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The original idea was a chimp that tickled you, but it wasn’t feasible. It was functioning, with the electronics and everything.Greg and I worked on developing a prototype to show around. Dubren, who refers to the toy business as “the failure business,” wasn’t dissuaded. Murtha: We might have looked at doing Tickle Me Tweety. was pushing the Tasmanian Devil and had all kinds of research indicating how popular he was. The market was reaching a saturation point with Tweety. Johnson-Williams: No one wants to take care of a Tasmanian Devil. We had someone do a voice to simulate his grunting sort of laugh. and they were like, “Yeah, fine.” It wasn’t memorable on their part.Location: Walmart Supercenter, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. The ensuing melee left him looking like he had just been in a minor car accident. The last thing he saw was a white Adidas sneaker kicking him in the face before he lost consciousness. Injuries: A broken rib, pulled hamstring, and concussion. The 27-year-old stock clerk had been working the overnight shift during the holiday rush when he was spotted holding the giggling, vibrating toy by a crowd of frantic shoppers.Dubren: Sound was becoming inexpensive for toys at that point. It was too expensive to make one, so the prototype had a cable connected to a computer.Johnson-Williams: Later on, I basically wrote the program for the circuit board that tells the motor what to do. Dubren: I called up [co-inventor] Greg Hyman, who was a sound engineer and had recently lost his business partner.It was impossibly adorable, and impossible to get: Tyco, which was anticipating a modest success, found themselves chartering private jets in order to get inventory from China more quickly; John Gotti Jr.made headlines for a top-secret Elmo pick-up at a Queens Toys "R" Us; bomb threats were called into Tyco; one Elmo disappeared from a New York City police station; a toy designer carrying parts through airports was suspected of being the Unabomber.
Clutton was always willing to listen to Dubren’s ideas, but had rarely said anything other than "no." That’s not unusual in the toy business, but it was still gratifying when Dubren—who had only had modest success with games like Babble On—finally heard Clutton say “yes” to a prototype he made: a chuckling primate named Tickles the Chimp.
Yates: From the time it got kicked back to us, we all felt the best use for the concept would be with Elmo. Bruce Maguire (CEO, Freeman PR): Elmo hadn’t really been translated into toys yet.
Yates: Elmo was starting to come to the forefront on . He was becoming more and more popular with parents and children.
Ron Dubren (Co-inventor): I had been in the park one day watching a bunch of kids tickling each other.
It brought back childhood memories—how much I loved tickling or being tickled.