Where the Wild Things Are
A toy story - told by Mel Birnkrant!!
Maurice Sendak is generally acknowledged as the worlds greatest children's book author illustrator Definitely Living and arguably of all time! He's kind of the "Mozart" [who he admires immensely] of Illustrators! "Where The Wild Things Are" is his best known book, and a classic that is right up there with Alice in Wonderland, and the works of Beatrice Potter Etc.
I'm very proud to be able to say that I am "his friend". Of course, what we have in common, other than, a mutual appreciation of his work, is a Passion for Mickey Mouse! That Is what brought us together some 30 years ago and we have been good friends ever since. As a matter of fact If you get the chance to view a copy of his book, "In The Night Kitchen," there is a fabulous central illustration in which the "hero," whose name happens to be "Mickey" in honor of the much loved mouse, flies a tiny plane that he has fashioned of dough above the Night Kitchen City. If you look carefully you will spot the name "Birnkrant's" on a billboard above one of the buildings!
Anyway Maurice happens to also be as much a perfectionist as he is a great artist, and when it comes to meeting his almost Impossible standards of excellence, regarding attempts to successfully render his characters as "products", he can be more difficult to please than "the princess and the pea"! Several major toy companies had tried to win his approval to produce Wild Things Dolls over the years, by making, and showing him samples, and all of them failed!
Finally, some twenty years ago or thereabouts, Maurice asked me to design them. There was one problem, as I was connected with Colorforms, Colorforms would have to produce them, which they really shouldn't have done, but I presented the idea to Harry, anyway, and he dove at it! Then I set to work drawing up what I thought the dolls should look like, and Maurice liked them! I tried to come up with something that would have the timeless quality of Raggedy Ann and at the same time capture the unique look of Maurice's cross hatch line work, by printing on the fabric.
Then we contacted and hired Bonnie Erickison, the amazing young lady who had crafted such famous Muppets as Miss Piggy, for Henson Associates, and together we chose fabrics and she fashioned patterns. There was only one areas of disagreement in the process. Maurice didn't want to use a bluish fur for the "Bull's" body. He wanted the same dirty looking gray as in some of the illustrations. Knowing that they had to have some toy like appeal and not look dirty and shopworn if they were to sell, I finally talked him into the blue.
After a several meetings in which Maurice and I made suggestions and changes, pinning up and altering nuances, Bonnie sewed a final set of dolls in white fabric and the correct colored plush. With her part of the job complete, I took the dolls home and drew directly on them in India ink, in emulation of Maurice's line and colored them with markers.
They looked exactly like his illustrations
had come to life! Now I took the dolls apart
and I traced and simplified the line
somewhat so it could be silk screened. I
still have my original separations for the
screens here in my desk drawer, Then I
spent several days at the fabric printers
mixing all the colors, myself, as perhaps,
only I realized how much every nuance
meant to Maurice.
He had gotten his dolls and even though they didn't sell, he was glad to have them for himself, and to pose with in many a photograph for many an article in the years to follow!
Then several years later Determined Productions contacted Maurice and negotiated for the rights to make Wild Things dolls. I disclosed the manufacturer who did them for Colorforms, and they happened to still have all the "Stuff"! Thus, the dolls that we designed for Colorforms have been produced in many sizes and variations, ever since, all using my original silk screens and replicating my designs Exactly, Changing Nothing, but the sizes!
Believe me, Maurice wouldn't let them change a hair, beyond that! You can still buy the dolls in some size or form, and although till this day I have never seen a penny of compensation for what I did, as they never generated any royalties for Colorforms, the Wild Things dolls are without a doubt, my longest running product ever!
And I never stopped liking them, neither did Maurice!
Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of Baby Face and other Products and Images