Customer Reviews


22 Reviews
5 star:
 (7)
4 star:
 (5)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (6)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing details of America's toy megaseller, and how it grew
You don't have to be interested in toys to find this book fascinating. Oppenheimer's study of Mattel offers abundant insights on the habits of corporate America, on one company's stunningly successful marketing, and tales of megalomanic, wack-a-doodle management executives. "Toy Monsters" provides plenty of food for thought--"food" less dangerous than Mattel's...
Published on February 18, 2009 by L Goodman-Malamuth

versus
35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tabloid Trash
If you are interested in what Mattel is really like as a company and a place to work or if you are truly interested in how the toy business operates, do not bother reading this piece of high-priced trash.

I was an employee of Mattel for eight plus years in the late 70's to the mid 80's and was eventually laid off (a euphemism for being fired) for being in the...
Published on March 11, 2009 by Edward J. Hahn


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tabloid Trash, March 11, 2009
By 
Edward J. Hahn (Portland, OR, United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
If you are interested in what Mattel is really like as a company and a place to work or if you are truly interested in how the toy business operates, do not bother reading this piece of high-priced trash.

I was an employee of Mattel for eight plus years in the late 70's to the mid 80's and was eventually laid off (a euphemism for being fired) for being in the wrong place at the wrong time but I still value the years I worked there and do not share Oppenheimer's opinions about what a cruel environment it was to work in.

I started out to mark every error and unsubstantiated allegation I saw in the book in light blue pencil but I was making so many marks, I was ruining the book. I also realized that if I was to point out all of Oppenheimer's mis-information in detail that my review would be longer then the book itself.

He spends the first hundred or so pages trashing Ruth Handler and describing, in awe-struck terms, the sexual prowess of Jack Ryan, a gifted inventor but not the "Father of Barbie" as Oppenheimer claims. That is unless Ryan has an illegitimate daughter somewhere named Barbie.

Many of his major sources are suspect in that they were fired by Mattel and in some cases spent years suing the Company for improper termination, which cases they all lost.

He totally skips over the Ray Wagner, Glenn Hastings and John Ammerman years except in passing comments showing how callous they were. He never discusses how Mattel came back from the dead when the Electronics Division went bust and Glenn Hastings convinced the bankers that Mattel Toy Company was a viable business giving Art Spears, the Chairman, the time he needed to bring in new investors.

On the other hand, he spends almost a third of the book on Jill Barad someone who was President for less than five years.

A lot of his accusations are by implication and insinuation, hardly good journalism but then this book isn't journalism but a mostly unsubstantiated attack on Mattel.

I can't imagine why anyone who wasn't personally acquainted with the people in the book would want to plow through Oppenheimer's turgid and tired prose. His constant refrain of "more about that later" and his whining about people who would not talk to him while implying they had something to hide grew very tiresome.

Has Mattel and it's leaders screwed up from time to time? Of course. But as I watch major financial institutions and automobile companies crash taking the entire U.S. economy with them, I wonder why is Oppenheimer spending his time on a relatively small company that manufactures playthings?

The answer, I suspect is because of the fact that toys, particularly Barbie, resonate culturally. After all, what this author is interested in is selling books, not presenting a balanced picture of the good and the bad in the organization. He is in a word, salacious, rather than reasonable because that will sell his product.

I think it's instructive that the only positive blurbs on the dust cover are from C. David Heymann and Kitty Kelley, two other authors who would rather tear down than be objective.

If you do want to read this book, save your money and wait a short while until you will be able to buy it at a much reduced price out of the remainder bins at your neighborhood bookstore.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Big, False, Made-Up World of Mattel, May 21, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
As a Barbie collector since 1959, I was quite surprised to read such a poorly researched book about Mattel. I had a very hard time finding any true statements about anything in this book. Mr. Oppenheimer should know that a good book depends on how good the background research is, and this book has none that I can find, other than some trivial personality traits of Jack Ryan, the man who patented the Barbie doll's design. Jack Ryan was a government engineer, who was totally into the space age, after WWII in the 1950's. Mattel needed a designing engineer, to design the actual toys they were creating, so Ryan was hired. Ryan designed the Barbie doll's body- a head, torso, legs and arms- an almost complete copy of a Bild Lilli doll from Germany, which Ruth Handler bought and brought back to Mattel. Ryan also made the talking mechanism for Chatty Cathy and the Vrroom motors for the Mattel bikes. Ryan was an engineer that made the Handler's ideas come to life. He did not come up with the ideas, he only three-dimensionalized them and owned his government patents. He received royalties, like any other artist for his designs.

