"Toy Story" revived the careers of Mr. Potato Head and Slinky, and Jerry Seinfeld has helped Pez dispensers recapture the spotlight. But there are plenty of beloved stars from the Baby Boomers' Golden Age (i.e., childhood) that are at risk of becoming mere entertainment footnotes.
Now David Hoffman's "Kid Stuff--Great Toys From Our Childhood" (Chronicle Books, 1997) may do for these neglected national treasures what Albert Brooks' "Mother" did for Debbie Reynolds' career.
In amusing prose accompanied by color photos, Hoffman tells the story behind some of playland's greatest icons, from those with real and figurative legs--Etch A Sketch, Legos, GI Joe and Barbie--to those patiently awaiting a call from the casting director on "Toy Story II." Remember Wheel-O and Cootie?
Guess the product from these fragments of Hoffman's inspiring tales:
A) In 1951, two starving art students whose bathroom was "a hideous shade of orange" were given a roll of vinyl and began experimenting. "Noticing that scraps of the vinyl would automatically stick to the semi-gloss paint in the bathroom, Harry and Patricia cut out basic shapes and combined them to decorate the wall. . . ."
B) "On a 1916 trip to Tokyo with his dad (who happened to be Frank Lloyd Wright) John Lloyd Wright (also an architect) was particularly taken with a revolutionary technique. . . . Though no doubt spurred by the recent success of erector sets and Tinkertoy construction systems, the younger Wright's fascination with watching workers lift timber into place was reportedly what inspired him to come up with his own building toy. . . ."
C) When the United States' rubber supply was cut off in WWII, the government asked General Electric to come up with a synthetic substitute. "James Wright, a chemical engineer working on the project, experimented with boric acid and silicone oil. The two substances unexpectedly gelled, resulting in a gooey compound which . . . bounced better and higher than rubber . . . stretched farther . . . and had the bizarre ability to lift images off the pages of a newspaper or comic book. . . ."
ANSWERS: A) Colorforms; B) Lincoln Logs; C) Silly Putty.