOPLE AT COLORFORMS, AND THE BASIC "RULES" OF THE TOY INDUSTRY GAME.  WE HAD A WEAK TEAM AND WE WERE TRYING TO BREAK THE RULES, AS WELL.
HARRY PUT TOO MUCH OF HIS HEART AND TOO LITTLE OF HIS HEAD INTO THE WORK?

REALITY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.  WE WERE BOTH SO NAIVE TO THINK THAT IF WE COULD "MAKE A GOOD TOY AND THE WORLD WOULD BEAT A PATH TO OUR DOOR".  WE THOUGHT MERIT WAS WHAT COUNTED, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT HARRY HAD DONE.  HE HAD MADE COLORFORMS AND SUDDENLY IT WAS A SUCCESS.  HE THOUGHT THAT'S THE WAY IT ALL WORKED.  IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY.  BUT IN A WAY IT DID.  OF COURSE, WE DIDN'T REALIZE THIS, THEN, AND WE WERE ABOUT TO BREAK THE RULES AGAIN, AND THIS TIME TO SOME DEGREE, SUCCEED.

ANYWAY, THE CONCEPT THAT CAME OUT OF THE CONVERSATION, WAS TO MAKE FIGURES THE EQUIVALENT OF MATT MASON, THAT WOULD BE, BASICALLY, ASTRONAUTS FROM OTHER PLANETS AND SOLAR SYSTEMS.  THE PREMISE WOULD BE AMBIVALENT AND HEROIC.

IT'S IRONIC, NOW THAT THE CONCEPT OF "BOYS ACTION FIGURES" HAS COME INTO THE WORLD, AND IT'S THE MAIN BOY'S TOY CATEGORY.  GOOD GUYS VS. BAD GUYS.  HOW THEY KILL EACH OTHER IS WHAT THE AMERICAN POPULACE CONSIDERS "PLAY VALUE".  THAT'S IT!  IS THERE ANY PLAY VALUE?  YEAH, THIS GUY CAN CUT THIS GUY'S HEAD OFF, AND THIS GUY CAN SHOOT THIS GUY, AND HE THROWS THIS AT HIM" AND THAT'S PLAY VALUE!

DIFFERENT TYPES OF DEATH.

EXACTLY!  THE WAYS THEY KILL EACH OTHER IS "PLAY" FOR BOYS.  THIS CONCEPT DID NOT EXIST, WHEN THE SPACE MEN WERE DESIGNED (I967).  GI JOE DID NOT HAVE ANYONE TO FIGHT.  GOOD AND BAD, AS STIMULUS FOR PLAY, DID NOT EXIST.  I REALLY WAS, IN A KIND OF PUSSY-ISH WAY, INTRODUCING THE BAD GUYS.  BUT I DIDN'T WANT THEM TO BE JUST BAD GUYS.  I WANTED THEM TO BE BAD OR GOOD, AND LET THE KID DECIDE HOW HE WANTED TO USE THEM.  I WAS VERY CALCULATING ABOUT IT.  WE WERE REALLY MAKING A MATTEL PRODUCT.  THE WHOLE IDEA WAS TO MAKE IT VERY APPARENT THAT THE SPACEMEN WERE TO BE USED WITH MATT MASON.  THE INTENT WAS TO KEEP THE JOINTS EXACTLY LIKE MATT MASON.  INSTEAD OF COMING UP WITH SOMETHING MORE ORIGINAL, WE WOULD MAKE THOSE ACCORDION-LIKE JOINTS BE THE FOCAL POINT, WHICH SAID "THIS IS PART OF THE MATT MASON LINE".

IN THOSE DAYS, THERE WERE JOBBING COMPANIES THAT ACTED AS GO-BETWEENS WITH FACTORIES IN THE ORIENT.  MANY TIMES THESE PEOPLE OWNED FACTORIES IN THE ORIENT.  HARRY TRACKED DOWN THIS GUY, GENE RUEBEN, OUT ON LONG ISLAND, WHO HAD A LOT OF FACTORIES IN THE ORIENT.  AND, ASKED HIM IF HE COULD MAKE THE PRODUCT.  ALL HE NEEDED WAS MODELS TO WORK FROM.  THAT WAS IT, AND I STARTED DOING IT.

