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Mel Birnkrant's “Annotated Archives”
Interview: The Name of the Game, page 3
 
ANYWAY, THESE THINGS WERE DOING GREAT.  THEY WERE IN THE DIME STORES.  WE HAD THE DISPLAY RACKS WITH HEADERS ON THEM AND THERE WERE MORE "ON THE WATER".  COLORFORMS HAD RENTED PART OF A SHOWROOM AT THE 1968 TOY FAIR.  I REMEMBER GOING WITH EUNICE AND THE DELIVERY GUY FROM COLORFORMS TO SET-UP THE OUTER SPACE MEN DISPLAY.  WE WORKED ALL NIGHT TO BUILD A ROCK SCENE OUT OF PLASTER, DETAILED WITH OIL PAINT, REAL STONES, ETC.  AND THERE WAS A BLACK VELVET BACKGROUND WITH PAINTED WHITE STARS SPLASHED AROUND.  WE POSED ALL THE FIGURES AND HELD THEM IN PLACE WITH TACKS.   WE CREATED THIS WHOLE OUTER SPACEMEN DISPLAY, OVERNIGHT.  IT LOOKED FANTASTIC. AND THE NEXT DAY, WHEN THE "NY TIMES" DID A STORY ON THE TOY FAIR, A GREAT BIG PHOTOGRAPH OF OUR DISPLAY LED THE ARTICLE.
HERE WE WERE, THIS NOTHING LITTLE COMPANY, WHO DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A SHOWROOM OF OUR OWN, AND WE STOLE THE SHOW FROM MATTEL AND THE REST.  IT WASN'T TOO LONG, AFTER THAT, THAT "MATT MASON" GOT AN ALIEN.

CALISTO?


THAT SCRAWNY LOOKING GREEN GUY.
PATHETIC.

HE LOOKED LIKE THE ALIEN VERSION OF THE GUY, WHO WOULD GET SAND KICKED IN HIS FACE.  YOU'RE ON THIS MARTIAN BEACH AND SUDDENLY, ALONG COMES COLOSSUS REX, AND KICKS RED SAND IN YOUR GOD DAMN SCRAWNY LITTLE FACE. HE WAS AWFUL, DEFINITELY A SPACE WIMP. ALTHOUGH, MATTEL MIGHT NOT HAVE NEEDED US TO SHOW THEM THE WAY, BECAUSE AT MATTEL THEY'VE GOT 30 PEOPLE WORKING ON THAT GUY, AND THEY PROBABLY WORKED ON HIM FOR 2 YEARS, BEFORE THEY EVER BROUGHT HIM OUT. ALL TOY COMPANIES OF THAT MAGNITUDE TEST AT EVERY STEP.

THE END RESULT IS GOING TO BE SOMETHING THAT IS A LOT MORE TIMID AND SAFE PRODUCT?

IT'S, AT ITS BEST, CAREFULLY ORCHESTRATED MEDIOCRITY.  THEY HAVE STOCKHOLDERS; THEY DON'T OWN THEIR OWN COMPANY. AT COLORFORMS THERE WAS A UNIQUE PROCESS. THE OUTER SPACE MEN WAS THE END RESULT OF TWO PEOPLE, HARRY, WHO SAID "GO WITH IT", AND MEL BIRNKRANT, WHO DID THE JOB.  BELIEVE IT OR NOT, HARRY DIDN'T EVEN SEE THEM, UNTIL I FINISHED THEM

THE FIRST SHIPMENT OF 200,000 HAD COME IN, AND WE GOT THEM HEAVILY DISTRIBUTED IN THE NEW YORK AREA, WHERE THE TV COMMERCIALS HAD AIRED.  HARRY HAD A BIG INVESTMENT IN THIS, AND REALLY CARED ABOUT THE SPACE MEN.  EVERYTHING SEEMED TO BE WORKING.  THEY HAD BEEN A HOT SELLER, AND WE WERE STILL WAITING FOR THE BULK OF THE UNITS TO COME INTO PORT.  WELL, THE BOAT WAS DELAYED AT SEA BECAUSE OF A DOCK STRIKE.  THE STORES WERE SOLD OUT, AND IT TOOK OVER FOUR MONTHS UNTIL WE FINALLY RECEIVED THE STOCK.  WE HAD ALL THIS GREAT ADVERTISING AND NO MERCHANDISE!  WHILE ALL THIS WAS HAPPENING, I AM CONTINUING THE WORK ON THE SECOND LINE.  YOU CAN DATE THIS EXACTLY WITH THE FIRST MOON LANDING.

JUNE OR JULY 1969.

