Today is the 4th of May, 2015. This afternoon, thanks to a sudden impulse and, perhaps, a miracle, I found this missing article. It has been lost for over fifty years. I was sure I had a copy of it, somewhere. And I would have thought the New York Times most surely did. But I tried to find and order it from them several times online, and what they offered me was never the right thing! Therefore, I was beginning to wonder if I might have just imagined that the article ever took place. Today, on a whim, I tried again. And for $3.95, billed to Pay Pal: HERE IT IS!
In 1969, Colorforms was a long way from having a showroom of its own. Even this humble dispay in a third-rate jobber's nameless showroom, was a big breakthrough for them. Harry Kislevitz insisted on it! The lazy crew at Colorforms did not want to make the Outer Space Men from the get-go. And now that the OSM had been thrust upon them, they did not want them to succeed. The sooner they would disappear, the better! Anything beyond standard Colorforms, just meant extra work for them. The sales force could sell Colorforms by merely calling buyers on the phone, and asking, “How many 'Popeye Dress Up Sets' do you need?” Theirs was the kind of sales position that exceeded Willy Loman’s wildest dreams. And The Outer Space Men, to them, were a colossal pain in the Uranus. Peddling an unknown commodity that fit into no known category meant they had to actually exert energy, and work to make a living. Nonetheless, over the objections of both the comptroller and the sales manager, Harry rented a modest space in an obscure showroom that he had never seen, (nor would he, ever). And the rest was up to me.
The day before Toy Fair, Colorform's delivery man arrived in a van, and picked me up. In the middle of an interview, printed in the OSM Archive, elsewhere on this website, I misstated the date as 1968. But this article from the New York Times reveals that it was actually 1969. That does make sense, as I was working on the figures, throughout 1968. And, now, by March of 1969, there were plenty of production models to display, and Colorform's driver delivered an abundant supply. Meanwhile, I had gathered all the other stuff I thought I’d need, ahead of time: two sheets of plywood, cut to size, several 25 pound bags of plaster, and a bucket to mix it in, as well as assorted rocks and stones. God knows, where I got those. Added to the list of things to bring were my long neglected oil paints, with brushes, rags, and turpentine, and, last of all, a large supply of tacks and pins, as well as a toothbrush, and several yards of pristine new black velvet.
I also recall that in the interview, I said that Eunice was with me. But now, I can’t imagine how that could have been, as we had two kids at home, and the youngest was just a few months old. So, I guess, I must have gone alone. What I do remember is that the two of us, the driver and I worked through the night. He was certainly no artist, having never touched a paint brush in his life, but he learned to be one overnight. As, together, we built the mountains of a distant planet, and before the plaster was even dry, we were staining it with oil paint. The terrain was built on a long narrow piece of plywood. A larger sheet became the background. Over this, we stretched the black velvet, and adhered it from behind with thumb tacks, and a mist of spray cement. A year before, I emulated stars for the OSM package photos by poking holes in black construction paper, and placing a light behind. Now, I'd devised a better plan. I simply spattered an entire universe of stars by flicking my fingernail across a tooth brush, dipped in white poster paint. In the process of creating this fantastic firmament, I got slightly carried away, and spattered stars all over everything. When this man made galaxy of white paint on black velvet was illuminated by bright spotlights, the illusion that the stars were blazing was utterly amazing. To complete the display, I'd ordered a set of plaster letters that spelled out “Outer Space Men,” Now these were glued in place. And, last of all, we posed and placed the figures. Some were suspended weightlessly on strings, but most were tacked to the terrain. Although, this photo leaves a lot to be desired, the actual newspaper would have been much clearer, if you look very carefully, you might be able to make out a small army of Alpha Sevens, marauding down the mountainside.
When we were done, we gathered all our stuff together, and made a lame effort at cleaning up. Then, just as the sun was rising, my new best friend drove me home again, where I fell into bed, exhausted. He, on the other hand, still had a long drive ahead. Little did he realize, when he dropped me off at the Toy Building that morning, that he would be there, throughout the night. Neither did I. What a guy!
So here it is, the results of all that effort. Was it worth it? You bet it was! Somehow, in spite of all the major toy companies, putting forth their best efforts, The New York Times managed to find their way to a small generic showroom, located on the dark side of the moon, and choose the Outer Space Men to represent the Cutting Edge of what was new and newsworthy at Toy Fair for the coming year.
What a lovely memory! Such delicious irony! The thought of it still fills me with delight. And I smile to realize that because the Outer Space Men were light-years ahead of their time, neither The New York Times, or anyone, knew what to call them! “Space Dolls of Soft Plastic,” was the best they could come up with! Not a very catchy title for what would, one day, be known as “Action Figures,” the biggest boy's toy category in the industry.
THE LOST ARTICLE 1969
Article is Copyright The New York Times, THE OUTER SPACE MEN are Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT