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Gross Toys: The ADA Hates Them But Kids Love ’Em

December 23, 1986

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ First came the Garbage Pail Kids. Then The Slime Pit oozed into the world. Now, such sterling characters as Sewer Face and Victor Vomit may wind up under the Christmas tree.

These toys are gross. Parents hate them, but kids love them and toy makers are selling thousands of grosses of ugly, disgusting playthings.

Talking teddy bears notwithstanding, some of the hot-selling items this Christmas season are anything but cute. Madballs are grotesque, Rude Ralph is flatulent, and Victor Vomit, Dogbreath and their fellow Breath Blasters literally stink.

″Ever since Tom Sawyer pulled a frog out of his pocket and dangled it in front of Becky Thatcher, little boys have been looking for something to gross out little girls and their parents with,″ said Andy Levison, licensing director at Axlon Inc., maker of Breath Blasters and Rude Ralph.

Americans for Democratic Action, a citizens group based in Washington, D.C., has denounced the toys as ″disgusting, sickening, bizarre, unpleasant and offensive,″ labeling 1986 ″The Year of the Ugly Toy.″

Toy companies don’t disagree. They just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

″The idea of grossness and disgustingness in toys is nothing new,″ said Jodi Levin, a spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America, in New York.

″We’re a fashionable industry,″ Ms. Levin said. ″The current fad sort of came out of the blue and will fade out eventually, but grossness will never completely fade and die.″

Levison shrugs off criticism of grossness, such as the ADA’s naming Breath Blasters and Rude Ralph dolls as among the 10 worst toys on the market.

Rude Ralph sports a rubbery head with orange hair, an orange-green complexion and a bloodshot eyeball which, when yanked, produces gagging, burping and other noises. He sells for a suggested retail price of $9.95.

Breath Blasters go for $4.99. The plastic, hand-sized dolls emit aromas such as dog breath, dead fish and vomit when their bellies are squeezed.

ADA calls them ″products of the sickest mind.″

Levison said the grossness trend is ″harmless.″

It definitely hasn’t harmed Axlon.

The company estimates it’s sold about 200,000 Breath Blasters, on the market only since early last month, and 100,000 Rude Ralphs since that product’s Halloween debut.

The road to revulsion began last year with Garbage Pail Kids, the Topps Chewing Gum Co.’s takeoff on Cabbage Patch Dolls. Heavy sales of the characters with ugly names and faces - privately-held Topps declines to reveal sales figures but says it can’t keep up with demand for a toy that’s been on the market 1 1/2 years - bred imitations and spinoffs.

The next smash hit was Madballs, a series of $3.99 rubber balls by American Greetings Corp. with hideous faces and such names as Swine Sucker, Splitting Headache and Fist Face. The company says it’s sold 6 million Madballs since their introduction in early 1986.

Then there was The Slime Pit, a garbage can of green, oozy gook sold to go with Masters of the Universe dolls.

″We felt that if ugly was in, gross couldn’t be far behind,″ said Nolan Bushnell, Axlon’s chairman and chief executive. He added that Breath Blasters and Rude Ralph both went over big with his own six kids.

Bushnell, whose company also sells robotized animals and dolls not intended to gross anyone out, calls his latest products ″rebellion toys.″

″Encouraging practical jokes is good,″ he said. ″Good healthy rebellion is OK. ... I don’t take much truck with people who get all bent out of shape by practical jokes.″

However, at least one competitor disagrees.

Donald Kingsborough, whose 1 1/2 -year-old Worlds of Wonder Inc. in nearby Fremont is riding high on sales of the Teddy Ruxpin talking teddy bear and the Lazer Tag gun game, said he won’t cash in on the grossness fad.

″I don’t think it has staying power and I don’t think it builds an image for a company,″ said Kingsborough. ″We’re interested in both of those.″

Industry experts also don’t believe grossness will be here for long.

″It’s just as nonsensical as ‘Pet Rocks’ were,″ said Terry McEvoy, an analyst for Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. ″That kind of fad is here today and gone tomorrow, and nobody can understand why.″

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