THAT'S WHEN ALL THIS HAPPENED.  THE SHIPMENT CAME IN, AND WE LANDED ON THE MOON, AND FOUND NOTHING!  NO LIFE! NO FOOTPRINTS! NO SECRET ALIEN MOON BASE! NO AIR! ... NOTHING! .... EVERYTHING STOPPED SELLING.  MATT MASON WAS THE FIRST TO DIE.  IN THE TOY INDUSTRY "SPACE" HAD BECOME A DIRTY WORD.  TRYING TO SAVE THE SECOND SERIES, WE RENAMED THEM "THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE" INSTEAD OF "OUTER SPACE MEN".  THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL. IT WAS TOO LATE, ANYWAY.

DISILLUSIONMENT

YEAH. EVERYBODY LOST INTEREST.  WHAT'S THE PLAY PATTERN OF MATT MASON?  YOU GO OUT INTO THE SANDBOX AND FIND THERE'S NOTHING THERE BUT SAND.  THE ONLY THING THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN THERE WERE THE OUTER SPACE MEN, BUT THEY WERE ON A BOAT, SOMEWHERE EN ROUTE FROM HONG KONG.

HOW MANY TOTAL UNITS WERE MADE?

COLORFORMS SOLD $1,000,000 WITH OF THESE FIGURES, A TOTAL OF 500,000 PIECES,  I WOULD GUESS. ALL THIS TIME, I WAS EARNING ROYALTIES FROM COLORFORMS.  SO I GOT $50,000 FOR THE SPACE MEN. BUT I OWED THE COMPANY $35,000 IN BACK ROYALTIES.  SO EACH WEEK I WAS GETTING A MINIMAL DRAW FROM THE SALES.  EVEN STILL, EUNICE AND I WERE THINKING ITS GOING LIKE CRAZY, THERE'S A NEW SERIES COMING OUT, AND A LINE OF VEHICLES, TOO.  WE’RE GONNA BE OK NOW.  SO, WE BOUGHT THIS HOUSE.  AND THE OUTER SPACE MEN STOPPED SELLING RIGHT AT THAT POINT.  THE LAST OF THEM WAS LIKE CLOSEOUT TIME.  THERE WAS NO SECOND SERIES.  I CARRIED ON FOR 20 MORE YEARS WITH COLORFORMS, BECOMING THE ART AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE WHOLE COMPANY.
HAD YOU PLANNED ANY OTHER FIGURE LINES FOR THE COMPANY?

WE WANTED TO MAKE ACTION FIGURES OF ALL THE SUPER HEROES.  BATMAN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN ETC… MOST OF THEM WEREN'T EVEN HOT PROPERTIES, AT THE TIME.  BUT COLORFORMS WAS DISCOURAGED - AND IT REMAINED FOR MEGO TO DO IT A YEAR OR TWO LATER.

LAKESIDE MADE A SERIES OF BENDYS ABOUT 1966 OR SO, GREEN HORNET, CAPTAIN AMERICA, WAR HEROES. THEY WERE SUPER FLAT.

I REMEMBER THEM.  THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THE SPACE MEN WERE REVOLUTIONARY.  BECAUSE YOU COULD ONLY CURE A CERTAIN THICKNESS IT WAS NECESSARY THAT THEY BE FLAT.  I DIDN'T KNOW THIS INITALLLY AND WE LATER HAD TO USE THE CORES TO GET AROUND THIS.
                            

NO ORDER WAS EVER PLACED FOR THE SECOND SERIES.

THE PROJECT WAS OVER?

YES. YEARS WENT BY AND COLORFORMS HAD A NEW SALES MANAGER.  BY THIS TIME BOY'S ACTION FIGURES AND, ESPECIALLY, MEGO'S PRODUCTS WERE HEAVY ON THE MARKET.  MEGO HAD EVEN GONE SO FAR AS TO DO FIGURES OF THE WALTONS!  HARRY SAID, 'WHAT ABOUT THOSE OUTER SPACE MEN? LOOK HOW POPULAR THINGS LIKE THAT ARE, NOW.  CAN'T YOU SELL THOSE?", HE ASKED THE SALES MANAGER.  "NO WAY CAN I SELL THEM."
BUT HARRY DECIDED THAT WE WOULD GO TO SOME TOY JOBBERS, AND SEE IF WE COULD SELL THEM. SO, WE GOT IN THE CAR WITH A SET OF THE SECOND SERIES IN A BRIEFCASE, AND WENT OUT TO SHOW THEM.  WE WERE TOLD BY THE JOBBERS THAT THEY HAD SO MANY POSEABLE FIGURES THEY COULD USE NO MORE, EVEN THOUGH, THESE WERE GREAT.

