Tony Levine and Ed Jaeger Grabbed a Tabby by the Tail and Wound Up Splitting a Very Big Kitty

updated 12/12/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Former best buddies Ed Jaeger and Tony Levine hadn't seen each other in a decade until they met at a junior high school class reunion last year in Tarzana, Calif. It turned out they had a lot in common. Both had gone into product development since leaving school: Jaeger, 28, had invented an antitheft device for BMW radios; Levine, 27, had come up with a portable light box for photographers. And neither had gotten rich. At the reunion, they decided to join forces.

After a series of brainstorming power breakfasts ("Ed wore clean sweatshirts and I put on shoes," says Levine), inspiration suddenly broke out. Jaeger's cat, Buckwheat, loved to jump in and out of his car's sunroof. What about marketing half a stuffed cat, something that could be closed in a car door as a gag? They built a prototype, attached it to Jaeger's Saab and test-drove it down the Hollywood Freeway. "It got a fantastic response," says Ed. "People kept honking, pulling us over, asking where they could buy one."

In March the pair set up shop in a spare bedroom at the home of Levine's parents in Tarzana. "This is not a glamour operation," notes Ed. Since then, the Krushed Kritter Kompany of Kalifornia has sold more than 200,000 of the plush half-cats through gift, novelty and toy stores at retail prices from $18 to $25. More than $2 million in sales are anticipated for this year alone. "Sometimes it all just takes my breath away," says Tony.

Others, alas, have had similar respiratory responses. The Humane Society, for one. "We object strenuously," says Phyllis Wright, a spokeswoman for the organization. "There's enough animal cruelty without people blatantly promoting it." And there's United Feature Syndicate, for another. They license the cartoon character Garfield and they think Krushed Kitty looks too much like that fat feline. "We noticed it," says a spokesman. "It's in litigation."

The bachelor entrepreneurs insist they are both animal lovers. (Jaeger has two horses at a nearby stable and a cat at his modest Reseda, Calif., home; Levine has two Airedale pups at his parents' ranch house.) They also deny any attempt to cash in on the cartoon strip. "Garfield is a face," huffs Jaeger. Still, the pair admit that not all their mail has been favorable, and there have been some pointed suggestions about what animals should be marketed next. "Us," says Jaeger. "More people say 'Krush Ed and Tony next' than anything else."

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