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A Bear Necessity: The Story of Teddy Ruxpin

Mary Brady was in the aisle of a Toys "R" Us near Miramar, Florida when she felt a sharp, stabbing pain in her leg. She was one of dozens of adults crammed into the store in late 1986, all of them searching for signs of an animatronic plush doll named Teddy Ruxpin. The shelves were empty.

Brady spun to face her attacker, a small child armed with a shopping cart who was veering in the other direction. She collected her 1-year-old son, who had been knocked over in the melee, and headed for another toy store. Then another. It would take her 12 trips before she finally found the $69 talking bear, the top item on her 4-year-old daughter’s holiday wish list.

Between 1985 and 1988, this scene and others like it played out in stores around the country. Teddy, who could yawn, giggle, and provide expressions while “reading” a story aloud to children, was the must-have toy sensation of the era, ringing up $93 million in sales in its first year; his inventor, former Disney employee Ken Forsse, had spent decades dreaming up a Tolkien-esque mythology for Teddy that played out in books and an animated series. It was a narrative he hoped would continue indefinitely.

But Teddy’s meteoric rise would prove to be short-lived. There would be no talking his way out of bankruptcy proceedings.

Born in 1936, Forsse grew up in Burbank, California, using his free time to build furniture and toys or take lessons in painting from his sister. Fresh out of high school, he snagged a job in the mail room of Walt Disney Studios before making his way to their animation department. In 1959, he was drafted into the Army. When he returned, there was an opening in the company’s theme park development division. He took it.

For much of the 1960s and '70s, Forsse worked on rides like It’s a Small World and the Jungle Cruise, designing the animatronic creatures that would sing, wave, and interact with park visitors. In the back of his mind, Forsse thought a stuffed animal that could move in a similar way, yet be small enough to fit on a child’s shelf, had the potential to be a tremendous success. Although talking toys had been around as early as Thomas Edison’s hand-cranked, phonograph-equipped dolls, Forsse wanted to emulate Disney’s furry appeal.

Originally, he thought it should be a monkey in honor of NASA’s experiments with primates in the early days of the space race. By the time he formed his own company, Alchemy II, in 1982, he had settled on the more familiar teddy bear. But in Forsse’s mind, Teddy wasn’t an actual bear—he was an Illiop, a species native to his fantasy world of Grundo, that just happened to look remarkably like a carnivore.

Explaining this to the dozens of companies he approached, Forsse's idea was usually met with confusion. If they wrapped their heads around Teddy's origin story, they usually failed to appreciate the technology. As late as 1982, the puppets Forsse constructed for Disney had radio-controlled heads, and his early Teddy prototype was similar: It had two parts, with one piece controlling the face via FM radio signals. It was complicated, bulky, and absent of any charm. Fisher-Price passed; so did HBO, which Forsse had hoped would consider a live-action series based on the premise.

Finally, Forsse and his Alchemy II partners stumbled upon a more practical effect: By using a standard two-track stereo audio cassette tape, they could encode audio on one track and signals that sent commands to a receiver in the bear’s head on the other. The result would be movement synchronized to the speech.

While Teddy’s internal electronics didn’t make for maximum hug potential—embracing him was like squeezing a lightly padded lunchbox—it was still revolutionary. When Worlds of Wonder president Don Kingsborough had a prototype Teddy placed in his lap, he agreed to manufacture the doll under a royalty agreement. At the same time, Forsse sold ABC on two live-action Teddy specials that would premiere in November and December of 1985.

The specials were essentially prolonged Saturday morning commercials, with ABC splitting the $1.5 million cost of production with Forsse. The Christmas season would reveal whether it was a smart investment or if Alchemy should have stuck with the monkey.

As it turned out, Forsse didn’t need the TV specials to motivate buyers. When Teddy Ruxpin went on sale in September 1985, Worlds of Wonder sold through a staggering 41,000 units in 30 days. The accompanying storybooks and cassettes—which would eventually grow to include 60 titles—sold for an additional $12.95 each.

Teddy was the toy version of disposable razor cartridges, except the bear itself was no loss leader: priced at $59 to $79, it was expensive enough to cause parents to groan. Like all toy fads, however, they were largely powerless against the pleas of their children. By early 1986, more than a million Teddys had been sold, all of them cheerfully babbling away.

