Friday, October 31, 2014

Glamour and Gore - Together Again:
ILM Halloween Party Invitations

Steve writes:

Company holiday parties are a long-standing tradition. They offer hard-working, by-the-book employees a semi-sanctioned opportunity to cut loose, throw back a few cocktails, and say/do things they normally wouldn't at a staff meeting on proper email usage at 2:30pm on a Tuesday.

With the odds of awkward encounters with costumed and inebriated coworkers at their highest, Halloween parties may be the penultimate workplace holiday setting for things to just get weird, for better or worse. What we have here are a selection of invitations to ILM's annual Halloween Party. Each are viewable in the Archive Database, but it's kind of fun to see them all together in one place.

1998 ILM Halloween BASH!
This first invitation from 1998 represents a neat play on the Eerie comic series that ran from March 1966 to February 1983. Poor Vader gets his head smashed by a Martian as Leia shrieks in horror.

The next two feature a familiar scorned Gungan paired with often parodied horror films, The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Poltergeist (1982). I feel like not incorporating the old LucasArts stick-figure logo with the former was somewhat of a missed opportunity. By 2001, it seems that they've fully embraced Jar Jar's maligned status in our popular culture.

2000 - The Lucas Halloween Project

2001 - Episode II: It knows what scares yousa.

This Yoda/Exorcist mash-up from 2002 may be my favorite of the group, perhaps because Yoda still retains somewhat of a puppet-like appearance and I've always been a fan of the poster that inspired it. I vividly remember seeing The Exorcist for the first time when it was theatrically re-released in 2000, and at that time the tagline "The Scariest Movie Of All Time Has Returned" (as seen on this poster) rang true for me.

2002 - THE F/XORCIST

Invitations from 2003 and 2004 were a little more generic, but still charming. The droid jack-o-lanterns in the latter are particularly amusing. Threepio definitely has a vintage Droids look about him.

2003 Annual ILM Halloween Party
2004 Annual ILM Halloween Party

This final invitation from 2008 is unrivaled in terms of style. The pulp novel look is pretty brilliant. If anyone knows what may have been the specific inspiration for this one, let us know in the comments.

2008 Annual ILM Halloween Party


ILM invitations from the collection of Gus Lopez

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lucasfilm Licensing Slicks Used in French Advertising

St├ęphane writes:

More than a decade ago, Star Wars / C-3PO focus collector Bill Cable was lucky enough to find a nice lot of Lucasfilm licensing slicks from the ESB and ROTJ eras, which he published here.

These slicks were part of the many paperworks internally produced at Lucasfilm licensing for distribution to licensees in order to design, market, promote, or advertise their products. These individual black& white slicks may not be as gorgeous as other toy packaging (eg. cromalins, proof cards, or even photo-art...), but they portrayed major characters from the movies, and some of them may actually look very familiar because they were used, or widely used by various licensees.

It's always interesting to see material provided by Lucasfilm to licensees, and how it was used to design packaging for marketed products and/or advertising. But it's even more interesting when it comes to the same material used by foreign licensees, as it happened with the French MECCANO licensee on the toys/games product range.

When I saw Bill's website, those artworks were instantly reminiscent of advertising in my memory of a child who grew up in France in the 1970-80s. I took a closer look and tried to match them; THREE of them were a perfect match in children/youth French magazine PIF Gadget and the Palmito cookies vacuformed plastic cards premium.


The R2 slick was used on the famous PIF Gadget 'blue ads' series from the ESB era - a quarter of page insert depicting a major character/vehicle and promoting the 36-action figures available.

The Han Solo Hoth gear slick was also used on both PIF Gadget ads and Palmito cookies plastic cards. However, you'll notice that the face/bust drawing were altered to make it more 'aggressive' and that it was used with the 'LUC' (French for Luke) name instead of Han.




It looks like those licensing slicks served as a reference for the famous Palmito cookies vacuformed plastic cards premium. However, they were almost entirely redrawn, perhaps to make a more dramatic result on the plastic card and/or to match details constraints with vacuforming...
The same observation can be done with the Darth Vader vacuformed plastic card as shown...


There is one more interesting thing to assume based on these connections, which confirms Bill's theory of probably more licensing slicks available back then: many artworks used on Meccano PIF Gadget 'blue-ads' series and Palmito cookie cards, are missing from Bill's find.

Licensing slick images courtesy of Bill Cable

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cashin' In

Ron writes:

During the vintage era, Kenner ran a number of rebate programs. These encouraged retailers to participate in advertised rebate campaigns designed to drive sales.

The kits distributed through Kenner's sale force typically contained a brochure and a folder. The latter item housed a number of clip-art sheets, which allowed retailers to design their own print ads.

Here you see the folder for the 1980 "Cash In With Kenner" campaign.


And here's a clip-art sheet providing a number of graphics as well as some numerals. Retailers would use the numerals to add their own prices and combined rebate values to their advertisements.


Here you see a sheet that provides line-art images of the action-figure toys on which rebates were offered.


Finally, here's an actual ad, which ran in the Sunday comics section of a Memphis, Tennessee newspaper on November 2, 1980. You'll notice that it utilizes some of the elements from this rebate kit.


It's pretty cool to see a full-page retailer ad devoted entirely to Star Wars toys.

Of course, a lot of the items being advertised were not part of the rebate program; they were just regular old Star Wars products. The line-art for these likely came from Kenner's repro art books.

A couple of interesting details:

1) The Yoda figure is spotlighted. Yoda would have been the newest action figure in the line at that point in time.

2) Earlier, Star Wars-logo products, like the large-size versions of Darth Vader and Chewbacca, the Death Star Space Station, Land of the Jawas, and the Creature Cantina, were still available.

3) The die-cast TIE Bomber makes an appearance. You sometimes hear that this item was only available in a certain, very limited area, but that's not my sense based on the evidence of price stickers, ads, and old collections. It seems to have been available fairly widely, albeit for a limited period of time and in limited numbers.

Any readers remember shopping at the Memphis Toy City? One of my fave websites, Plaid Stallions, has some shots of interiors of Toy City locations here and here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Rise and Fall of 'Fall of the Republic'

Tommy writes:

With all the Episode VII "leaks" hitting the internet over the last few weeks and months, I've been thinking back on what was supposed to be the original internet leak. But then wasn't.

By the late 80s/early 90s, Star Wars fans were eager for anything which would give them something new. Star Tours was open by that point and the Zahn trilogy was still years off. There was no news from LFL on the release dates for new films and no one really liked The Ewok Adventure. With the exception of a few foreign markets, Star Wars had all but disappeared from the public consciousness. It seemed to be a fad which had all but died out. It was a dark time for the fandom.

Something had to be done.


Around this same time, a document hit what was then the earliest days of the internet, as if delivered from the heavens just when it was needed the most. It had begun its life on the sci-fi convention circuit, somewhere between 1979 and 1983, but by the late 80s it had become an internet phenomena. The document had no real source or origin attached to it, but it was reported to be the original draft for what would be the filming script of Episode III. Except that it was very, very short. And was written by someone other than Lucas. And not particularly good. And was apparently for Episode III rather than Episode I. Calling itself "Fall of the Republic," this strange story was all the rage in fan circles in the 80s and early 90s though. Even into the mid-90s, fans and collectors still knew of the story. They might never have read it, but they still knew that it existed and it formed the basis of many different theories on the film's mythology, even if many doubted its authenticity by that point.

As it turned out, Fall of the Republic was not a draft of Episode III. It was just something that someone wrote, which was either accidentally or deliberately presented as genuine by the internet in the first of what would be many Star Wars hoaxes. While it does have several similarities, Lucas took his prequel in another direction and Fall of the Republic was consigned to the ashcan of history. Still, there are those who remember the days when it was the latest news "leaked" from the set of a Star Wars film which the fandom was dying to see. And if nothing else, it's probably the first and best known Star Wars fan fiction around.

I have preserved the earliest draft of the story I can find on the SWCA:HHA, so that a new generation of fans can read the leak that never was...  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remember Kenner?

Ron writes:

This article from Cincinnati.com debuted in 2013, but I bet a lot of our visitors haven't seen it. None of the information it provides is particularly revelatory, but it does offer some large, clear photos of Kenner Star Wars product, both on store shelves and in Kenner's Oakley facility.


I particularly love the shot of that woman glumly taping Darth Vader TIE Fighters into their boxes.

If you had walked up to her and told her to take care not to damage the corners, lest she negatively affect future AFA grades, what do you reckon she'd have done?

I bet she would have grabbed the nearest die-cast landspeeder and walloped you in the head with it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eureka!

Ron writes:

Have you all seen the supercool Kenner paperwork of Ross Cuddie's that I posted on the SWCA back in the spring? If not, you can check it out here, here, here, and here.

Ross has a few additional pieces that I've been planning to post. I haven't for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the Archive's database hasn't been working correctly, meaning that new entries aren't possible. Hopefully that'll be fixed soon. (I think these items work better as a blog post than as a database entry anyway.)

Secondly, I'm not entirely sure what some of Ross' pieces represent.

Take the below item. Clearly it relates to Star Wars action figures. And, obviously, it's connected to the first assortment, which was the 38000 series. But the remainder of its content is somewhat mysterious -- at least initially.


Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit: The Jawa reference is pretty obvious. It's a decent bet it's related to the change that occurred in the shape of the figure's blister when Kenner ditched the vinyl-cape version of the toy in favor of the cloth-cape one.

On the other hand, the date on this piece indicates it was generated about a month after the change notice that bestowed the vinyl cape on the figure. Did the change from vinyl to cloth happen that quickly? Possibly. If not, then this must relate to some other change in the Jawa bubble -- perhaps one of which we've seen no other evidence.

As you've probably noticed, there's another reference to a blister change. As no figure name is indicated, it's hard to speculate about it. Anyone aware of another early blister transition this might relate to? If so, share in the comments.

But the references on this change notice that intrigued me the most were the ones to the "corrugated platform," "seperaters," and "top filler." My guess was that they refer to materials used in shipping cases. But when searching around for images of freshly opened SW shippers, I came up empty.

For some reason it didn't occur to me that many of the original 12 figures shipped in the bin-style store display -- until, that is, I saw the below photos, which were posted by Robert Daugherty on the Facebook group devoted to Star Wars Displays and Advertising.

The photos show a 12-back bin-and-header display with all of the ancillary materials intact. Sure enough, those materials include three cardboard "seperaters"; they were used to keep the three rows of carded figures in place during shipping.


Another shot:


That brown rectangle on which the seperaters sit is almost certainly the "corrugated platform" referred to on the change notice. It was inserted below the display's interior plastic tray in order to ensure the figures and tray were raised above the front lip of the bin.

Here's a shot of the platform and tray together:


Another element of the display is the piece of corrugated cardboard with three vertical slits that sits against the back wall of the bin and holds the seperaters in place. You can see it in the topmost display photo on this page. Here's another shot:


This piece doesn't seem to be mentioned on the change notice, possibly because the folks at Kenner didn't realize they needed it until after they had the seperaters in hand and realized they wouldn't stay in place without support.

Anyway, Robert's posting these photos finally clarified for me the significance of this piece of Ross' paperwork. It references the packing materials used to ship the bin display! Eureka!

There's one remaining mystery, however. What the heck is the "top filler" referenced on the change notice? Two of them were meant to ship in each case.

Are they taking about some kind of padding material? Or is "top filler" their word for the three-slotted piece of cardboard mentioned above? Perhaps two of the three-slotted things were shipped in each case, one for the back of the bin and one for the front? "Top filler" would be a weird term for an item like that, but who knows . . .

If you have any ideas, share 'em in the comments.

Thanks to Robert and Ross for sharing these items.

If you're interested in store displays, you can browse through our gallery devoted to the subject by clicking here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Star Wars Prop on Antiques Roadshow

Tommy writes:

The BBC version of Antiques Roadshow recently showcased an item which would appeal to most collectors, a prop TIE Pilot helmet from The Empire Strikes Back. Perhaps almost as interesting as the prop itself is the discussion it opens up about the value of that "bit of plastic" and what many saw as a dismissive attitude from the host of the series towards the hobby. An article about the segment can be found here:

Bit of Plastic

So, what do we think? Is the prop truly worth that or is it just an example of collectors being crazy and inflating the market?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Did "Star Wars" Kill the LP Logo?

Ron writes:

Kenner debuted the LP logo in 1975. It stood for "Logray's Pants."

Just kidding. It was actually short for "long playing." The logo was intended to demonstrate to consumers that each Kenner toy had been tested for fun, safety, and reliability.

The promotion was pitched to retailers via the 1975 Toy Fair catalog. Kenner actually devoted the entire front cover to the logo rather than to one of their hot properties, like Snoopy or The Six Million Dollar Man.

Wait . . . what is she doing to that Play-Doh elephant?
The catalog's back cover featured a verbose pitch concerning the logo. In it Kenner claimed to have done "extensive research" to determine how best to communicate the concept of longplayitude to the American toy consumer.

I'm imagining a team of researchers toiling for years conducting surveys across the back roads of North America. Exhausted, low on supplies, one of them throws up his hands and says, "Screw it, let's just put a blue circle on the box."


The last page of the catalog touts Kenner's advertising campaign. Note it focused on parents. I think it's likely that the LP program was part of this parent-focusing effort. Makes sense. What kid bases his I-want-this-toy decisions on factors like durability and reliability?


Of course, Star Wars collectors know the LP logo because it appeared on 1978 products, including the initial releases of the first 12 action figures. However, the logo was gone the following year; most of the products re-released in 1979 featured packaging that had been stripped of the little blue circle.

1975 to 1978. That's not a very long run. I guess you might say the "long-playing" logo didn't play for very long. I've never heard a convincing explanation as to why Kenner killed it.

But here's my theory: The quality of some of Kenner's Star Wars toys was so poor that the company was embarrassed to continue advertising their wares as being durable, reliable, and long-playing.

Okay, before you start crying that Star Wars toys were the most important things in your little-kid life, saved you from multiple life-crippling depressive episodes, and should have been elected president, let's pause to consider the longplayosity of a few Kenner SW products.

1) Land of the Jawas 
How many of your Jawa figures acquired Orko-style levitational powers when the elevator mechanism on the back of the -- ahem -- "Sandcrawler" disintegrated the third time you tried to use it? Admit it: The toy was a piece of junk. To be fair, it was released in '79 and never bore the LP logo. Still, it was in the planning stages in '78, and the stink of it must have been wafting through the corridors of the Kroger Building right around the time the powers at be at Kenner were muttering, "Ixnay on the onglay ayplay."





2) The Inflatable Light Saber 

This thing actually shipped with a repair kit. The packaging might have left a parent feeling proud to have purchased a sturdy and thoroughly tested "long-playing toy." But once he opened the box he found evidence to the contrary staring him right in the face. Think about it: Opening a "long-playing" toy and finding that it comes with a repair kit is a bit like opening organic-labeled cereal and finding that it comes with a complimentary pouch of DDT. Records indicate that approximately 98% of these toys broke within two hours of being opened on Christmas morning. The other 2% were simply thrown out by kids who were embarrassed to be seen playing with it.



3) The Radio Controlled R2-D2

According to Kenner sources, the company experienced major problems with this toy. Many were returned for mechanical adjustments -- so many that scores of them remained stacked on pallets in the employee store long after the product had been released. Similar problems affected the Sonic Controlled Landspeeder and Radio Controlled Jawa Sandcrawler; the former even shipped with a little adjustment kit so that consumers could noodle with the thing when, inevitably, it stopped working and turned into a Push Controlled Landspeeder. All things considered, I don't find it surprising that Kenner never made another wirelessly controlled Star Wars toy.



So, yeah -- Kenner made some junky Star Wars products. But I guess when you have a license like Star Wars quality doesn't matter so much. People are buying the movie connection more than the toy. To me, the LP logo belongs to the old, pre-Star Wars Kenner -- the one known for making innovative activity toys like Chip Away and Girder and Panel. The post-Star Wars Kenner was different: It was a company looking for licenses, especially ones with hot media tie-ins. To that Kenner longplaytitude was a secondary concern -- even if they really did care.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Court Wars: Star Wars in the Legal System


Tommy writes:

Welcome to Court Wars, an overview of Star Wars related legal cases and lawsuits. Like most collectors who are also attorneys, from my first day of legal research class, I've been trying to find all the times something collecting related was part of a court case. There are a surprising number of them, so this will probably be a regular blog feature. If you know of any, feel free to send them my way!
In any event, here's what's on our docket today:

City of Sharonville vs. Brown (Ohio App. 1 Dist.,1980): 

On 2/15/1979 Brown allegedly took a case of 6 Star Wars Luke Skywalker figures from Kenner Products, his employer, and in the sight of two fellow employees, carried it from the company loading dock and placed it in the trunk of his car. The court of appeals overturned his conviction because the state failed to introduce evidence that the box belonged to Kenner and that the Luke figures had some value. Kenner placed a value of $38.40 on the case though.  
 

