Now, another Great Guy came in to the picture. Len Mazzocco. It turns out that Len began his career working on the Weenies project at Coleco 16 years ago, and knew and liked my work.
The photo at left is Mel's own Weenies display, which may be all that's left of the illfated project which Coleco almost produced. The Weenies story is in "How Baby Face Was Born."
Now, Len Mazzocco was Jill Barad's blue eyed boy and
in charge of all the Disney products at Mattel. As such
he even, visited my house to see my "Disney" collection.
His enthusiasm for what he was doing was extraordinary.
Suddenly Len, because of the great job he did with the Mattel preschool Disney stuff, was sent from California to Buffalo and put in charge of New Products at Fisher Price. This was about a year ago. He looked at the sorry little figures that the Best Friends had become, and said: "These should be "Dolls", and "soft" like Beanie Babies!"
Andy replied: "Wow Len, What a great Idea!" or words to that effect. "I'm sure Mel will want to make some up for
you! Just give us a few weeks!" And I did make some up for him! Only, It didn't take a few weeks! It Took a few
minutes! I opened up the leg seams on my first three dolls, that Peter had returned to me, and replaced the little bit
of stuffing in them with plastic "beanies" [Now the dolls could no longer stand up]. Their feet and bodies were
already full of "beans".
We waited until Two weeks later so it would appear that I put a lot of time and effort into the project, and then showed them to Len... He Loved the "New" dolls! They were exactly what HE had imagined. He was impressed that I had fulfilled his request so well. And guess what? As he was Jill's man, He Could Do Dolls, if he wanted!
Meanwhile the "inside" had continued to develop their own Little People line and Little People were beginning to do
a lot of things and find themselves in a lot of situations that their "Best Friends" had planned to do.
Therefore, Len felt that our dolls needed a theme. Something that would set them apart from Fisher Price's increasingly "Friendly" Little People. I had several phone discussions over several days with a product manager at Fisher Price deciding what direction to take. Her boss favored a line of dolls based on the days of the week, but both she and I felt strongly in favor of dolls based on color. In the end I did two large presentation drawings showing both themes.
Fisher Price liked the Color theme best. And now you will see the drawing that sold them on the idea. It was the first thing I scanned when I got a computer last year, just before I sent the drawing in. So, this is the real drawing not a color copy. And this is the drawing that, alone, combined with the Mop Top dolls became the "Color-Me-Kids".
This is Mel's pencil and ink sketch which preceded the final art.
They decided to move forward with the project and negotiated a contract. Fisher Price tried to say that Color-Me-Kids" WAS "Mop Tops" and that they already had given us an advance for them. But Kiscom insisted that they were not the newly murdered Mop Tops but "something different" and Fisher Price finally condescended to give a modest advance. The contract was signed and the deal was done. And the dolls Disappeared "Inside". Out of our hands and beyond Peter's reach as well, Once and for All.
Now in an unprecedented move, Len came back to us and said that "because the Best Friends product was dead, and HE brought it back to life with HIS IDEA to make the dolls larger and soft, We should have our royalty reduced!" Furthermore, He argued that Fisher Price had added a unique plastic accessory to each figure and it was something that we hadn't shown them!
Andy tried to explain to Len that the Dolls he [Len] thought he had "Invented "were actually the very ones we had shown Fisher Price in the first place! But Len didn't seem either to grasp or believe what Andy was trying to admit to him. And as no one would disclose what the "unique plastic accessory" was, there was little we could say about that. So in the end, we were stuck and had to take a reduction in the royalty rate. It was the old "Part of Something is better than All of Nothing" situation!
Now, all of a sudden Mattel Fired their President, Jill Barad! And Len, who was the sole reason that our project was even being considered by Fisher Price, foresaw the writing on the wall, and Quit! Leaving our poor little Color-Me-Kids without anyone to stick up for them Inside Fisher Price! They had been Len's pet project.
Soon, Peter heard through the grapevine, and gently implied to Andy that we were in trouble. We knew, all along, that Color-Me-Kids was the only product in the entire company that didn't have a computer chip in it and that we were, therefore, skating on thin ice to begin with.
Now that Len was gone, we realized that the project was Doomed Again!
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Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of Baby Face and other Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant, are Copyright © Kiscom, Birnkrant