I was surprised to read in this book, that Ruth Handler started the story of how she came up with the Barbie doll, AFTER Ryan's death in 1991. If Mr. Oppenheimer had done any research at all, he would have found the most obvious History of Mattel, a book written by Ruth's husband and co-founder of Mattel, Elliot Handler. The book is titled The Impossible Really Is Possible-The Story Of Mattel and was written in the 1960's and printed in 1968. If Mr. Oppenheimer had read this history of Mattel, he would see the story of the Barbie dolls creation in print in 1968, and not made up after Ryan's death in 1991! Ryan tried and failed to sue Mattel for coming up with the idea of the Barbie doll. Ryan will always go down in history for being the engineer that copied the body of a Bild Lilli doll for the Barbie doll, and also for his other contributions to designing other parts of Mattel's toys, but that is the beginning and end of his contributions for Mattel. Ryan is no idea man, as Mr. Oppenheimer gives him credit for.

As far as the Barbie doll, little girls in 1959, did not go crazy over the Barbie doll for her figure, as we already had Little Miss Revlon dolls with cute figures and smaller bust lines to play with. Barbie brought with her a wardrobe of clothes, like no other clothes that have been made before or since, that fit the many things she could do in a day. Charlotte Johnson did much more than Jack Ryan, as she actually did create and design the clothes that filled Barbie doll's closet. These clothes were meticulously hand made by Japanese seamstresses- even the pearl necklaces were hand strung. Ruth Handler's ideas made us love Barbie in 1959, the exact same way in which collectors love her today. Barbie was a 3 dimensional paperdoll with a meticulously sewn wardrobe that kept us busy during all our playtime hours. I hope Mr. Oppenheimer researches the past thoroughly before writing his next book, as things he thinks were "made up" in 1991, were actually in print in 1968! This way, the true story of Mattel will not have to be fabricated by a writer who doesn't have a clue because he didn't do his homework!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I co-wrote Ruth Handler's autobiography, June 24, 2009
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
I'm sorry I had to arbitrarily give this book one star. Truth is, I haven't read the book, but I "Searched Inside" and found that the author claimed I declined to be interviewed. Um, he never called me or tried to reach me in any way. I am always happy to talk about Ruth; I did with another author, Robin Gerber, who wrote Barbie and Ruth, also recently published. Just wanted to set the record straight.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing details of America's toy megaseller, and how it grew, February 18, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
You don't have to be interested in toys to find this book fascinating. Oppenheimer's study of Mattel offers abundant insights on the habits of corporate America, on one company's stunningly successful marketing, and tales of megalomanic, wack-a-doodle management executives. "Toy Monsters" provides plenty of food for thought--"food" less dangerous than Mattel's Incredible Edibles, an allegedly "sugar-free," additive-packed snack product cooked in molds modeled on the company's successful Creepy Crawler kit. Even though I played with these toys at the homes of friends (some of whom were children of Mattel employees) as a child in the mid-'60s, as a parent it's hard to believe that America's biggest toy company once marketed items using red-hot metal to "cook," unsupervised, either foul-smelling plastic insects, or disgusting "Edibles" (based on Aunt Jemima pancake mix and food coloring) that sickened a number of diabetic children before the toy was discontinued. And unfortunately, that's not Mattel's only dangerous product: the author names several, marketed across decades.

Elliot and Ruth Handler started their company in the mid-'50s with a partner who sold out relatively early on, but they became legendarily famous in 1959 with the introduction of the first incarnation of the Barbie fashion doll. The toy was based on a raunchy German sex mannequin named Bild-Lilli, displayed in a shop window and catching the eye of Ruth Handler's then-15-year-old daughter Barbara, for whom the doll was named. Less than a foot tall, Barbie boasts human-scale measurements of 39-18-34--just the feminine ideal of product manager Jack Ryan (who filed the nipples off Bild-Lilli's mold to better assuage American sensibilities). Ryan, a brilliant, unstable, bi-polar Yalie, burned through five marriages, leading a Hefneresque life while at Mattel, surgically altering several wives to more closely resemble his fantasies. One wife, said to be already stunningly beautiful, died of an anorexia-induced heart attack. Barbie's "boyfriend" was named after the Handlers' only son, Ken. Having an anatomically incorrect doll named after him while an adolescent must have been excruciating for Ken Handler, who would not allow his own children to play with the dolls. Oppenheimer handles the real-life Ken's story briefly and sensitively, noting only "another side" to marriage and parenthood in Ken's life. He died of AIDS in 1994, a story suppressed at the time as well as in his mother's autobiography. Oddly enough, shortly before Ken Handler's death, an "Earring Magic Ken" doll was released, complete with blonde highlights, purple shirt, lavender vest, charm necklace, and "diamond" earring, "giving him the look and feel of the Village People." Even nuttier--and more controversial--was the mid-'70s version of Barbie's nine-inch-high "younger sister," Skipper. "By a crank of her left arm... ["Growing Up"] Skipper sprouted little plastic breasts, her waist became slimmer... the packaging promised she'd grow 'slim and tall and curvy.'" The controversy over this risque 'tween was eclipsed when Ruth Handler was "indicted in 1978 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and making false financial statements to the SEC." Her plea of "no contest--equal to a guilty plea" guaranteed Handler immunity from serving a prison term of 20 to 50 years. Her punishment was a slap on the wrist (community service and a fine of $57,000), but it ended her career at Mattel.

