Last fall, E.T. became a star once again when MCA released the videocassette of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 movie starring the alien. Virtually overnight, it became the best-selling video of all time, with about 13 million cassettes sold to date.
To coincide with the release of the video, Applause in Woodland Hills arranged with Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment to sell a stuffed, rose-colored E.T. that would retail for $12 and a figurine made from polyvinyl chloride that would sell for $2.50.
It was E.T.'s second incarnation as a toy. Depending on who you believe, the first efforts to sell an E.T. doll in 1982 and 1983 by Kamar International in Torrance was either huge success or dismal failure.
Shortly after the 1982 release of the film, Kamar obtained the rights to sell an E.T. doll. The company began marketing a brown, vinyl version that looked more like a brown embryo that the cuddly alien.
“It was garbage. Nobody went after the doll,” said Tony De Masi, editor of Giftware News in Deptford, N.J.
Company owner P.K. Kamar disputes any suggestion that his E.T. was not a hit. He said he sold from 10 million to 15 million dolls worldwide and said sales may well have topped $100 million.
“If anyone says it wasn’t successful, then they don’t know what success is,” Kamar said.
De Masi disputes Kamar’s sales estimates. “He wishes he sold that much. Maybe he did in his dreams,” De Masi said.
In 1983, Kamar sued MCA-Universal for allegedly violating its exclusive rights to sell its E.T. product. MCA in turn accused Kamar with failing to live up to his contract and not exploiting the potential of E.T. The two sides settled for undisclosed terms.
Retailers recall that Kamar’s E.T. doll sold well at first, but slowed down as huge numbers of the doll hit the market.
“I remember when there were E.T.s sitting on the shelf,” said Donna Hogan, a buyer for Playco, a 17-store chain based in San Diego.
Applause’s approach was markedly different. To start with, the company designed the doll to look like E.T. Kamar said that his E.T. was not made to look exactly like the alien because “E.T. is ugly.”
Applause President Robert Solomon said the main goal of Applause’s designers was to give the E.T. doll a gentle, realistic look that was missing the last time.
“We sought to bring out the personality of E.T.,” Solomon said.
To do that, three things were done. The gentle look was created by giving it a rose color and softer eyes. In addition, more wrinkles were given the doll so it would better resemble the E.T. in the film.
In addition, Applause only sold a limited number of dolls to card and gift stores rather than flooding toy stores with them. The result: The doll virtually sold out, bringing Applause about $4 million.