The two look-alikes hired to impersonate the stars of "Miami Vice," down to the requisite two-day stubble and Ray-Bans, were supposed to pull up at the entrance to the Toy Fair in a limo at 9 a.m. yesterday, accept the orchestrated adulation of a hired group of "fans" and prominently display to the assembled press corps copies of Miami Vice: The Game.
Unfortunately for the publicists coordinating the stunt, the people plugging a competing board game were planning to release hundreds of red balloons -- labeled "Scruples" -- at the same time.
It all worked out okay, though. The balloons were freed at 9:04 outside the Toy Center at 200 Fifth Ave. while the black Cadillac (a Ferrari would have rented for $250 an hour; the Caddy cost a mere $37) took a spin around the block. The "Miami Vice" doubles emerged at 9:12 to the cheers of the assembled teens and stares from a few people emerging from a subway stop. Two blonds in miniskirts and heels passed out navel oranges with "Miami Vice" stickers on them. Then everyone went upstairs to the showroom of Colorforms, which expects to sell a million Miami Vice games this year, to meet the press.
For most of its 83 years, the American International Toy Fair was a trade show that manufacturers staged to introduce buyers to their new products. It still is, of course -- 15,000 buyers will stream through during its 10-day run -- but in recent years it has also scaled new heights of hoopla and hysteria aimed at creating hit toys through media exposure. Seven hundred reporters and photographers will hit the showrooms this year along with the buyers. If enough of them pay attention to the Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos from Kenner, the theory goes, buyers will be forced by consumer demand to follow suit.
"The New York Toy Fair is as much a media event as anything," said Loren Hildebrand, executive vice president of Mattel Toys, which vies with Hasbro for the title of world's largest toymaker. Mattel will spend well over a million dollars here, flying in nearly 300 staffers from its California headquarters. It rented out the Palladium for a Masters of the Universe party for 500 last night; then tossed a later bash for 1,000 in general celebration of that 27-year-old clotheshorse, Barbie. (This year she's acquiring stirrup pants and glittery neon tops that make her look like a suburbanite trying to get past the doorman at Area.) On Wednesday, Mattel acquired the services of no less than Bill Cosby for an evening at the swank Hotel Pierre to introduce its new My Child line.
Yesterday a cadre of 20 demonstrators, generally out-of-work actors, were showing buyers and reporters the My Child dolls, Barbie's latest de la Rentas, and -- parents be warned -- the newest Masters of the Universe play environment, the Slime Pit. "This is one of our new additions to the Evil Horde this year," announced a bow-tied actor named Frank, hired to show off the wonders of slime. You buy it in cans and pour it (slowly) into a lizardy head, whence it flows out (verrry slowly) and slimes a hapless toy victim being held by a claw. "It comes off very easily," Frank assured.
Small-fry toymakers have the same aspirations, if not the same ammunition as the majors. Greg Chumbley, 37, was in insurance in Los Angeles; now he's president of Tabby Corp., named for a late and beloved pet, and creator of a board game called Hostage. Chumbley's spending ,500 to rent an 8-by-10-foot booth this weekend, when smaller companies without permanent New York showrooms will set up shop. He'll be wearing a spy-style trench coat and sunglasses and playing a tape of the "Mission Impossible" theme, hoping for visits from 4,000 buyers and for some ink.
"Every time you watch a hostage situation unfold on the 6 o'clock news, you have this frustration," Chumbley explains by phone from California. "The American people need a vent for their frustration." The vent he has in mind will retail for $22 and is being produced in Hong Kong.
As for the toys leading manufacturers are showing this year, they seem more than ever either cloying or combative. Next Christmas/Hanukah, it appears, boys will have increasing opportunities to strafe and plunder; girls will have even more opportunities to comb and style hair (Mattel's She-Ra, Princess of Power, being an obvious exception). Both sexes will be subject to even stiffer doses of the kind of television programming already being decried as barely disguised advertising for the toys featured in the cartoons.
