No Small Fry
That's good news for the folks at Hasbro Inc., the Pawtucket, R.I., toy company that spawned the little vegetable star in 1952 after acquiring the rights from New York designer George Lerner. In those days, the toy was just a collection of 20 plastic features that kids could stick into an actual spud, Identi-Kit-style. A year later came Mrs. Potato Head, a '50s housewife with her own feather duster—Mr. P. having opted for jackhammer or fishing rod. Sparing parents messiness and wasted potatoes, the company gave the couple plastic bodies in 1964.
With the rise of video games, sales have been flat at around 1 million a year. But Hasbro execs kept the faith. "He's family," says CEO Alan Hassenfeld, 47, whose grandfather founded Hasbro in 1923. "I have a mother and father, but Mr. Potato Head helped put me through college." The toy's longevity prompted Toy Story director John Lasseter to cast him as "a bit of a curmudgeon," Arnold says, and to hire the caustic Don Rickles as his voice. "They even look alike."
Mr. Potato Head sales are expected to be strong this Christmas season—Hasbro now has a special Toy Story model that comes with a bowler hat and fuller mustache—but it's not expected that Hollywood glamor will change him much. "Focus groups give him an incredibly consistent personality profile," says Hasbro's marketing manager, Ellen Holbrook. "He's generous, funny, not very hip. Mr. Potato Head is the average American guy."
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