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
Now horrible Hasbro reluctantly returned what was left of my original prototypes. They were filthy dirty. Their hair a mess. Their wires were broken, And all their original clothes were gone. The boy doll, Betty’s brother, Bobby, was missing altogether.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, in spite of my offer to return the money I had been paid to sculpt them, Hasbro claimed that my original Sculpey masters "had been destroyed." This would certainly make it difficult for any competitor to do the project in the future. I was convinced that they were lying. But, they had paid me for the masters, and, technically, they were not required to return them.
On the other hand, they were obligated to return my original presentation, and I was not going to let the matter of the missing boy doll rest. My partners, the Obb, were getting worried, warning me that if I didn’t stop bugging Hasbro they would never buy another product from "us" in the future. Was that a threat or a promise? I didn’t give a damn! I was not giving up!
I knew the doll had to be lying around somewhere, but no one at Hasbro could be bothered to look for it. After days of wracking my brain, I finally came up with an idea. I made a "Wanted" poster and emailed it to Hasbro, suggesting that they hang it in their hallway.
This new "harassment" proved effective! It got the "Hasbro-la Terroists" attention. Bobby was found among a pile of girl dolls, still wearing the dreadful dress seen in the poster. And thus, he was returned to me. But my Sculpey masters, months of work, were gone forever.
Now, with my dolls and dreams in ruins, sad, angry and determined, I set about trying to save them. It required a work intensive week to clean and repair the dolls themselves. They were not only disgustingly dirty, but most of the wires in their limbs were broken. Therefore, I had to take the dolls apart and replace all the wires, not just the broken ones, as I assumed that those that were not already broken were on the brink of breaking. Thank God, I had glued the hands and feet in place with a fabric cement that was soluble in acetone.
Because the adhesive that was used to flock the dolls was water soluble, cleaning them was challenging. I had to accomplish that feat meticulously, using cleaning fluid on a Q-tip, applied a little at a time. No old master painting was ever restored more carefully and lovingly. The eyelashes, too, were missing. So, once again, I found myself searching the cosmetic sections of local pharmacies for brown false eyelashes, which are nearly impossible to find.
At first glance, it looked like the missing clothing would be the biggest problem. The dolls had come back to me, not naked, but in some of the hideously horrible "fashions" Hasbro had created for them, outfits that looked like they had been gathered from the charity box at the Salvation Army. This pitiful clothing was so awful, I was almost glad that Hasbro had dropped the project. It was clear they didn’t have a clue. When I first dressed the dolls three years earlier, I had relied heavily on Beanie Kids, then, on the brink of obsolescence. The clothing I had been able to gather, by searching every local mall and gift shop, three years before, had long since disappeared. Now, through the miracle of eBay, within a day, duplicates were on their way.
Last, but not least, I had to recreate the missing shoes. Miraculously, there was just enough three year old latex left to cast a whole new set from scratch..
Noah had already set up a meeting to show the dolls in ten days’ time, ten days, throughout which I worked day and night. Would you believe that all the while I was rescuing the dolls, on the floor beneath my balcony, our friend Kenneth Anger was filming “Mouse Heaven,” the movie that lent its name to my collection. Kenneth had arrived in Beacon with a cameraman, Doug Henry, an exceedingly charming young man, who was put up in a motel, while Kenneth stayed with us for the entire week. Thus, all the while Kenneth and Doug were working in the room below me, I was upstairs frantically trying to save my Friendz 'n Family. Meanwhile, I could look over the wall and see them filming.
It was only on the final day that the dolls were nearly finished, and could take the time to participate in the making of Mouse Heaven. I opened up some showcases, and wound up some rare toys, and operated the ventriloquist figures. All the rest of the week, I had trusted Ken completely to have his way with my collection. I have to say he was amazing; never once, during the week did I get nervous or upset in any way. And the few times that I stopped work to watch the two of them in action, I was exceedingly impressed. The way that Kenneth could direct every nuance of a shot, from clear across the room, while Doug executed his directions perfectly, was amazing. It was a joy to watch them work together.
One day, during the filming, my daughter, Alexandra “just happened to drop by” with her friend Keith, the tattoo artist who had contributed several of the images that now adorned the art gallery that used to merely be her body. Keith is a huge fan of Kenneth. It was Keith who had so accurately reproduced my drawing of Mickey Mouse as Valentino, on Alexandra’s shoulder. I might add, unbeknownst to me. She was not surprised when Kenneth put her tattoo in the movie. In fact, this image became somewhat iconic. It’s one of the stills that came to represent the film.
When the hectic week came to an end, in spite of all the wild distractions, my Friendz ‘n Family were ready to step into the world again. Thanks to eBay, I had been able to duplicate all the original clothing that they wore, three years before. Like many toys in my collection, it would have been impossible to detect the fact that they had been restored.
Throughout the process of refurbishing the dolls, I kept thinking about a solution to the problem that Hasbro couldn’t solve. They could never quite decide what Friendz ‘n family were all about. So, looking for a merchandising angle, the sort of thing that might have saved the dolls at Hasbro, I renamed them "The Acorn Family", suggesting that they grew like acorns on The Friendz n’ Family Tree. And, in the century old tradition of Steiff dolls and animals, each of whom has a button in its ear, every Acorn Family member would have an acorn there.
Then I undertook a rather ambitious drawing, depicting the Acorn Family Tree. This was a little late, I know. If I had come up with this idea 3 years ago, maybe Hasbro would have done it. If "kids" can be born in a cabbage patch, they could also grow, like Acorns, on the Acorn Family Tree. Here is the original pencil drawing.
And here it is in color.
I also re-edited the video I had made three years before. The new version, incorporating the Acorn Family concept was narrated by my young friend, Elysia Roman. I first met Elysia many years before when she interviewed yours truly at the age of eight years old.
You can see the Acorn Family Video Below.
Now, the newly renamed and refurbished dolls, along with the reedited video went on the road again. Mattel was still interested in the look and construction, but this time, they wanted to turn them into Holly Hobby. They asked if I could make a model with a Holly Hobby head on it, and have it done in two weeks’ time. The answer, of course, was "No!"
Next, Russ Barrie, a leading gift company, well known for its plush toys and Teddies, held the dolls for yet another year, while they decided not to do them. Once more, we were compensated, and I was eking out a living from these dolls that seemed forever destined not to happen.