COLORFORMS DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THIS PROJECT WAS HAPPENING.  THEY NEVER KNEW HALF OF WHAT HARRY WAS DOING.  HE WOULD PRODUCE SOMETHING AND THEN HAND IT TO THEM.  AND, WHEN THEY FOUND OUT, NO ONE WAS HAPPY, BECAUSE THIS WAS MAKING WAVES.  NOBODY AT COLORFORMS WANTED ANY WAVES MADE.

MORE RESPONSIBILITY, MORE PRESSURE, MORE CONFIDENCE?

EXACTLY. THEY REGARDED HARRY AS A MOST CRAZY AND ECCENTRIC PAIN-IN-THE-ASS.  HARRY DIDN'T GIVE A SHIT AND SAID, "LET THEM EARN THEIR MONEY".
I HAD TO GET SOME STARTING POINT, SO I GOT OUT MY STACKS OF "FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND" MAGAZINES, WHICH I HAD BOUGHT, STARTING WITH ISSUE NUMBER 2.  DON'T IMAGINE A LITTLE KID BUYING HIS FIRST ISSUE.  I WAS 21 AND JUST MARRIED, "AN ADULT".  AND, I HAD EVERY SUBSEQUENT ISSUE, 60 OR MORE.  NOW, I WAS USING THEM, LOOKING FOR SOME JUMPING OFF POINT TO GENERATE IDEAS FOR THESE THINGS.

I LOOK BACK, NOW, TO MARVEL AT WHAT, BY TODAY'S STANDARDS, WOULD BE ALMOST PLAGIARISM TO THE POINT OF LAWSUIT.  AT THAT POINT IN TIME, TO SEE THESE CHARACTERS, FROM WHICH, THERE HAD NEVER BEEN ANY TOYS MADE, AND SEEMINGLY, NEVER WOULD BE ANY TOYS MADE, AND WERE JUST A FLEETING IMAGE IN SOME BLACK AND WHITE MOVIE, YOU'D SEEN AS A KID, THAT YOU REALLY LIKED.  IT SEEMD ALL RIGHT TO BE INSPIRED BY THEM.  THUS, WITHIN THE FIRST SERIES, ONE GUY IS THE METALUNA MONSTER.

FROM "THIS ISLAND EARTH"?

A FILM WHICH I HATED.

QUITE DULL. YOU ONLY SAW THE MONSTER IN THE FILMS FINAL MINUTES.

BUT I FOUND MYSELF PICKING THAT ONE.

(POINTING AT ELECTRON+) AND THIS ONE?


THAT'S THE MAN FROM PLANET X.  NO DOUBT ABOUT IT.
ONE POINT PEOPLE HAVE MENTIONED TO ME IS THAT THEY THINK THE GUY FROM VENUS IS THE ANGEL FROM BARBARELLA.  NOT THE CASE!  I THINK BARBARELLA WAS A LATER FILM.

1969, I BELIEVE

SOMETHING, LIKE THAT.   I CAN SHOW YOU WHERE THAT ONE CAME FROM IF YOU LIKE.

SURE, I LOVE THIS ORIGIN STUFF.

(PLACING A BOOK ON THE TABLE) THERE HE IS! IT'S A FRENCH BOOK ON EROTIC ART… "COMMANDER COMET" WAS BASED ON "T. SLEBARD'S" PAINTING "SATAN, MERMAID AND DEATH".   VERY CLOSE, I EVEN DID THE BIRD PATTERN.
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Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of THE OUTER SPACE MEN , THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE
       and other Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant, are Copyright (c) MEL BIRNKRANT
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This is all that remains of the Scary Light  today. The final package was in color.
We actually got a patent on this one, The hand was held aloft magnetically. It worked like a Ouija board.