Ideal's Knight of Darkness figure, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain Sith Lord.  (from the Collection of Isaac Lew) 

Ideal Toy Corp. v. Kenner Products Division of General Mills Fun Group (443 F.Supp. 291, 1977):

This is a case concerning a line of figures called "Star Team." Essentially, Ideal Toys is asking the court to tell Kenner that the Star Team line does not infringe on Kenner's Star Wars line. Kenner makes a counter claim against Ideal, saying that the Star Team figures constitute unfair competition. It's the court's job to settle this mess.

The most interesting part of this particular case is probably the facts section, which gives a rundown of how and why Ideal decided to develop the "Star Team" line in the first place. The court says: 

"TCF (Twentieth Century Fox) has granted, since the end of 1976, more than 20 licenses for 'Star Wars' products, from school supplies and bubble gum to bedspreads and model flying robots. This merchandising campaign included an attempt to interest toy manufacturers in producing 'Star Wars' toys.

Marc Pevers, Director of Business Affairs for TCF, wrote to an officer of Ideal on February 14, 1977, announcing the upcoming release of 'Star Wars' and soliciting Ideal's attendance at a presentation at the annual Toy Fair in New York in late-February. A similar letter was written to Zeke Rose of Ideal's public relations firm. A large, glossy black brochure containing pictures and descriptions of 'Star Wars' was enclosed with each letter.

Ideal did not attend the presentation at the Toy Fair, but Rose spoke to Pevers by phone at that time, informing him that Ideal had no interest in the product, that science fiction films were chancy, films themselves (were) risky as merchandising properties because of their frequently short release life. Furthermore, there was no television series and also that Star Wars itself was a rather ordinary property and all the elements of Star Wars had been done before, that there was a complete lack of interest on Ideal's part.

Pevers received the same response from Herb Sand, an Ideal executive, and from another member of Ideal's public relations firm. Unlike Ideal, however, Kenner expressed interest in the license and entered into an agreement with TCF in April 1977.

In May 1977, 'Star Wars' was released to critical acclaim and virtually instant popularity. According to Ideal, this acclaim, together with the continued popularity of the television show 'Star Trek,' the publicity surrounding the American space shuttle, the expected release of other space movies, and the fact that other toy companies were bringing out space toys, led Ideal to reexamine its opinion of such toys. Julius Cooper, Ideal's Senior Vice President for Research and Development, testified that the market for toys is very much affected by fads and trends, which often originate in a motion picture, a television show or a 'happening.' Mr. Cooper stated that 'the toy industry tries to capitalize on these events because children are very well aware of what is current and we therefore always try to bring out toys, games, dolls that take advantage of these fads.'"

The court goes on to discuss another meeting between Ideal and Fox: 

"In late-June, Pevers met with Stuart Simms, a marketing executive with Ideal, to discuss a TCF series called 'Young Daniel Boone.' Simms, however, opened and closed the meeting by asking whether there were any licenses available on 'Star Wars' which would interest Ideal. Pevers indicated that no such licenses remained."

Thwarted yet again, Ideal had decided in the meanwhile that its best course of action was to abandon trying to somehow steal the Star Wars license away from Kenner and develop a space themed line of their own. If they couldn't correct their mistake of passing on Star Wars, they'd simply release their own space toys: 

"At the end of May, however, Ideal determined that it was necessary to capitalize on the space toy fad as quickly as possible. Accordingly, Cooper testified, Ideal 'decided to go back into (its) old archives of tools and molds and see what toys (it) perhaps could make with the least amount of investment.'"

So, Ideal began their hunt:

"The first toy it reexamined was the 'Alien Invader,' a 'Zeroid-type toy,'…”  but they decided that the "…Alien Invader was too complicated…”

By "too complicated" Ideal means "too expensive to produce." They wanted something cheap so that it could compete with Kenner's official Star Wars products. The toy did give them someplace to start though:

Ideal then went on to look at the Zeroids themselves. All but one of these toys had arms capable of throwing small missiles and were therefore rejected because Ideal has operated since 1970 under a safety regulation that its toys not launch projectiles.” 

It should be noted that not all toy companies at the time operated under this regulation, such as Kenner's Rocket Firing Boba Fett prototype, which was ultimately canceled in part due to a choking death related to a missile fired from a Battlestar Galactica toy. Although this case is taking place years before that fatal incident, the possibility of such a tragedy is already on Ideal's mind. Cynics might also argue that Ideal is attempting to cut costs to the bone in this new line, and a rocket firing mechanism would be too expensive for them to produce anyway, but framing it like a moral stand they are taking probably sounds better from a public relations standpoint. They're not cheap; they're protecting children!

