All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
“Sleep Sheep” had a long and convoluted history. But in the end, they achieved a soupcon of success, albeit in a roundabout way. More importantly, they bolstered my belief that somewhere in the ruthless place, known as the toy industry, there remain small pockets of integrity.
Sleep Sheep made their first appearance, as secondary entities in the Lullaby Dreamer mythology. Lullaby Dreamers was a concept that we began, while our first concept, the Weenies, was still underway. We sold it to CBS toys, a subsidiary of CBS TV. They changed the name to “Sleep Stars” which was fine with me, but what they did to it, after that, was a travesty. The stuff their atrocious design department was working on was sickening. It was so bad that we were almost glad, when CBS TV, suddenly, dropped the whole toy company. We were happier still, when when they forgot to meet the terms of their contract with us, and thus, instead of making good on the advance and guarantee for one year, they had to pay for three.
Meanwhile, this is what the Sleep Sheep looked like in Dreamland, when we presented it to CBS. Each Sleep Sheep had a light inside that glowed when it was hugged.
The design department got rid of the light and turned the sleep sheep into a nasty cutesy doll, that looked like a cheap carnival prize. They called this creepy creature, "Fleecy!" Worse still, I was required to draw this icky doll in the style of the other Sleep Star characters. So demeaning! When the company was terminated, Lullaby Dreamers, came to an end, as well..
Several years later, KISCOM and I decided to revive the Sleep Sheep concept, and attempt to sell it, based on its light up gimmick. I redesigned the doll, and KISCOM showed it around.
One of the companies who liked the product was Fisher Price. They held the concept for a month, conceivably, to market test it, and then, they gave it back to us.
In the end, we didn’t sell it. Perhaps, a working prototype would have helped.
Meanwhile, a year after that, this item appeared in Fisher Price Catalogue. Yours truly let out a yelp! Their “Cuddle Light Lamb” was essentially the product we had shown then a year before as “Sleep Sheep.”
My partners were always reluctant to say anything, in instances like this. Remaining toy customers were few and far between, and KISCOM was always afraid of alienating any of them. But, for once, they spoke up. Submission forms clearly showed that Fisher price had seen our product, and, in fact, had held it for a month.
Fisher Price was very nice about it, and, without a whimper, ponied up! When a toy company holds a submission, there is no telling what members of their in-house design department might see it. Someone on their staff might have looked at our submission and assimilated it unconsciously. This did not have to be an outright theft, and no one was claiming that it was. It also might have been just a coincidence. Nonetheless, Fisher Price gave us a royalty of five percent, which was standard then. The sales, alas, did not amount to much, but as a triumph of honesty and justice, this item was a huge success.