Most of them, anyway. After the 1985 holiday, some 35,000 bears were returned to Worlds of Wonder owing to defective operation. The company argued it was operator error in some cases. (The manual urged users not to poke Teddy with scissors or other sharp objects, nor was he to be submerged in a bath.) Worlds of Wonder informed the media that the defective Ruxpins would be sent to “Grundo Hospital” to convalesce.

Teddy’s questionable constitution did nothing to diminish his popularity. In 1987, Forsse got his wish for a series exploring Teddy’s mythology when DIC Entertainment produced 65 episodes of The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin; he was used as a spokes-bear for area fire departments, lecturing children on the stop, drop, and roll technique; and one terminally ill child asked that Teddy read a special lullaby at her funeral.

Worlds of Wonder chartered jumbo jets from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong stuffed with Teddys in an attempt to meet demand. It was never enough. By 1987, more than 1.4 million bears had been sold, with parents returning to stores for an untold number of cassettes.

There was one story Teddy didn’t like telling. According to the Los Angeles Times, it involved allegations that Worlds of Wonder was slow to ship inventory and failed to throttle back before the market was saturated in talking animals. The company made animatronic Mickey Mouse and Snoopy toys; other companies congested shelves with Rappin’ Rabbit and Blabber Bear.

Just before the 1987 holiday season, Worlds of Wonder filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, hoping to reorganize itself in the wake of discounted Teddys ($30) failing to find new homes. By 1989, Teddy was in hibernation.

In 1991, Alchemy II entered into a new licensing agreement, this time with Hasbro, to reissue Teddy; over the next two decades, the license bumped around to different manufacturers. In 2005, a 20th anniversary edition was released, and in February 2016, Wicked Cool Toys announced plans to reinvigorate Teddy with a brand new global line of toys and other merchandise beginning in fall 2017. Their sales will cap the 8 million Ruxpins that have been sold since 1985.

Whether tech-savvy kids will be as captivated by Teddy as they were in the mid-1980s remains to be seen. If they are, that amusement might be short-lived. When a bruised Mary Brady presented her daughter, Valerie, with a Teddy Ruxpin in 1985, it happened to be one of the defective models that needed to be returned to Grundo. When a functional doll arrived, Valerie abandoned it after only two days, complaining his stories were “too long.”

Her mother was not surprised. “It's all she talked about for 18 months,” Brady told a Florida newspaper. “Teddy this and Teddy that. I didn't buy it the previous Christmas because I thought it was dumb and that she'd forget all about it. But she didn't. She was going to drive me crazy until she got that stupid bear.”

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Wise Quacks: A History of the Rubber Duck
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In the middle of a raging storm in 1992, a cargo ship carrying a huge assortment of vinyl toys tipped over. Descending into the Pacific were nearly 29,000 tub playthings, including untold thousands of rubber ducks. Bobbing and drifting, the tiny yellow birds took weeks, months, and years to wash ashore in Hawaii, Maine, Seattle, and other far-flung locations. Their journeys were able to tell oceanographers crucial information about waves, currents, and seasonal changes—what one journalist dubbed “the conveyor belt” of the sea.

The humble little rubber duck had, once again, exceeded expectations.


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Aside from soap, shampoo, and towels, there may be no more pervasive an item in a kid-occupied bathtub than the rubber duck, a generic aquatic toy that usually squeaks, sometimes spits water, and can be teethed upon without incident.

The ducks had their origins in the mid-1800s, when rubber manufacturing began to gain ground. Out of the many animals crafted, they were the most native to water and broke away from the pack. Families who used to make bathing a weekly event prior to Sunday church sessions would entice children to submerge themselves in the murky tubs with a duck, some of which didn’t float. They were intended as chew toys.

In 1933, a latex supplier licensed a series of Disney characters and made inexpensive bath floaters: The most popular were Donald and Donna Duck. While Disney’s brand recognition helped, companies looking to mass-market cheap ducks didn’t want to depend on a license. Sculptor Peter Ganine is believed to have been the now-familiar generic duck’s primary designer, patenting a toy in 1949 for a period of 14 years. Ganine reportedly sold over 50 million of them.

