The Movie Diary
March 27, 2015

Soft in the middle

Soft in the middle

By Dom Cioffi

Sometimes all it takes is a lucky break. Such is the case for Reyn Guyer.

Far from a household name, Guyer has hit it big in the toy industry not once, but twice in his lifetime. But none of his industry fame or millions of dollars would have materialized had it not been for a lucky break.

The year was 1965. Beatlemania was in full swing, but the hippie/psychedelic movement was at least a year away. So while conservative values still reigned, they were slowly losing their grasp.

At the time, Guyer was working at an advertising agency where he was developing a game called “Pretzel” that, unlike every other game on the market, used people as the playing pieces. The folks who were involved in the development of the game thought it was a hit and so did several executives at toymaker Milton Bradley when he presented it to them.

A deal was signed, but there was one stipulation: the name of the game had to be changed. Guyer was not happy with the decision, but relented.

Soon after, executives at Milton Bradley called Guyer to let him know that they were pulling the plug on his project. Apparently, retail giant Sears & Roebuck was concerned that the game was too risqué for public consumption. Without this mega-distribution channel on board, the newly christened “Twister” had little chance of survival.

Fortunately, one of the vice presidents involved with Twister never cancelled the PR campaign. Before anyone realized the mistake, a copy of the game made it to “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson, where late one evening in 1966, in a now-famous episode, Johnny Carson played Twister in front of millions of viewers with guest Eva Gabor (who just happened to be wearing a sexy, low-cut dress).

By the next morning, people were standing in line 50 deep to buy Twister. A year later, Twister was named “Game of the Year.” And as we close in on the 50th anniversary of its release, it’s estimated that over 65 million people have now played the game.

Guyer was hooked on game inventing and soon set his sights on another idea that he felt was commercially viable. It was a volleyball game that was safe to be played indoors because of the unique design of a special polyurethane ball. Milton Bradley liked the idea, but decided to sell the ball as a stand-alone item.

Again, Guyer was not happy with the corporation’s decision, but he eventually relented.

Marketed as the “first official indoor ball,” Nerf was released to toy stores in 1970, going on to sell over 4 million units in its first year. Soon after, Super Nerf (a larger version of the same ball) was released, followed by Nerf Hoop and Nerf Football.

I was an early adoptee of both the Nerf Football and Nerf Hoop. In fact, throughout my childhood, not a Christmas or birthday passed by without ny receiving one or the other as a gift. Even during my college years, both of these products were constant companions in my dorm room.

And of course, as soon as my son was born, both items found their way into his crib (at which point he chewed on them endlessly).

Now at 10 years old, my son is a serious Nerf devotee, with several footballs and three Nerf Hoops scattered throughout our house.

However, he’s also a fan of Nerf weaponry.

First released in the late 1980s, Nerf Blasters took the Nerf idea into a whole new (and hugely profitable) direction. To the delight of adolescent warriors around the world, an unending array of plastic guns can now shoot Nerf bullets and disks with varying degrees of accuracy and distance.

My son is fairly addicted to the concept, which is why we have an arsenal large enough to arm a small army.

And he’s not the only one. All the neighborhood kids are equally decked out with weaponry, sporting names like N-Strike Elite, Nerf Vortex and Zombie Strike. Every time I turn around, there’s a new rifle available for sale. And if one kid in the neighborhood gets one, all the others need one as well, otherwise “it just wouldn’t be a fair fight.”

Seriously, some of these weapons look like they’re right out of a James Bond movie. Of course, with the release of this week’s feature, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” kids of this generation will undoubtedly be referring to Agent Eggsy instead of Agent 007 when referencing undercover gadgets.

Built on the same premise as James Bond but created for a younger breed of moviegoer, “Kingsman” is the story of a delinquent youth who finds himself being courted by a secret spy agency that has been quietly keeping peace around the world for decades.

I must admit, I was initially hesitant about this film given its obvious links to Ian Fleming’s famous stories. However, it did a fairly good job modernizing the secret agent concept without looking like a direct rip-off. “Kingsman” also added a very interesting visual style and unique sense of humor that will definitely appeal to younger audiences.

While older viewers may ultimately pine for 007, they will have to admit that this new take is worthy of praise.

A clandestine “B” for “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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