Toy Fair 1978: A Look Back with Mike
September 20, 2023

Image attributed to Toy Tales.

It was 45 years ago, and yes- I was there. Good Lord, I’m turning into an old-timer. At any rate, I was about 16, still in high school and not quite sure what I wanted to study in college. My father thought it would be a good idea to bring me to the NY Toy Fair and show me around. Maybe get a taste of the business world.

He had been a buyer at Montgomery Ward, was currently with Milton Bradley, and knew a ton of people in the industry. As a former toy buyer at one of the two largest toy retailers in the U.S. (Sears & Roebuck being the other), he had a lot of clout. He knew Ruth and Elliot Handler (that name should sound familiar) and, as the story goes, he was instrumental in working with Mattel to design the “Malibu Barbie Fun in the Sun Inflatable Pool set”, introduced as an exclusive at Montgomery Ward.

Back then, the Toy Fair was held not at the Javits Center but at the “International Toy Center” building located at 200 Fifth Avenue. By the 70’s the show had spread into an office building across the street and was joined by a skybridge on the 9th floor (pretty cool).  Every year it was a huge event and I remember the show spilled out into the streets around the building full of real-life characters of superheroes, massive oversized toys, and a general level of outsized pageantry.

The International Toy Center was an office building made up of permanent showrooms for all the major toy companies, and back then, there were a LOT of them. When the Toy Fair was not in operation, the rest of the year, these showrooms housed the toy companies’ sales staff. Travel from showroom to showroom was marked by constant trips via elevator and down long hallways with closed doors and reception desks, an environment very different from the typical booths at the Javits Center today.

Once in the showrooms, though, the permanent displays of toys set up just as they would be played with was mesmerizing. So too, were the leggy models in skimpy outfits at stations demonstrating the toys (remember- I was a 16-year-old high school kid at the time, and it was the 1970s, after all).

I distinctly remember meeting Dave Abrams, President of Mego Toys. Mego was at one time one of the three largest toy companies, made famous by their invention of 8” action figures. Dave was a larger than life person. My distinct memory of that moment was his massive office, his massive pinky ring, and his career advice (that still resonates today) to “find something I’d love to do and don’t worry about the money.” I think he made that point more than once. I also remember my father telling me on our way out that “his advice was easy for him to say- at that time he was worth tens of millions of dollars.

So enough of the old-timer look back. Toy Fair 2023 (now that it’s finally here- the Covid hiatus was long and painful) will certainly reinvigorate this industry, bring friends and acquaintances back together, and enable us all to face forward and realize great new opportunities. Just please give us old-timers a little extra room in the aisles…

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