By the early 1960s, the vinyl ducks were free from patent restriction and became a bathroom fixture. They were cheaply made, cheaply acquired, and a soothing presence for children with apprehensions about being dipped into water. Any hydrophobia was eased by the bright yellow duck, who didn’t appear to have a care in the world.

On February 25, 1970, rubber ducks got their biggest break yet. On the first season of Sesame Street, Ernie splashed in a tub while singing an ode to his maritime companion:

Rubber Duckie, you’re the one

You make bath time lots of fun

Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you

Rubber Duckie, joy of joys

When I squeeze you, you make noise

Rubber Duckie, you’re my very best friend, it’s true

The song went on to sell over 1 million copies as a single and has been included in well over 21 different Sesame Street compilation albums. The image of Ernie playing with the duck was licensed for T-shirts, storybooks, and other merchandise that further endeared the ducks to child-occupied households.

The duck has since undergone some minor advancements. Some, molded to resemble celebrities or athletes, are a popular gift or marketing tool; others are sculpted to giant-sized proportions to bob in lakes during summer festivals. And while the toys now come in $99, Bluetooth-enabled versions, it was the classic yellow duck that made it in 2013 into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Additional Sources:
“Rubber Ducks and Their Significance in Contemporary American Culture,” The Journal of American Culture, Volume 29, Number 1 [PDF].

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13 Rich Facts About Dynasty
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Glitz, glamour, and murder! The 1980s nighttime soap Dynasty captured the zeitgeist with a one-percenting oil family, the Carringtons, living large in Denver, of all places. The show, created by Esther and Richard Shapiro, premiered on January 12, 1981, to capitalize on competing nighttime soap Dallas. But what set Dynasty apart was its unabashed catfights, characters dripping with diamonds, and the progressiveness of its casting.

The show didn’t become a top 10 hit until season two, when Blake Carrington’s (John Forsythe) ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins) strutted into town, upending the family and picking many knock-down, drag-out fights with Blake’s current wife, Krystle (Linda Evans). After becoming the number one show in America in 1985—and airing in 80 countries—Dynasty spun off into The Colbys, which only lasted two seasons.

By the spring of 1989, Dynasty’s popularity had begun to wane; after nine seasons and 220 episodes, the Carringtons were told to pack their bags. Because of the abrupt cancelation, the show returned with a two-part miniseries in October 1991. Try as they might, shows like Desperate Housewives, Empire, or any of The Real Housewives can’t hold a candle to Dynasty’s opulent legacy. Here are 13 saucy facts about the iconic TV show (which made a comeback last year).

1. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED OIL.

The Shapiros wanted to make a show about the 1979 oil crisis, but they instead created an “American fantasy.” “We thought people had seen enough stories where families fell apart,” Esther Shapiro told New York magazine. “We wanted a strong, 19th-century sort of family where people were in conflict but loved each other in spite of everything. We found that the audience wasn’t very interested in the oil workers’ stories. But people were just fascinated by what was going on inside that castle.”

Dallas tapped into a similar market, but Dynasty flipped the story. “Dallas, it seems to me, is more male-oriented and rural,” Esther said. “It has a lot more to do with business wheeling and dealing than with family. The women tend to be pretty passive. Our women, though, are anything but passive … and anything but victims.”

2. ANGIE DICKINSON WAS OFFERED THE PART OF KRYSTLE.

Back when the show was still called Oil, Angie Dickinson was offered the role of Krystle, which she turned down. Without realizing Oil had become Dynasty, she asked Aaron Spelling about it at a party, a while after the show began airing. “Aaron nearly fell backwards,” Dickinson told People. “He said, ‘Well, it’s on every Wednesday at 9 o’clock, and it’s called Dynasty.’” Spelling decided to offer Dickinson another role, this time as Lady Ashley Mitchell, but she turned that part down, too. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t. There are too many ladies already. I would want it to be my show.’”

Evans, for one, was grateful to Dickinson. “I’ve thanked God endlessly, but I owe a special thanks to Angie Dickinson for turning down the part of Krystle,” Evans wrote in her memoir. “Since then, we’ve become friends, so I was able to thank Angie myself.”

