Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel
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An eye-popping, unauthorized expos? of the House of Barbie
From Boise to Beijing, Mattel's toys dominate the universe. Its no-fun-and-games marketing muscle reaches some 140 countries, and its iconic products have been a part of our culture for generations. Now, in this intriguing and entertaining expos?, New York Times bestselling author Jerry Oppenheimer places the world's largest toy company under a journalistic microscope, uncovering the dark side of toy land, and exploring Mattel's oddball corporate culture and eccentric, often bizarre, cast of characters.
Based on exclusive interviews and an exhaustive review of public and private records, Toy Monster exposes Mattel's take-no-prisoners, shark-infested corporate style. Throughout this scrupulously reported, unauthorized portrait, you'll discover how dangerous toys are actually nothing new to Mattel, and why its fearsomely litigious approach within the brutal toy business has helped their products dominate potential rivals such as Bratz.
Engaging and accessible, Toy Monster shows you why today's toy business isn't always fun and games.
Five Questions for Jerry Oppenheimer, author of Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel
All of my previous books have been about iconic people and dynasties – The Kennedys, Clintons, Hiltons, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Jerry Seinfeld. But for my ninth book I decided to write about an iconic institution, one that was a household name whose products had a profound impact on generations. Mattel fit the profile – especially since it was in the headlines for the massive toy recalls in 2007, and with the iconic Barbie doll’s 50th anniversary looming this year.
How did you gather all the information that you discuss in the book?
What was the most shocking revelation you uncovered in the course of writing Toy Monster?
The book reveals many little-known facts about the company history of Mattel and the odd corporate culture. What, in your opinion, is the most misconstrued assumption in popular opinion that you address in Toy Monster?
What’s the one thing you’d like readers to take away after reading Toy Monster?
Toy Monster Cast of Characters
Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, has brought joy to generations of children for more than six decades, with such iconic toys as Barbie and Hot Wheels. Throughout their reign, Mattel has had a curious, eccentric – if not totally off-the-wall – cast of characters running the business, from creating toys to advertising and marketing them. In Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel, you’ll meet:
A brilliant Yale engineering school graduate who went from designing weapons of mass destruction for the Cold War Pentagon to bringing Barbie to life. He even molded real-life women in Barbie’s image-- the long legs, the thin waist, the Pamela Anderson-esque breasts--and there were many in his “swinging” world as both a technologist and a playboy. As a close friend recounts, “When Jack talked about creating Barbie, or improving Barbie…it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode…a sexual pervert…”
The driven, ambitious, and cutthroat co-founder of Mattel, who after Ryan’s bizarre death claimed all credit for inventing Barbie. Handler waged a deliberate campaign to diminish, if not altogether erase Ryan’s importance as the Father of Barbie, and take full credit as the billion dollar doll’s inventor. While embarrassed about Ryan’s sexual proclivities – and even more about the huge royalties she had to pay him for his lucrative inventions – it was Handler who almost brought Mattel to its corporate knees by helping to “cook the books” and was ousted from the company. The 61-year-old grandmother avoided imprisonment in a plea bargain deal, and was sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service and a $57,000 fine.
A glamorous real-life Beverly Hills Barbie who skyrocketed from a lowly job in Mattel’s novelty-development department to CEO after brilliantly marketing Barbie through the Milky Way. Barrad’s efforts generated billions of dollars for the company before she was axed after making what is considered one of the worst corporate acquisitions in history. During her rise and before her fall, she earned a reputation as a fearsome diva for firing on a whim and promoting people based on how they looked and dressed. Notes a Mattel colleague, “Jill believed you are what you wear. Her comment would be, ‘Well, what does she know? Look at what she wears. Look what she looks like.” She was Hollywood personified, even having had a role in the mobster film “Crazy Joe”.
A genius designer who developed one of Mattel’s hugely successful boys’ toys, He-Man, as well as a toy line called Masters of the Universe. When the money rolled in to Mattel coffers – at one point He-Man was outselling even Barbie – he was crowned one of the toymaker’s stars. But when Mattel oversold the toy to stores whose shelves were sagging under He-Man’s weight and sales went into the proverbial toilet, so did Sweet, who was forced out. Fearful he had been blacklisted in the industry, Sweet wound up driving a forklift at Home Depot.
Eckert became the big cheese at Mattel as CEO after a long career at Kraft Foods. A shrewd, but mild-mannered Midwesterner who is compared to the likeable Chevy Chase character Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, he was at the helm during the Toy Terror summer of 2007 when millions of Mattel toys made in China had to be recalled because of dangerous lead in the paint. The media, the U.S. Congress, and furious parents scandalized Mattel. Also during his reign, Eckert saw Barbie’s sales and popularity plummet when an upstart series of sexy dolls – the Bratz Pack – hit the toy scene, leading to the Barbie vs. Bratz toy trial of the century.
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