Tales of Toy Gala’s Previous: From Elephants and Blizzards to the Grinch and Past

by CHRIS BYRNE, The Toy Guy, President, Byrne Communications

As soon as upon a time within the nice, huge metropolis, a magical transformation occurred. For greater than two weeks each winter, it appeared like all over the place you went, the town was all about toys and play. Individuals got here from everywhere in the world. There have been gigantic, dazzling balls each night time and information of what was coming to thrill youngsters unfold all through the nation.

It could sound like a fairytale, however that’s just about the way in which it occurred throughout what one may name the “golden age” of the American Worldwide Toy Fair, because it was known as then. For 40 years from 1960 to 2000, the Toy Middle at 200 Fifth Avenue performed host to the worldwide toy business, and it was an enormous occasion. Toy firms began shifting into the constructing in 1949 after World Warfare II, but it surely wasn’t till 1960 that the constructing solely housed toy firms.

Throughout these years Toy Honest ran between two and three weeks, and business veterans recall being booked solidly with appointments. In fact, there have been many smaller accounts all doing their very own shopping for on the time, so the visitors at 200 Fifth and the adjoining 1107 Broadway was nonstop. Consumers and media individuals knew which showrooms had the very best lunches — and the very best cocktails at 5 p.m. There have been unimaginable events each night time, and present attendees would do every little thing of their energy to get a coveted invitation to such occasions because the Jurassic Park launch at The Museum of Pure Historical past, or to Common’s celebration of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the whole twenty sixth Armory was remodeled into an elaborate Whoville, the place Ron Howard and Jim Carrey confirmed up, and visitors drank and talked as snow fell indoors. That extravaganza in 2000 turned out to be one of many final main events of its sort on this period.

Toy individuals stuffed the inns, and the Waldorf-Astoria even flew the Mattel flag out entrance throughout the time that everybody was there. The elevators on the Toy Middle couldn’t accommodate the crowds, so the stairwells have been all the time full as individuals rushed between conferences. Nationwide media broadcast from the foyer or showrooms, and it wasn’t stunning to run into a celeb — or 10 — introduced in to assist promote a toy.

Each cab driver knew it was Toy Honest; there have been advertisements all over the place, and the road exterior the Toy Middle was full of actions, stunts, shows, monster vehicles, and even wild animals — all in an try and lure patrons and media, to not point out crowds of curious onlookers, a few of whom got here yearly. It was actually as if the circus had come to city.

A clipping from a 1985 challenge of The Toy Ebook highlighting a stunt from Splendid (CBS Toys)

PR wizard Barry Schwartz (actually, there’s no different phrase for him) was entrance and middle staging occasions throughout all these years. One in all his nice Toy Honest recollections is spraying physique outlines throughout the Toy Middle to advertise an Splendid sport known as Homicide to Go. He and his workforce have been out within the streets in the midst of the night time to keep away from visitors and detection. Nonetheless, the police got here, however Barry charmed them so simply, they laughed and loved the joke. No one went to jail. Schwartz additionally remembers that these stunts didn’t should value some huge cash. For the worth of a physique define stencil and a can of white spray paint, no one getting into the Toy Middle would miss it.

Schwartz additionally remembers an occasion that was way more elaborate however made the information worldwide. In 1988 with the launch of Playmates Toys’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the turtles themselves emerged from the sewer in entrance of the Toy Middle.

Lynn Pressman escorts an elephant into the Toy Honest showroom | Supply: Jim Pressman

One of many all-time nice stunts, nonetheless, was in 1960. Lynn Pressman, who had taken over working Pressman Toys alone after her husband Jack had died a yr beforehand, introduced a child elephant to the Toy Middle. Meant to advertise a line of reminiscence video games (as a result of an elephant by no means forgets), it was most likely the one factor that might upstage Lynn, recognized for her fashionable hats, her love of the enterprise and all the time working with a favourite shopper, Oklahoma Tire.

Pressman was often known as the place to get a scorching canine for lunch. The cart arrange of their showroom was a staple for a few years. Jim Pressman remembers that the Walmart purchaser would pay him one greenback for the recent canine since firm coverage prohibited accepting items from distributors. (Not everybody was as scrupulous, however these tales are greatest left untold.)

Bob Moog, president of College Video games, recalled that when he first got here into the business in 1985, they have been on such a decent funds that they’d scavenge the stairwells on the lookout for discarded show items and supplies they may repurpose. As he says, the larger firms might afford to revamp their showrooms yearly, however he couldn’t. After they acquired Colorforms in 1998, he inherited a showroom proper by the bridge between 200 Fifth and 1107 (it got here down a number of years in the past), a chief location that just about everybody within the business needed to cross by on daily basis.

Michele Litzky remembers working with Christie Brinkley on Matchbox’s Actual Fashions and Magic Johnson for Cap Toys’ Double Jam Digital Basketball. When Johnson arrived at Toy Honest the day after he’d been named MVP within the NBA All-Star sport, they needed to lock the doorways to maintain the crowds at bay.

It was additionally a time of titans. Take a look at the Toy Trade Corridor of Fame, and also you’ll see names who weren’t simply profitable executives, they have been the business all-stars of the period. Charles Lazarus (Toys “R” Us), Alan and Stephen Hassenfeld (Hasbro), John Amerman and Jill Barad (Mattel), Neil Friedman (Lionel Leisure, Tyco, Mattel), Tom Kalinske (Mattel, SEGA, LeapFrog), are just some of the enduring leaders that spoke not just for their firms however for the business as an entire, they usually formed it for many years. In lots of circumstances, their impression continues to be being felt.

Is Toy Honest nonetheless enjoyable? In fact, it’s! That can by no means change, although it can most likely by no means once more be the citywide, nationwide, and worldwide occasion it was throughout the golden age. This yr, for those who run into somebody who’s been within the enterprise some time, ask them for his or her favourite Toy Honest tales. You’re positive to be amazed and amused.

…And don’t get me began on the entire Toy Honest blizzards.

Prime Photograph: A Toy Honest celebration on the legendary Fifth Avenue Membership (200 Fifth Ave) in 1960 | Supply: Jim Pressman

The Toy Book — October 2023

A model of this characteristic was initially revealed within the 2023 Toy Honest challenge of The Toy Ebook. Click here to learn the complete challenge! Wish to obtain The Toy Ebook in print? Click here for subscription choices!

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