Our nation's current economic woes resound with distressing familiarity in Mattel's financial irregularities. In 1969, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the company of releasing false earnings reports. This turned out to be true, but it's hardly Mattel's only clash with regulations.

"Toy Monster" is not a complete history of Mattel, but one theme that endures, say many former executives, is that the workplace is and was one in which "you had to watch your back. People are pitted against one another... [it's] a shark pond." In addition, executives seemed to endure a remarkable number of personal and/or job-related tragedies: Embittered, they are fired or resign, develop cancer, or watch helplessly as others take credit for their creations. To name just one human example, after Mattel disastrously declined the rights to create Star Wars figures, product designer Jack Sweet came up with the enormously successful He-Man line of action figures. Like others before and after him, Sweet eventually was forced out, "blacklisted" in the toy industry--and ended up driving a forklift for Home Depot AND surviving cancer, knowing that his creations grossed more than $1 billion for Mattel.

In two decades, ambitious Jill Barad rose through the ranks from product manager to CEO. "People who worked with Jill were afraid of her--afraid of disagreeing with her, afraid to say no to her," asserts a former head of worldwide Barbie management. By 1999, fashion-plate Barad was dogged by the company's "worst financial situation in years" and corporate irregularities; Mattel "eventually had to ante up a whopping $122 million to settle shareholder lawsuits for allegedly putting out misleading sales forecasts." Barad left Mattel with close to $50 million, including bonuses, pension, life and health insurance, a forgiven home loan, and 6.4 million stock options, a path that CNN's Stuart Varney called "paved with gold."

Since Barad left, her successor, former Kraft Foods executive Robert A. Eckert, has had to grapple not only with ongoing financial problems and up-and-coming toy competitors, but nagging and tragic safety issues. Mattel manufactures nearly all of its toys in China, and many contractors use lead-contaminated paint. In addition, some Mattel toys, such as the popular Polly Pocket line, contain minuscule magnets that can perforate intestines. At least one child died after ingesting Mattel magnets, and several more suffered agonizing injuries. Oppenheimer also gives an appalling description of our country's nearly toothless toy-safety regulations.

In just 250 pages, Oppenheimer touches on the highlights and lowlights of America's best-known toy company. Still, he's so good at what he does--especially given that Mattel absolutely refused to cooperate with the author in any way--that this book left me wanting more stories (good and bad), more anecdotes (ditto)... I hope other authors will follow the conscientious investigations and interviews that Oppenheimer gives us.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Author's Bias is Clear, May 12, 2009
By 
OolooKitty (los angeles, ca) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
I was looking forward to this book as an expose of the inner workings of a massive toy company, and the fight over who really created "Barbie". Instead, I got a book in which the author's bias is terribly clear: he hates Ruth Handler and worships Jack Ryan. The bias shows up in the language used to describe the various players: someone that the author likes simply "tells" a story, while someone that he doesn't like is "boasting" when he details his resume. And boy, does the author hate Ruth Handler and Jill Barad, uppity females that they were.

Also, if Jack Ryan had been referred to as "the Father of Barbie" instead of by his name ONE MORE TIME I was going to throw the book out the window. It became a joke: The Father of Barbie went outside. The Father of Barbie sat down to dinner. The Father of Barbie answered the phone. It was late, so the Father of Barbie went to bed.

The book is also sloppy and repetitive: we're told more than once that Demi Moore MAY have based her portrayal of a businesswoman on Jill Barad! Wow! That's fascinating! Of course, there's no documentation for the reality of this, other than the fact that Moore toured Mattel once. But this writer doesn't seem to feel the need to actually back up any of his claims: this is just one example of his use of gossip, maybes and perhapses.

Almost unreadable; too bad. I'd love to read a serious book on the subject rather than this gossipy mess.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gossipy, Petty Tabloid History of Mattel, November 23, 2011
This poorly written "history" of Mattel is mostly trashy gossip, written by a guy who is known for his bios of media stars. It takes the completely wrong approach to the subject and never recovers from a terrible opening chapter that focuses on the sexual peculiarities of Mattel executive Jack Ryan.

The writing is grating from the beginning--the first sentence has twelve commas and two dashes! Throughout the book you have to put up with similar weak writing, such as changing tenses in the middle of a sentence ("As Barbie's 50th anniversary loomed, the first voice of Barbie reminisces nostalgically about her...").

