Archeology 500: The Body Building


I thought the Archeology chapter of M.U.S.C.L.E. had ended in May of 2011. There were no more leads, no more names, and no more ideas.

Then I received one of the greatest email’s ever from Stan Resnicoff. It was almost deleted because it had an attachment and the title read: The Body Building. Thankfully, for all of us, I opened it. It read:

Greetings Chad,

Thought you might like to see this and hear this story.

It was late one Friday afternoon when the president of Mattel called me up to her office. She had just gotten this LARGE assortment of Kinnikuman figures from Japan (to see if we wanted to license them) and wanted me to check them out with kids in my neighborhood over the weekend. Mattel wasn’t sure if these unpainted little strange figures would go over with American kids.

So Saturday morning I took this big garbage bag full of ‘something’, rounded up my neighbor’s kids (the parents were just as interested and everybody knew I worked at Mattel) and told them I wanted to see if they would be interested in a new toy we had. I reached into the bag and took out one figure that the kids couldn’t see, held it behind my back, and then poured what seemed like 500 little pink men in the middle of the circle of the kids. Their eyes went wide and then I held up the one I had hidden behind my back and said, “whoever gets to find the matching figure to this one gets to keep it”. Naturally the kids went wild searching and throwing them all over the place until one lucky kid found a match. We played all morning but in the first seconds I knew that the toy would have a great attraction to kids, and that’s what I reported Monday morning. All the kids got to keep as many as they could carry when we were finished. I was a big hit in my neighborhood.

He said I probably know the rest of the story. The toys were licensed and the rest is history. He humbly stated that he probably couldn’t share much more because he didn’t work specifically on M.U.S.C.L.E. (more on that later). But there was one more thing he had done.

He partnered with artist Colin Baily to create a carrying-case/headquarters. He named it, “The Body Building.”

CLOSED

OPEN

Sadly, for M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors, it was never made.

Created by Colin Bailey and Stan Resnicoff

Of course, I had to talk to Stan further. I responded with infinite thanks, and asked if I could ask a few questions. Stan couldn’t have been more gracious. I emailed him some questions, but said he could call me if it would be easier for him. We talked for over an hour.

Our conversation joyfully meandered and covered a great deal of his incredibly fascinating life. He talked about his days growing up in New York City, studying Industrial Design at Syracuse, and transferring to the Pratt Institute. But his path to Mattel wasn’t a direct line after school. He ended up working for museums and ultimately ended up at the Smithsonian creating learning games and experiences for kids in the earliest days of interactive technology. It was there that Mattel found him.

They wanted him for his technology and computer skills. Ray Wagner put him in a top-secret research group with the directive, “Confuse the company.” Stan shared how ultimately Mattel was a doll and toy car company.

He shared lots of Mattel stories. And to my surprise he had written down many of these stories. For this website, I’m going to limit our conversation to the M.U.S.C.L.E.-centric portions. However, if you want to get an awesome insight into Mattel the please read Stan’s book Mattel & Me.

I’m reading it right now and I love it. If you’re curious about the toy industry in the 1980’s, then this is a perfect book. I’m learning that I’m pretty jealous of Stan’s life.

Specifically that Stan got to be a part of M.U.S.C.L.E.’s beginning at Mattel (and that he was given a box of 500 Kinnikuman figures). Mattel, and the other toys companies, always had relationships with Bandai, Takara, and other Japanese toy companies. He said they were always making the strangest things and lots of them. The Japanese companies were always sharing their toys in hopes of a licensing deal, because it meant easy money.

According to Stan, one of the major concerns Mattel had about the figures was the fact that they were unpainted. Would this work outside of Japan? Stan’s neighborhood experiment help convince Mattel it would work.

Stan didn’t believe M.U.S.C.L.E. was a “flanker brand.” Stan explained that a flanker brand was something like Skipper flanking Barbie. Stan said that Mattel did not want a collectible figure. They wanted children to collect everything from a line – not just some. In fact, Stan said the fact that Mattel made commercials for M.U.S.C.L.E. is a big indicator that they wanted the toy to succeed and believed it could succeed. Plus M.U.S.C.L.E. would be cheap to produce.

If Stan is correct, then only one commercial for M.U.S.C.L.E. in the second year was a very bad sign.

I could not let our conversation end without specifically asking about the Non-Poster figures. He stated that he had no idea. However, his gut feeling was that “collectibles wasn’t in the air at the time” at Mattel. He said that ultra-rare, difficult-to-find, figures was something Bandai might do. According to Stan, “it’s not in Mattel’s nature.”

Stan mentioned something else very, very interesting that may apply to the Non-Poster figures. he stated that at the time Toys R Us controlled everything. If they liked something, then it went forward. He also said that Mattel’s greatest skill was distribution. If something didn’t sell, then Mattel took it back.

Could this mean that the Non-Poster figures were the result mischievous Bandai employees?

Could this mean that Non-Poster figures are late, Flesh production additions that we sent back to Mattel? Figures that were eliminated after the poster decision and the choice to switch to Colors instead of new sculpts?

Maybe we’ll learn more because Stan is attempting to put me in touch with more people that worked on and around the M.U.S.C.L.E. brand.

In the meantime, I think all M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors owe Stan a huge, “THANK YOU!!!” He’s shared an amazing piece of M.U.S.C.L.E. history. he may help M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors to learn even more too.

Be sure to check-out some of Stan’s other books too. And, if you’re still reading, then you’d be foolish not to purchase Mattel & Me. I’m almost done, and it has been a fascinating read.

Thank you again Stan Resnicoff. You’ve provided M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors a true gift.

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