Attention then focused on the remaining Zeroid, 'Zogg,' and the decision was made to adapt that toy. The 1970 Zogg had an elaborate head of squarish shapes with six tube-like protrusions in the 'face' and an antenna grid on top. This head constituted about one-third of the cost of the toy and was eliminated in favor of a simple hemispherical dome of clear plastic. Cooper testified that this change was made for ease of manufacture and because Cooper wanted the light contained in the original Zogg to shine through the entire head.”


Ideal decided to change the colors and remove anything else which would be expensive to produce:

Having concluded that it wished to bring out a 'complete line of toys,' Ideal went on to consider other possibilities. Cooper testified that '(w)e wanted two good guys and that's why we chose the second robot to go along with the Zeroid.' Once again Ideal went back into its archives to look for a mold and chose a human figure patterned after a detective named ‘J. J. Armes.’ Cooper stated that this figure was chosen because it was ‘the easiest mold to get’...”

Personally, I think that's the best reason for choosing a particular mold that I've ever heard.


“...As with the Zeroid toy, alterations were made in the earlier product. Wanting to make the figure look like a robot, Ideal ‘went into the mold,’ engraving various lines and metallic-appearing features which then appeared as raised surfaces on the molded toy.”

They sculpted a completely new head for the figure and molded the body in a different color plastic. So, now Ideal had two figures ready to go in their new space line. They wanted at least one more though, so the process continued.

Having chosen two robot friends, Ideal decided that a complete line of toys required a third figure to create an adversary relationship with the two robots and thus sought to find a ‘bad guy.’ Again the archives were examined, and Ideal selected a figure known as ‘Captain Action.’" 

They chose that particular figure to be their villain because: "...it was larger than the two good-guy characters.”
They molded the body in a different color plastic, then instructed their sculpting department to create a new head and that the sculptor should: "...(m)ake up your own fantasy of what kind of a villain you want with a black head to go with a black body."

So, we have one figure chosen because it was cheap, one chosen because that particular mold was the easiest to access and now one which was chosen because it was tall. To top it off, the sculpting department was given instructions which were basically "Meh. Do whatever you want." Again, the more cynical collectors among us would probably argue that the instructions given to the sculpting department were actually probably something like: "Just do something that looks as close to Darth Vader as you can get without sculpting Darth Vader."

Their new character and line needed names though: 

“...The name given to the evil figure was 'Knight of Darkness.' Cooper testified that the name had first been used for a 'black knight in a very modern black knight type of outfit' who was intended to be part of a series of ‘villainous motorcycle riders.'" 


As for the line itself, it was decided that the: “...set of three action figures and spaceship [should be] sold under the trademark ‘Star Team’…” which was “apparently an acronym for ‘Space Travel and Reconnaissance,’ although no trademark claim was made for those terms and they are not repeated in the current use.”

Now that they had their toys and their line, all that was left was to create a box design for it. Their design didn't exactly thrill Kenner or Fox though:

“Cooper testified at trial that this packaging was being changed somewhat as a result of earlier discussions between TCF and Ideal. He stated that at a conference between representatives of the two companies the montage of the three figures 'was the thing that Twentieth Century seemed to object to the most of anything,' and that 'to avoid any conflict at all' that montage was being replaced on each of the three boxes by a depiction of the individual characters contained in that particular package, a change which will be reflected in the next printing of packages.”

Kenner does not like the figures. Or the names. Or the box design. To them, everything about the line seems to indicate that it was designed to be easily confused with their Star Wars merchandise and beat Kenner to market with figures. They think Ideal has designed a line which consumers will assume is somehow related to Star Wars. The Star Team line was seemingly rushed through production, with no real thought given to anything but low cost, and choices were made in the design process which made the toys look a great deal like licensed Star Wars items.

Kenner objects to Ideal about the line either during a meeting such as the one Fox had with Ideal about the box design, or directly through a cease & desist letter (the court record isn't clear on that point). Ideal believes the toys are fine though and apparently tells Kenner that no changes will be made. Ideal must have still been worried about being sued though and filed this declaratory judgment action to have the court decide the matter and put the issue to rest.

