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Farewell, Mr. Forsse: The “father of animatronic toys” left behind a rich and meaningful legacy. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephanie Finnegan   
Friday, 11 April 2014 09:12
Ken Forsse and his wife, Jan, posed with a pair of Teddy Ruxpin plush toys.
The motto says it all: “A friend for life has come to life.”
The so-called “magic” of Teddy Ruxpin came from the dual tracks in his head.
Some critics sniped that Teddy wouldn’t last because children couldn’t play with him; they could only listen.
The animated series was near and dear to Ken Forsse’s heart.
Teddy Ruxpin was involved with epic adventures.
Ken Forsse passed away at age 77, leaving behind a legacy of love, laughter, and listening.
Ken Forsse and his wife, Jan, posed with a pair of Teddy Ruxpin plush toys.
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I never owned a Teddy Ruxpin. Did you? When the talking Teddy made its debut in 1985, I saw myself as too old for the animated bear. Oh, how foolish I was!

Now 29 years later, I wish I had scooped up one of  the original singing/talking/expressive collectibles.

Teddy Ruxpin had a rich backstory—he was an adventuresome cub who was able to regale young children with stories of his derring-do. He was the brainchild of an inventor and a dreamer named Ken Forsse. Sadly, Mr. Forsse passed away last month, on March 19, at the age of 77. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

His creation has attained a place of import in the toy world. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) dubbed Teddy Ruxpin one of the most enduring and creative toys of the 20th century.

Interestingly, Forsse had a life that encompassed more than just a vivid, vibrant plush creature. He was born in 1936 in Nebraska, but moved to California with his family when he was 6 years old. Living in Burbank, he learned how to use his hands to paint, build toys, and even illustrate 3-D comics.

After graduating high school, he got a job in the Disney Studios mailroom and quickly moved up the ranks. His aptitude and ingenuity got him noticed and he was promoted to a member of their animation division. In 1959, when he was 23, he was drafted into the U.S. military. Among his army duties was the design and maintenance of superior officers’ quarters.

When he was discharged from the army, he returned to Disney. He was tapped to work in the building of models for Walt’s pet project: Disneyland. Young Ken Forsse had a hand in constructing the characters that populated the “Jungle Cruise” ride and the iconic “It’s a Small World.” His time at Disney was invaluable because it taught him to think beyond what is conceived as possible, and, most important, it takes hard work and ambition to make seemingly effortless magic.

After a stint with the puppet production team of Sid and Marty Krofft, Forsse decided to branch out on his own. Taking what he had learned from his varied careers, he forged his own company: Alchemy II.

One of his dreams was to bring the wonder of moving puppetry—like the Disneyland cast of characters—into a person’s living room. More than that, he wanted to enchant and capture the imagination of a child.

It was this desire that birthed Teddy Ruxpin.

Teddy Ruxpin was an amazing breakthrough in 1985. At that time, Ken Forsse was nearly 50 years old and was a veteran of the toy and entertainment industry. With this teddy bear, he “seemed” to seamlessly merge the two. His creation was a toy—yes, it was a plush teddy bear. However, it was also a talking storyteller. As the bear shared its tales of magic and marvels with captivated children, the toy’s mouth would move, head would nod, eyes would widen. Its facial expression was keyed into every line of its tale and every note of its song. It truly seemed to be living as it interacted and entertained children the world over.

The stories that Teddy Ruxpin spun were almost all penned by Forsse himself. He was committed to weaving a fantasy world that the bear lived in. Inspired by his former bosses, Disney and Krofft, he brought his creation to television. The syndicated cartoon series “The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin” began airing in 2007 and ran for 65 episodes.

The Teddy Ruxpin toy was distinguished by its decoder system that was embedded in its plush skull. One track contained the speech; the other oversaw the facial responses. The words and the reactions were effortlessly blended together—just like magic, just like Alchemy (the name of his firm).

Many companies licensed the right to manufacture Teddy over a 20-year period. The last one was BackPack Toys in 2005, which featured digital songs rather than analog cassettes.

In its decades-long reign, Teddy Ruxpin sold millions of units. He brought universal joy and entertainment to children the world over.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Forsse at the American International Toy Fair. He was introduced to us members of the press as “the father of animatronic toys.” He wore that mantle humbly and proudly. Forsse saw himself as an inventor and a tinkerer, a maker of toys and a maker of dreams. He shared that not everyone was immediately smitten by his creation back in 1985. In fact, some industry observers said that it would flunk because it forced children to listen. In a fast-paced, bells-and-whistles world, they saw listening as a lost art. These naysayers were proven wrong.

Yes, I never got the chance to own a Teddy Ruxpin for myself. But, luckily, eBay and other auction sites make that omission a reality that can be rectified today. I think the talking/singing bear will continue to enchant for another 20 years or more . . . for as long as children will listen!