3. ALEXIS WAS THE FEMALE J.R. EWING.

“A lot of what [Alexis] was like was from [Dallas’s] J.R.,” Collins said on Watch What Happens Live. “And when I first came into the show, they compared me to J.R.” On 2006’s Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar, Collins further explained her conniving yet somewhat lovable character. “I think it was the first time that audiences saw on television a woman who could be evil and manipulating and downright nasty, and have a lot of charm and sexuality.”

4. IT FEATURED ONE OF MAINSTREAM TELEVISION’S EARLIEST GAY CHARACTERS. 

Jack Coleman as Steven Carrington in 'Dynasty'
Jack Coleman as Steven Carrington
ABC

Steven Carrington—played first by Al Corley, then by Jack Coleman—was Blake Carrington’s gay son (though he did have relationships with women, too). The idea of having an openly gay character on TV seemed like a good idea, but Dynasty’s producers kept Steven’s storylines rather tame and ambiguous, which didn’t sit well with Corley. The actor often complained in interviews how “Steven doesn't have any fun. He doesn’t laugh; he has no humor,” which prompted producers to replace him at the end of season two. In order to have Corley exit the show, the writers had Steven become disfigured after he was involved in an oil rig explosion. After some magical plastic surgery, Coleman reemerged as the new and improved Steven.

“My feeling was that I was in a kind of a situation where I was expected to be a spokesman, and I was never comfortable being a spokesman,” Coleman told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just the kind of position you wind up in when a character is long-running. You not only have to defend the character but the situation to the entire country. Ultimately I saw Steven as a man who was unsure of his sexuality and from time to time was attracted to women. He was caught between worlds.”

Despite his mixed feelings about playing a conflicted gay character, Corley felt like he made a difference. “I had no idea how important this character was to a lot of people,” Corley said on the Dynasty Reunion. “The letters that I got that said, ‘This is the first thing I’ve ever seen where I can actually go to my parents and I can tell them, hey, look, there’s somebody else. There’s a face to all of this.’”

5. THE SHOW’S COSTUME DESIGNER, NOLAN MILLER, RESURRECTED SHOULDER PADS.

Joan Crawford’s 1940s attire of hats, slim-fitting dresses, and gloves was a big inspiration on Dynasty’s costume designer, Nolan Miller. “Everything was coordinated: Each dress had its own particular hat, purse, gloves, shoes, and it never varied,” Esther Shapiro told New York magazine. “Joan Crawford didn’t mix and match. We decided to take it one step further: Alexis would never wear the same thing twice. In fact, no one on Dynasty would.” Miller had a weekly wardrobe budget of $35,000, and designed 3000 outfits during the show’s run.

Collins suggested to Miller that he needed to copy haute couture designers like Yves Saint Laurent “and have high style, and so they started doing that with me, which is when they started bringing out the big shoulder pads, early in 1983,” Collins told PBS. “When I started getting very dressed up for every single scene, even in the boudoir, they loved it so much that every actress also was dressed up to the nines.”

6. DYNASTY MERCHANDISE GROSSED MORE THAN $400 MILLION.

A show about moneyed people wearing nice things translated into the public being able to purchase some of the show’s glitz. A line of Dynasty merchandise was released, which included $3 pantyhose, $150 Forever Krystle perfume, $500 tuxedos, $800 ball gowns, $10,000 handmade Alexis and Krystle dolls, and a $200,000 chinchilla coat. Crafty fans of the show could also buy Miller’s patterns through McCall’s Pattern Co. and make the fancy dresses themselves.

7. THE CAST DIDN’T KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE MOLDAVIAN MASSACRE.

More than 60 million people tuned in to watch Dynasty’s season five finale, on May 15, 1985. The cliffhanger involved a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-like massacre in Moldavia, where terrorists crashed Amanda’s (Catherine Oxenberg) wedding to Prince Michael—whom she did not want to marry—and unleashed bullets onto the unsuspecting wedding attendees. “We had no idea who was going to live or die. None of us knew,” Collins said during the Dynasty Reunion. “Because we knew if you were really bloodied up, that was it. Might as well call your agent and say, ‘I need a job’ … It was very funny, actually.”

Fans had to wait until the sixth season premiered on September 25, 1985 to learn that none of the main cast died—just supporting characters Lady Ashley Mitchell (the second role that Dickinson turned down, which Ali MacGraw played) and Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell). The stunt was so popular, T-shirts imprinted with “I survived the Moldavian Massacre” were sold.