Kenner still feels that the toys are knock-offs and files a counterclaim against Ideal, saying that Kenner challenges: "...these three figures and the manner in which they are sold as unlawful usurpation of their rights in the movie 'Star Wars.'"

The court then discusses the Star Wars brand itself:

"The right to make toys based on these characters was licensed by TCF to Kenner, as discussed above. Kenner has plans to market toys based on 12 of the characters, including the three discussed above." (The court discussed R2, C-3PO and Darth Vader in order to compare them to the Star Team figures in question, which they resemble.) "These figures will be approximately two to four inches high. Currently, however, no figures have been produced, and none was introduced into evidence, either as a model or as an actual production figure. Instead, Kenner is now selling an 'Early Bird Certificate Package' containing a paper certificate which entitles the recipient to 'receive between February 1 June 1, 1978, before they're available in stores, posable Action Figures of: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Artoo-Detoo.' Craig Stokely, vice-president of product planning for Kenner, testified that these four were chosen to 'introduce an array of products that would have strong boy-girl appeal and represent four of the strongest characters for our initial introduction.'

The representative from Kenner argues that:

"...(I)t's my opinion that the amount of merchandise offered to the consumer and perceived by the consumer as falling within a licensed property, the greater amount of merchandise offered the greater the dilution and the shorter the life of that property."

I'm not sure time has told on that point, Kenner.  In fact, I think the approximately 100,000 different items which have been produced under the Star Wars banner in the last 37 years would say different. Kenner went on to say that the Star Team line:

"...represents to the trade that the Star Wars characters are not unique and are not totally offered by Kenner Products and that this perception weakens the degree of support that the trade will give the Kenner products."

The case itself rests on several different legal issues which don't really concern us, but the court rules for Ideal saying among other things, that they find:

"...entirely credible the explanation given by Cooper concerning the changes that were made in preexisting toys and the reasons for developing these toys. Certainly Cooper was aware of 'Star Wars' and intended to capitalize on the fad which it was creating. He was also concerned with possible infringement and instructed those developing the toys to avoid copying the 'Star Wars' characters."

Personally, I'm not sure if "design whatever you want" should really be interpreted as "design something that doesn't look like Star Wars," but I'm not the court, so what do I know. In any case, the decision goes on to say that:

"...the effect of the sales of Ideal toys on Kenner toys is pure speculation; no objective evidence has been presented that the Ideal toys have weakened or will weaken the market for the 'Star Wars' movie or product derived therefrom."

So, Ideal got to continue producing their figures. Collectors have different opinions on whether or not the line is truly a knock-off or not, but in either case, it's interesting to see the drama behind it.

As a last note on this case, there was actually a survey performed on this issue by one of the parties, which found that of 422 children surveyed, 65% made an "association" between Star Wars and Star Team. Of the 426 adults who took part in the study, 59% made an "association."  



Lucasfilm Ltd. v. Media Market Group, Ltd. (182 F.Supp.2d 897, 2002):

This case concerns the Star Ballz film. LFL sued over an animated Star Wars pornographic film that was/is being marketed at conventions and the like. LFL loses the case based on parody protections. Best part of case is the judge's comment: "In this case, no reasonable consumer is likely to be confused between Star Wars and Starballz, which is labeled as an adult film, is animated, and is rarely sold in the same marketing channels as Star Wars." 




General Mills Fun Group, Inc., Kenner Products Div. v. Lindley (1 Ohio St.3d 27, 1982):

It's a rather complicated tax law case, but it includes a neat rundown of the exact business process behind the manufacture of Kenner's boxes during the vintage era.

"Appellant, General Mills Fun Group, Inc., Kenner products Div., a manufacturer of toys, purchases boxes to package its products for marketing. In order to acquire the desired boxes, appellant first purchases artwork from outside suppliers. This artwork is then transferred by appellant to lithographers for their use in the preparation of color films known as 'color separations.' The color separations are sold to appellant by the lithographers, and the artwork is transferred back to appellant. Appellant retains the artwork and transfers the color separations to a box manufacturer which uses them to produce printing plates. The printing plates are used by the box manufacturer to imprint an image or descriptive information about the toys on the boxes. The boxes are thereafter sold to appellant for use in packaging the toys." 

