Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of FRIENDZ N' FAMILY, ACORN FAMILY, PLAY ALONG CLUB
and other Products and Images created by Mel Birnkrant are Copyright
(c) BIRNKRANT KISCOM/ The OBB
Here, in the twilight of my life, I’m about to re-create the Play Along Club Dolls website. This time, I hope to do it right. The Previous Webpage was created in 2007 with the help of my good friend, Cyndy Stevens. And, because the dolls had just been introduced then, many of the original prototypes that might have appeared the following year could not be revealed at that time. I later included a few of these in the story of the dolls that became the Play Along Club, “Friendz & Family.” So, why would I need to redo this site? The answer is, because there are a lot more things to add, this time. And I intend to tell the story in all its gory details, with so many new photos that I will have to squeeze them in as slide shows. Last of all, fans of the Play Along Club, provided there are any, will find the final page Amazing, and, perhaps, a bit heartbreaking, as it will offer a secret glimpse of many dolls that might have been.
"The Play Along Club Dolls" began in 2002, as a line of dolls called, “Friendz n’ Family.” Although, that was seventeen years ago, those final days of creativity remain still vivid in my memory. The year before had been a sad one, made all the worse by the tragic events of “9-11.” And, now, the year that followed was proving to be even sadder, beginning on its very first day, with the loss of our daughter, Samantha, who passed away on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2002. Furthermore, I felt like a dinosaur in a toy industry that had gone electronic. It seemed like every toy produced that year had either a computer chip inside it, or a “chip on its shoulder.” Talking teething rings for toddlers, and teenaged "Bratz" with nasty attitudes were not my cup of tea.
Meanwhile, my relationship with my partners, KISCOM, who had changed their name to "The Obb," was dwindling. From a start, some twenty years before, when the Kislevitz brothers, Andy, Adam, and Noah represented only me, exclusively, they eventually began to represent other toy inventors in addition to yours truly. Even though, this meant that my own efforts got less of their time and attention, this turn of events really didn’t bother me. I bought into the theory that the more items they had to show, the more likely they would be to get appointments with major toy companies.
But this situation changed dramatically when The Obb suddenly hired their own staff of artists, set up their own in-house art department, and the three brothers, themselves, became "toy inventors," directly competing with yours truly. Needless to say, this was not a healthy situation, my Partners and my competition, being one in the same! And, while all my projects were known to them, none of theirs were revealed to me. Thus, working with The Obb became a one way street, one, in which I shared all my creative thinking with the brothers Kislevitz, while, in return, they shared nothing they might potentially be able to use themselves with me. Additionally, to add insult to injury, every product I created got paraded before their stable of young artists, who, thanks to me, were getting educated.
Our increasingly rare idea sessions that, at one time, were characterized by a spirit of openness and generosity, suddenly became cloaked in tight-lipped secrecy. And moments of embarrassment, in which I would suggest an idea, only to see my partners look uneasy, and bite their tongues discreetly, or sheepishly inform me that they were already working on almost the same thing, began to happen frequently. I felt like I was playing a strange game of Twenty Questions, one in which I was required to come up with toy ideas that the Obb was not already doing, while never knowing what those things might be. Sadly, I began to realize that interacting with The Obb, was no longer fun for me.
And so, I contemplated retirement, but decided, instead, to attempt One Final Project. After a lifetime of trying to please everybody, this one would be just for me, an uncompromising attempt to simply make the best dolls that I could. The result was Friendz n’ Family.