Mel Birnkrant's
Mel Birnkrant's
All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
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          There are no second chances in the toy industry.  I learned that lesson the hard way when one of the best items I ever did was literally thrown away.  We first met Saul Jodel and his assistant, Kathy Oy when they were at Galoob.  Saul was one of the guiding lights behind Baby Face.  When Saul left Galoob to start a new toy company of his own, Kathy went with him.  Meanwhile, in the hands of Gary Niles, who filled Saul’s shoes at Galoob, Baby Face was doomed.  Saul’s new company was called, “Original San Francisco Toymakers Inc.”

My partners, KISCOM had lots of luck selling concepts to Saul.  He had amazing contacts in Hong Kong who could make just about anything.  The first concept of mine that he produced was called “Baby Lil’s”  That was Saul’s name.  I plied him with dozens of drawings of windup babies, many of which had original actions and subject matter; and he undertook to make them all.  He even produced several action playsets and a huge animated dollhouse.  Ordinarily, this would make me happy, but the fact is I was desolate!  I couldn’t stand the baby’s faces.  When I saw them, early on, and they could have been easily changed, I panicked, and urged Saul to improve them.  I even sculpted several new heads and sent them to him.   All this was to no avail, Saul was always enthusiastic to begin with, but a point often arrived when one encountered a brick wall.  The new heads I sent disappeared, without a comment.

When Baby Lil’s appeared in stores, even though, they were advertised on TV, they sold badly.  I passionately believed that the problem was the ugly styling of the baby’s faces, which were expressionless, generic, and unappealing.  I guess that criticism was to be expected from the guy who sculpted the doll that introduced expressions, to the toy industry, "Baby Face!"  Here are the two 30 second commercials that appeared on TV.  I thought the ads were quite attractive, but the dolls, alas, were not!  Do you agree?
        I was amazed when, months later, Saul who, hitherto, had never contacted me directly, sent me a handmade variation that transformed one of the walking figures into a likeness of a Hummel figurine, a Tyrolian boy in lederhosen.  It was quite well done.  But I felt that this would not save the line.  It would have required sculpting everything all over again, and making all new molds.  Furthermore, few of the babies, who were wearing only diapers, or the subject matter of their windups lent themselves to a Hummel theme.  So, in a desperate attempt to save the product line, I jumped into action, and created three new prototypes. 

I called the new concept, “Noddlers.”  At that point in time, the idea was original.  Bobble head figures were growing in popularity, but they had never been combined with dolls or windup toys before.  My suggested variation would use all the Baby Lil’s bodies, exactly as they were, only the heads would be replaced, and the new bobble heads would fit right into the existing necks.  The cat and rag doll's heads were changed as well.
          My partners, KISCOM never saw these new prototypes.  I sent them directly to Saul Jodel, along with the following letter. 
         I worked out the bobble head mechanism in great detail, illustrating two potential variations.
          The photographs, below, are the only evidence of this Herculean effort.  I sent everything to Saul, the models, the letters, and his Hummel doll.  They disappeared into a black hole.  I never heard from Saul again.  No response, no thanks, no nothing!  That’s Toy Biz, folks!
          A few years later, Hasbro’s line called, “Littlest Pet Shop” was redesigned, and all the pets got bobble heads.  Still other toy companies have made small dolls with bobble heads, since then.