SEVERAL YEARS LATER COLORFORMS TRIED, UNSUCCESSFULLY, TO GET THE LICENSE FOR  "STAR WARS", SO I OFFERED TO CREATE OUR OWN "STAR WARS" COLORFORMS STICK-ON SET, USING THE, NEVER BEFORE SEEN, SECOND SERIES OF OUTER SPACE MEN.  THUS, I DID THE PACKAGE FOR THE "SPACE WARRIORS" STICK-ON SET.
NO WAY, WAS I GOING TO OPEN MY PACKAGES OF SAMPLES.  SO COLORFORMS SENT ME ANOTHER CARDED SET. I TOOK THE FIGURES OUT AND SET THEM UP FOR THE SHOT.  THAT TOY WAS PUT TOGETHER IN TWO DAYS.  TERRIBLE BACKGROUND.  I DIDN'T EVEN HIRE AN ARTIST TO DRAW IT. USUALLY I WOULD CREATE A "COMP" AND SOMEONE ELSE, WOULD DO THE FINISHED ART.  THIS TIME I JUST WENT WITH THE COMP.  I DIDN'T USE AIRBRUSH, JUST COLORED PENCILS.  THE WHOLE THING WAS JUST THROWN TOGETHER.

WHY SUCH A PUSH ON THE PROJECT?

GET IT DONE, SPACE IS HOT!  THE OTHER CRAZY THING WAS THAT THE PIECES IN THE SET WERE TRACED FROM MY ORIGINAL DRAWINGS, THOSE, THAT ENTERED MY HEAD, AS THE FIRST STEP, IN CREATING THE ORIGINAL OUTER SPACE MEN.

ALL RIGHT, WILD!

 
OVER THE YEARS, I DEVELOPED INCREDIBLE SUPER QUICK ADAPTIVE SKILL.  THAT IN ITSELF IS AN ART. SOMEWHERE, THIS "ORIGINAL CRAP" ABOUT "MY OWN GREAT WORK" HAD BEEN TRASHED, YEARS BEFORE.  THE ESSENCE OF WORKING WITH LICENSED CHARACTERS IS THAT YOU HAVE TO WORK IN THE STYLE OF THE CHARACTER.

I LOVE THE STUFF I WROTE ON THE BACK OF THESE PACKAGES.  IT'S A COMBINATION OF TONGUE IN CHEEK AND STUFF THAT REALLY GIVES ME CHILLS!

IT'S GREAT STUFF! FROM A PLACE SO VAST IT CANNOT HAVE A NAME, COMES CYCLOPS, MIGHTY INTERGALACTIC GIANT!

IT DIDN'T HAVE A NAME, NOT BECAUSE IT WAS SO VAST, BUT BECAUSE I COULDN'T THINK OF ONE!   I WAS RUNNING OUT OF PLACES.

SO HOW MANY SETS OF THE SECOND SERIES WERE ACTUALLY MADE?

WE RECEIVED AT COLORFORMS TWO BOXES, OF TWO SETS EACH.   THESE ARE THE ONLY ONES I SAW.

THESE WERE CARDED? 

                 
YES. I ORIGINALLY KEPT TWO SETS.

THEY GAVE ME A SET TO DO THE SPACE WARRIORS, AND THE FOURTH WAS IN THE BRIEFCASE.  I CAN VERIFY THAT COLORFORMS NEVER PLACED AN ORDER, OR BOUGHT ANY.  THERE WERE NEVER ANY OTHERS SHIPPED WITH COLORFORMS AUTHORIZATION, OR SO CALLED, THINGS, THAT HAVE TURNED UP IN AUCTIONS IN CALIFORNIA, OR WHATEVER.

THAT'S THE WAY OF THE COLLECTOR'S MARKET. DEALERS WISHED THEY HAD THEM AND KEEP BUYERS HOOKED, WHEN THEY INVENT BULLSHIT LIKE THAT. YOU'RE THE ONE THAT WAS THERE. YOU KNOW.


YEAH, I'M THE HORSE'S MOUTH.  NEIGH!  I'M THE WHOLE HORSE!

YOU CAN SEE HOW THE BLISTERS WERE HAND-CUT ON THESE SECOND SERIES PACKAGES.  IT WAS NOT A DIE CUT.

DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR FAVORITE OUT OF THE THIRTEEN?


I THINK THE ONE I LIKE LEAST IS ORBITRON. SCRAPING FOR THE NAMES WAS VERY TOUGH.  I THINK MY FAVORITE WOULD BE THIS GUY. (POINTING AT THE CYCLOPS.)

DEFFINITELY STRIKING!


