Mel Birnkrant's
Mel Birnkrant's
All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
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         Meet “Copycat Cathy,” my third and final venture with Bob Jeffway.  She was a total failure.  The doll that you are seeing here has never been seen by anyone but Bob, The Obb, and me.  The concept was intended to be an animated talking baby doll, one that carried animation to a new level for its day, and, at the same time, did some ground breaking vocal tricks, electronically.  I thoroughly discussed the concept with Bob, ahead of time.  He assured me that doing what we agreed upon would be a piece of cake for him.  But when he finally tried to sink his teeth into the project, his cake turned out to be made of cement.

          Meanwhile, I had sculpted, animated, and engineered a working model that proved the proposed actions were not only possible, but comfortable.   All the animation was triggered by a single motor.  Cathy could move her eyes and turn her head, quite realistically.  I installed two microphones, one inside each ear, so she could sense where the voice speaking to her was located, and turn her head in that direction.  She was also wired to plug objects into her hand.  These would alter the conversation.   Her voice would cue the animation.  And getting it to trigger the actions should have been a breeze.  The computer chip that controlled what Cathy said and did was to be Bob Jeffway's contribution. 
         My roommate at Pratt, Harley Wolfe, went into the toy industry before me.  He began inventing toys while I was still doing Boutique Fantastique.   Harley’s claim to fame, or infamy, was a game called “My Dog Has Fleas.” It won the dubious award of “Worst Game of the Year.”  I proudly won the same award, myself, years later, with a game called “Tummy Ache.”  At any rate, watching Harley, I should have learned a lesson, mainly to avoid Fleas!  Nonetheless, fleas continued to fascinate me... and Flea Markets were my idea of ecstasy!

When I was working on Doggie Bag Doggies, Tyco asked me to come up with line extensions.  Among the litter of ideas I scratched up were these.  If the line had managed to succeed, perhaps, the Toy World would have been infested with Fleas.
          Well, you know what they say one should do if at first they don’t succeed.  Therefore, several years later, I tried and tried again.  Recycling the same drawings, “My Doggie Has Fleas” became a pooch, called, “Itchy.”
          Poor little Itchy; his life was misery.  He depleted his batteries, itching and scratching fleas.

To make him a reality, I visited the toy store to adopt a suitable ready-made plush puppy; one that I could customize to become a working prototype.  His appearance would be incidental.  It was the concept, not the look, that I hoped to sell. 
         The best thing about Itchy was not the fact that he scratched  and squeaked, incessantly, whenever his light sensor encountered a kid in close proximity.  The thing I really loved about him was his Magic Flea Brush.  Throughout my days in elementary school, a favorite thing to do was creating, through the magic of origami, something called a “Cootie Catcher.”  This simple gadget, folded from a sheet of paper, never ceased to amuse me.  Itchy’s Magic Flea Brush did the Cootie Catcher one better.  It, not only, caught animated fleas, but they could jump back onto Itchy, faster than the eye could see.  The mechanics of this clever accessory was my own invention, and I have never seen another like it, either before, or since.
         I also liked Itchy’s other accessory, a container of flea powder with a squeaker inside.  Thus, when the invisible powder was sprinkled on a colony of fleas, one could hear them screaming, as they would, either flee, or die!

Itchy was not exactly an epic concept.  Therefore, I didn’t take the time to make a video.  I felt the working prototype more or less spoke for itself.  So, I was somewhat surprised to see among the stuff my partner Noah brought, last week, a video tape that they must have made the very day I brought Itchy to their office in New Jersey.  It seems, they had a video camera running, as I offered them a 30 second demonstration of how Itchy operated.  This was completely unrehearsed, in fact, I didn’t even realize there was a camera running. 
          Needless to say, Itchy didn’t sell.  I guess, because he was what one might call a “One Trick Puppy.”  Nonetheless, as the tape testifies, his single trick was pretty funny.