The court also gives a rundown of the action figure production process: 

"Additionally, the commissioner levied an assessment on appellant's purchase of wax figures or sculptures which are used as models for the products appellant manufactures. After appellant purchases these sculptures, they are delivered to an outside supplier who uses them to make molds or casts. In the process of producing the casts, the wax figures are destroyed." 

Essentially, Kenner is saying that they shouldn't have to pay taxes on this stuff because: "...its purchases of artwork, color separations and sculptures are exempt from sales and use taxation because it 'resold' those items to outside suppliers." 

They lose and are forced to pay the taxes on the boxes and sculpts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Connecting Before the Internet

Ron writes:

This RebelScum post, by darthalvin, and Tommy's recent post on collecting forum history reminded me of TKRP.

Are readers aware of TKRP? The acronym stood for "Tom Kennedy Radio Productions." The company was an early hub of Star Wars-related merchandising and communication.

I'll probably do a few posts on TKRP. Today I want to focus on their "Collector's Connection" publication, which to my mind is about the most interesting thing they put out.

Started in 1983, just as the hubbub over Return of the Jedi was starting to wear down, it was basically a big list of classified ads maintained for the benefit of Star Wars collectors. Serious collectors could purchase an ad, list their haves and wants, and make connections with other collectors around the country -- even some outside the country. (Japanese collector Eimei Takeda was among the advertisers.)

As such, the publications are a treasure trove of interesting collecting history. Let's take a look at some related ephemera.


Above you see the original announcement/advertisement for the service. It speaks for itself.


Here's another announcement. The fun thing about this one is that it references a rumored prequel film called Enter the Dark Lord. Either that rumor never came to pass or I've completely missed out on a fairly significant piece of the Star Wars puzzle!

I think it's pretty evident looking at this ad that at this stage Kennedy wasn't entirely sure where to take his enterprise now that the Star Wars phenomenon had wound down and the flow of licensed merchandise had slowed to a trickle.


The cover for the first issue featured the logos of each film plus that of Revenge of the Jedi. The guy from whom I acquired it taped "EWOKS" on there. I have no idea why.


The issue featured a welcome message from Tom Kennedy, which included some notes regarding a publication delay and assorted other difficulties. That's Kennedy and his family in the image.


The biggest collector around in those days was Walter Stuben. His ad is particularly ostentatious. This is a xeroxed copy of the spot that was inserted into the publication, like a flyer. Judging by the reference to 1984, I think it's a later version. But all his ads were pretty similar, even if the lists of items changed a bit.

One interesting thing: he's looking for a "Rocket-Firing Boba Fett." Did he believe some had been released? Or had he caught wind that some prototypes existed in the hands of Kenner employees? Stuben had had some interaction with Kenner, so the latter scenario is a possibility.

More about Stuben in a later post.


A typical page of classifieds, including one belonging to some guy named Sansweet. Those markings in the margin are notes related to deals between the source of the pamphlet and the authors of the adjacent ads.


Here's the large ad that Steve references in his classified.

Hey, if you have some extra coloring books you should drop him a line and see if he still wants to trade!


Another full-page ad. Bill Plumb became one of the preeminent collectors of Star Wars artwork.


This ad is from the second edition of "Collector's Connection." Husband-and-wife team Mitch and Chris Mitchell were among the biggest collectors around at the time. They were out of it by the early '90s. I think you can be pretty sure that some of their collection now resides at Rancho Obi-Wan.

For me, the publication is fun in part because it's filled with the names of collectors who were long-timers by the time I got into the hobby around 1993. Some of them I later met in person; others I know only through stories.


Steve's second full-page ad shows him standing in his old collecting space.


Finally, here's another look at the classifieds content. Lots of familiar names here . . .

When I got this material from a long-time collector he told me all about writing the folks in these classifieds, trading dupe lists, etc. Most of this he did via the postal service -- and he had stacks of old correspondence to prove it. I tried to convince him to sell me the old letters, but he said they were too personal. Too bad. It would have been fascinating to look through them.

Ultimately, the internet made publications like "Collector's Connection" superfluous. It even killed off "Toy Shop," which was a sort of successor to "Collector's Connection" -- and still the most popular collecting forum when I started in the hobby.

In a way, the SWCA is part of this narrative: It was intended to allow collectors to share their collections with colleagues the world over, without the cost and wait time associated with travel and snail-mail.

As you cruise through eBay listings and peruse far-flung collections with the click of a mouse button, don't forget to reflect on how fortunate you are to be living in what I like to think of as THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.