Kenner Products' Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, for instance, will be featured in a five-part animated mini-series next fall. Each of the eight "action figures," 6 1/2 inches high, performs its own martial function. Squeeze Chuck's plastic legs and he executes "dual flashing karate chops" with his little bochaku stick and his kuto baton. Press the sole of another figure's shoe and watch Chuck do his dragon whip back kick.
"Karate is accepted," said Jim Bennett, vice president of sales, showing buyers the line. "It's not really violence. It's discipline and control."
Norris himself dropped by the Kenner galleries early Monday to see the toys and sign autographs. "He was very nice," said the receptionist. "Knocked down a couple of walls and left," added a Kenner executive who thereafter refused to identify himself.
Meanwhile, across the showroom in the fluffy Care Bears exhibit, Kenner displays one of its new products for girls: Care Bears Cubs. Even more treacly than the original pastel bears, these come with booties, baby bonnets and pacifiers or rattles. Watch for a sequel movie called, naturally, the Care Bear Movie II.
For sheer treacle, though, it would be hard to top the Wonderwhims, a plush collection from a fairly new New Jersey manufacturer called Panosh Place. The Wonderwhims and their pets are the products of the fervent imaginations of illusionist Doug Henning and his wife Debby, who disappears and floats during his magic shows.
"We were traveling around, doing magic, and I said to Debby, 'The kids have changed. They don't have any wonder,' " explained Doug. The Hennings were on hand Monday to explain Wonderwhims, Doug in his orange taffeta jump suit and green satin jacket, Debby in an appropriately fluffy angora sweater.
"They're adults much too soon," Debby sighed.
"We wanted to bring that wonder back," Doug added.
"We started to realize," Debby continued with great enthusiasm, "that the world we live in is the greatest wonder of all! Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly? A miracle!"
Each Wonderwhim, therefore, represents an aspect of Nature. There's Sunprince and Moonglow and several others, each packaged with an animal companion, a kaleidoscope wand and a very sweet storybook. The Hennings are very pleased with the quality of the plush and the sculpted plastic ears.
"Nature is so filled with infinite wonders," Debby said. "Like the salmon? In the ocean? It's just mindboggling!"
The Wonderwhims, too, will star in an animated movie, scheduled for next Christmastime, and an hour-long syndicated television special. Panosh Place is spending 0 million on soft-focus television commercials and expects to sell $30 million to $40 million worth of Wonderwhims.
"The wind itself is poetry," Debby concluded.
What would the Hennings have thought had they crossed the street to the busy Coleco showrooms? Not even new Cabbage Patch Kids with combable nylon hair ("the only doll on the market with this volume of hair," a publicist said gravely) could match the excitement generated by the much ballyhooed new Rambo toys. "He's not just another Joe," as the slogan goes, "he's a total fighting machine."
To learn about Rambo, toy buyers sat on "ammo" crates under a camouflage net while a "sergeant" in fatigues barked, "There's a war going on out there. It's a war for bigger sales and higher profits. And here to enter the war on your side . . . "
Rambo and his Force of Freedom fighters stand 6 3/4 inches tall and are dedicated to destroying S.A.V.A.G.E. (the Secret Army of Vengeance and Global Evil) and to encouraging kids to "dig deeper into their pockets and allocate their defense budgets." Watch for a five-part mini-series airing this spring and a 65-part cartoon series slated for the fall. Rambo, hero of the underdog, will of course never take a human life in these episodes; he only destroys weapons. That red spattered across the Rambo logo? That's fire; it only looks like blood.
Besides the Force of Freedom and the S.A.V.A.G.E. terrorist figures, Rambo of course has an arsenal. Five-year-olds will be able to indulge their passions for tiny .50-caliber machine guns and 81 mm mortars. There's a missile-equipped Assault Jeep and a chopper with machine guns and searchlight. "There goes Colonel Trautman, dying," chirped a demonstrator as Rambo, alas, fired his Battle Action Rocket Launcher at an ally instead of a terrorist. Oh, well.