8. ROCK HUDSON’S APPEARANCE GENERATED SOME CONTROVERSY.

In 1985, there were still a lot of misconceptions about AIDS, with many people believing you could catch the virus from saliva. Between 1984 and 1985, Rock Hudson appeared on nine episodes of Dynasty as Evans’ lover, Daniel Reece. During filming, the producers didn’t know Hudson had AIDS (he died on October 2, 1985). The characters shared an open-mouth kiss, and Evans couldn’t understand why he didn’t lay it on her. “Instead of passionately kissing me, Rock just barely brushed his lips over mine and then backed away,” she said.

"Is it possible," asked one reporter, "that Rock Hudson transmitted AIDS to actress Linda Evans during love scenes [on Dynasty]?” To protect actors, the Screen Actors Guild wrote a letter that “recommended against kissing that involves the exchange of saliva with members of the AIDS high-risk groups—homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and hemophiliacs.”

9. DIAHANN CARROLL HOPED THE SERIES WOULD BREAK THE COLOR LINE. 

Diahann Carroll in 'Dynasty'
ABC

Diahann Carroll joined the cast as Dominique Deveraux during season four, and at the time was the only African-American with a recurring role on a nighttime serial. “Our intention is to play the characters in 1984 with an emphasis on character, not color,” Esther Shapiro told People. Carroll had attended a Golden Globes party where she met Dynasty's executive producer Aaron Spelling. He liked her so much, “We virtually closed the deal that night while having a drink at the bar,” Spelling said. 

Carroll felt the time was right for not only a black actress to appear on a mainstream soap, but also for a storyline of interracial romance to manifest. “They’ve done everything,” she said. “They've done incest, homosexuality, murder. I think they’re slowly inching their way toward interracial. I want to be wealthy and ruthless. I want to be the first black b*tch on television.” Carroll played the role for another season on Dynasty and two seasons on The Colbys before briefly returning to Dynasty in season seven.

10. YOU CAN VISIT THE DYNASTY MANSION.

The show was based in Denver but parts of it were filmed near San Francisco. The Filoli Estate in Woodside, California was a stand-in for the Carrington’s gigantic home. The specs: 36,000 square feet, 43 rooms, 17 bathrooms, and 17 fireplaces. This May, the estate’s 16-acre garden will host the Filoli Flower Show, which will display 50,000 tulips and 15,000 daffodils for the public to marvel at. If you’re a member of Filoli, you can visit the premises at any time—not just once a year.

11. THE LILY POND SCENE OCCURRED IN SHALLOW WATER.

Dynasty’s most famous catfight is one that took place in a lily pond and entailed Krystle and Alexis ripping each other to shreds—while wearing gowns! Evans wrote that they filmed the scene at an estate in Pasadena, in shallow water. “It looked like we were in six feet of water but in reality we were in only two and a half feet, and fighting on our knees! It felt absurd and we struggled all day to make it look authentic. When at the end of the day the director yelled ‘cut and print,’ we stood up looking like a couple of drowned rats. The crew spontaneously broke out in applause and laughter … Joan loved the verbal fights—I hated them. I loved the physical confrontations—she loathed them. We did them all—for nine years!”

12. A DYNASTY MOVIE WAS IN THE WORKS.

In 2011, the creators of Dynasty announced they were working on a script for a prequel set in 1961, to be released in theaters in 2012. That didn’t happen, clearly, but the plot surrounded a younger Blake Carrington. “We’re taking Blake Carrington back to his young manhood and when he met Alexis, and setting the movie in the Mad Men-era of the 1960s,” Esther Shapiro said. “It will give us the opportunity to start fresh, without the constraints that television placed on our characters in the series.”

“Our intention is, if this works, to make this a franchise because people want to see the others,” co-creator Richard Shapiro told ABC. “People are asking about Krystle and so forth.”

13. IT JUST GOT A SMALL-SCREEN REBOOT.

In May 2017, the CW announced that it would be bringing a reboot of the series back to the small screen, courtesy of Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. The series made its premiere in October 2017, and will return to complete its first season on January 17, 2018.

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