HE GOT THE MOST CARE & DETAILING AND THE MOST EQUIPMENT.  SOMETHING ELSE, I WANTED TO SHOW YOU.  HERE ARE THE VEHICLES.  (PRODUCING A BLACK VELVET CASE WITH 13 HOT WHEELS SIZED JEWEL LIKE IRIDESCENT VEHICLES)
WOW! SHARP STUFF, EACH ONE WITH A FIGURAL DRIVER.

EACH CHARACTER HAD HIS OWN VEHICLE, THAT WAS CONSISTENT WITH HIS THEME.  YEARS LATER, WE TOOK THEM AROUND, AND TRIED TO SELL THE IDEA TO SEVERAL COMPANIES.  THESE ARE MADE OUT OF THAT SAME STRANGE UNBAKED CLAY STUFF, AS THE OTHER MODELS, I GOT BACK FROM HONG KONG.

PEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME WHEN YOU DO TOY PRODUCTS, DO YOU EVER GET RIPPED OFF?  THIS IS ONE INCIDENT, WHERE IF FELT THIS HAPPENED.  THE PROBLEM IS IF YOU DO SOMETHING DECENT A TOY COMPANY WILL SHOW INTEREST, AND THE BETTER THE PRESENTATION, THE MORE LIKELY THEY'LL BE INTRIGUED.  THEY TAKE THE PRODUCT BACK, AND SHOW IT TO THEIR DESIGN DEPARTMENT.  AND THE NEXT THING YOU KNOW, THEY HAVE DIGESTED IT, AND FEEL AS IF THEY ORIGINATED IT.  SO ONE COMPANY HAD THEM AND SENT THEM BACK, IMPROPERLY PACKED, AND THEY CAME IN ALL SMASHED AND BROKEN.  I GLUED THEM TOGETHER AS BEST I COULD.   THE FOLLOWING YEAR THAT COMPANY CAME OUT WITH VEHICLES IN CANDY COLORS, LIKE THESE.
IN THE 50'S MY FRIEND AND I WERE OBSESSED WITH MONSTERS AND FLYING SAUCERS.  WE WOULD STARE FOR HOURS INTO THE SKY, LOOKING FOR THEM.  BUT, I HAD STOPPED LOOKING AND THOUGHT I HAD "GROWN UP"

AROUND THE TIME THE SPACE MEN CAME OUT, THE FIRST PUBLICIZED ACCOUNTS OF CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH UFOs APPEARED.  IT CAME TO MY ATTENTION, QUITE AFTER THE FACT, THAT WHAT THEY WERE SEEING STRONGLY RESEMBLED MY LITTLE GUY FROM MARS.

I STARTED GETTING OBSESSED ABOUT READING ABOUT ALL THIS STUFF, BECAUSE I FELT LIKE I HAD SOME KIND OF VALID PREMONITION OR INSIGHT, OF WHAT THESE GUYS WERE LIKE.  IT WAS SO CLOSE TO WHAT PEOPLE HAD BEEN SEEING. I BECAME QUITE FASCINATED, ONLY AFTER THE TOY HAD BEEN PRODUCED.  THE TOY LED TO AN INTEREST IN THE SUBJECT, RATHER THAN, THE INTEREST LEADING TO THE TOY.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE LITTLE GUMBALL FIGURES OF THE SPACEMEN?

SOME COLLECTORS, I MET, SHOWED THEM TO ME, RECENTLY.  THESE WERE DEFINITELY NOT AUTHORIZED THROUGH COLORFORMS.  THEY MUST HAVE TAKEN A FIGURE AND SCALED IT DOWN WITH A PANOGRAPH TO MAKE SUCH EXACT COPIES.

THANKS MEL, FOR SPENDING TIME WITH NAME OF THE GAME, TODAY.
I CERTAINLY RECOGNIZE THE ANODIZED ALUMINUM SHADES.

THESE DIDN'T EXIST. I FIRST SPRAYED THEM WITH SILVER AND THEN SPRAYED COLORED INKS OVER THAT.  YOU CAN'T GET THESE COLORS OF IRIDESCENT PAINT.  YOU HAVE TO CREATE THEM, USING A COLORED GLAZE OVER A SLIVER BASE.  AND THE NEXT YEAR OUT COMES THESE GOD DAMN SAME COLORS!  WHEN YOU REALLY LOOK AT THIS THING, THE IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT IS THE COLORS.  THEY DIDN'T BUY THE PROJECT, BUT I FEEL THEY MIGHT HAVE HELPED THEMSELVES TO THE COLOR SCHEME
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
Continue to Interview 2002, "Playthings"                      Return HOME
 
 
12:51 p.m. EDT , July 24, 1969,  Apollo 11 Splashes Down
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PS:  THE 1969 NY TIMES TOY FAIR ARTICLE HAS BEEN FOUND.  YOU CAN SEE IT HERE.