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. 
          “Baby First Words” was very early.  This concept dates back to the days when I was still with Colorforms, and working with my employers sons, Adam and Andy, secretly.  The styling of the first drawings was very much like that of “Luvy Lullaby” and her bedtime buddies, “The Lullaby Dreamers,” a concept that we worked on, right after the “Weenies.”  Thank God, I later grew out of the tendency to make the children that I rendered, short, fat, and dumpy.  Somehow, this early style seemed cute and acceptable, at the time.

I have little memory of this concept.  Nonetheless, the evidence of it has been lying around the hidden storage areas of this house, for thirty years now.  Among the residue, were these two actual dolls.  Clearly a lot of effort went into creating them. I was never sure if they were merely elaborate prototypes or actual production models.  Could it be these dolls were manufactured?
         The recent delivery of a truckload of memories that my partner Noah, who is Adam and Andy’s younger brother, dropped off here several weeks ago, supplied some of the missing pieces of the story.  These included slides of my first presentation drawings.  The originals were lost, long ago.  And the big blue book he gave me that records the history of nearly all the items that we tried to sell, tells me that this concept was actually sold to Galoob, in 1986.  Even though samples of the actual dolls have been around the house for years, I had forgotten all of this.

Here are the presentation drawings, as they were originally shown.  The diagram below explains the concept.  Each doll was wearing a sort of bib that featured a series of picture buttons.  I guess the copy from the 1986/1987 Galoob catalogue says it better than I could, in typical toy catalogue punctuation. 

A brand NEW! baby has arrived, and YOU can teach it to say its very First Words.  First Words - the first baby EVER to learn just the way YOU learned - by word pictures!  Press pictures on her special bib and she forms a sentence - “BABY - LOVES - KITTY.”  And if you press pictures in the wrong sequence, she corrects them HERSELF in her cute baby way.  Wonderful learning fun for any child.
         I guess, Galoob had high hopes for these, as they asked me to visualize some variations, suggesting additional play patterns.
          The magic of these dolls consisted of this battery powered electronic voice unit.  It was quite a clever example of early electronics.  Unfortunately, when hidden in the doll, directly behind the the bib, the pictures had to line up perfectly to operate correctly. 

As far as I can tell, the item was never actually made, or if it was, it didn’t sell.  But it was shown at Toy Fair, 1986/1987.  And It was included in the Galoob Catalogue that year.  Among the stuff that Noah brought me the other day were these two Galoob Catalogue sheets.  Getting these and slides of the first drawings, is the reason that I included Baby First words here.
          Early in the 1990s, KISCOM made an effort to sell the Baby First Words concept, again.  They asked me to make additional drawings, that I do have here.  The first, shows a pair of younger babies.  One recites the letters of the alphabet, and the other, recites numbers.
         Here is another variation of the concept.  This was a little big game hunter.  The images on his bib were keyed to the sounds each animal would make.
          And, last of all, I can’t remember why I made this drawing of a Native American Princess.  I rather like it best.  But as a commercial product, it had a slim chance of success. 
         The big blue book tells me that this second attempt to sell this concept was met with a lot of interest.  Nonetheless, by that time, several other toy companies were working on similar products.  Electronics were no longer a novelty.  Below, is the video tape my partners made that I never saw, or knew existed, until the other day.  That’s Noah, fumbling with the product, and recovering rather adeptly from some mistakes.  This video reveals some of the products shortcomings, as well as its strengths.  It also offers a glimpse of what an actual toy product presentation was like, in those days.