It's an annoying book with a few interesting surprises that are muted by the gloating style of the author. There is way too much focus on Jack Ryan, who is mistakenly given credit as the "Father of Barbie" throughout, and even devotes too much space to Barbie considering there was much more to this company. A very frustrating read that's only for those who need to pass the time quickly on a flight--otherwise you can't take it seriously.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Your book must be really bad..., March 11, 2009
By 
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
if you have to post bad reviews on other author's amazon sites to try to boost your book, Jerry. Feel free to call me if you would actually like to have an intelligent discussion rather than ranting on my amazon site under the fake name "Lerive Gauche." Or are you afraid to discuss the facts? As we both know, Ruth Handler not only created Barbie, but brought her to market and made her a global icon, not Jack Ryan. Women's History Month is an ironic time to be giving a man credit for a woman's accomplishments, don't you think? Feel free to read the true, research-based story in my book "BARBIE AND RUTH: THE STORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS DOLL AND THE WOMAN WHO CREATED HER." Signed, Robin Gerber [...]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Read the Book, Learned Very Little About Mattel, July 17, 2012
By 
V. Kalambakal (San Pedro, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Finished the book. Now I need a bath. I feel unclean.
This is the worst sort of biased, sensationalistic reportage. The author clearly wrote only about what titillated him, focusing his "history" of Mattel on a couple of extreme personalities that were at the company decades apart from each other. His little stories are salacious, one-sided, and lack balance. I will not read another book by him.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Toy Monster: The big bad world of Mattel, March 19, 2009
By 
Lewis Birns (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
I spent 30 years in the Toy industry. That's why I bought the book, but the focus is on Jack Ryan's sex life instead of on Mattel as a company.
Turned me off. Not recommended
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars corporate expose with sex, scandal, cynicism, and very little analysis, March 28, 2009
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hardcover)
This is an odd book. While I was looking for information on the toy industry, what gets dished up are stories of 1) lurid sex; 2) financial mismanagement by a series of megalomaniacal executives; 3) safety issues that led to litigation in 2007-8. Sprinkled throughout are tidbits on what makes the company tick and what products came out, but there is precious little about the company's strategy, business model, or context on the industry. As such, this book appears to aspire to a Vanity Fair style of expose, designed more to titillate and denounce than to understand what the company did and how it might do it better.

I knew I was in trouble when I opened the book: it starts with a long description of the type of sex that designer Jack Ryan sought with Barbie-lookalikes, the doll that he co-created. It comes off as a ridiculous attempt at voyeuristic sensationalism that offered insight the mind of a bi-polar sex addict. Now this is interesting in itself, but it adds nothing whatsoever to the story of Mattel - yet the book starts with that. There are then mini-bios of Mattel's founders, the Handlers, which only reveal that they were relentless hard workers. The wife (Ruth Handler, Barbie's inventor) then got busted for illegal and unethical financial manipulation schemes and had to resign. Again, this is interesting, but I wanted much more detail on how they did what they did (i.e., business journalism, not tabloid gossip). Inexplicably, the author also spends a lot of time arguing that Ryan was the actual creator of barbie (he engineered most of it), rather than Handler, who got the idea from a German Doll, Lilli, that was sold for adults; this is a specious argument that occupies 20 pages.

I gleaned a few interesting insights into the company. Mattel pioneered laboratory research into the play preferences of children, was an early exponent of distributed manufacturing on a global scale, and helped to create the rapid competition for fashionable seasonal toys. It was one of the first to advertise on TV, gaining an exclusive spot on the Mickey Mouse Club, a huge risk that paid off. With Barbie, it sold a cheap doll ($3) that then needed expensive outfits (i.e. the Gillette razor model: cheap razor, expensive blades). Beyond extremely superficial statements like "Ryan brought scientific methods to toy design", you get virtually nothing about what he actually did.

The book then shifts into a preposterously judgmental mode, in which the corporate culture of the company is denounced as inhuman and downright nasty. Now, I make my living going into companies and reporting, and I must say that nasty work environments - capricious executives, ultra-extreme egotism, brutal politics, and senselessly stupid decisions in accordance with standard operating procedures - are rather commonplace. Indeed, dysfunctional is the rule, functional is very rare. If the author does not know this, he is naive and misinformed, which makes me suspect everything he wrote in the entire book; I think he wants to evoke a mix of outrage, disdain, jealousy, and admiration - the crudely basic elements of celebrity journalism.

Finally, once yet another bad chief executive is kicked out (Jill Barad), the last CEO (Everette) is described. However, virtually nothing is said about how he wanted to change the company beyond "returning to the core". No new strategy, no new ways to add value, no new mission - whether Everette envisioned any of these is not clear, though he did spend a lot of energy on lawsuits against a competitor (MGA); we get no insight into his mind. Instead, the author spends several chapters on the safety issues of lead paint and swallowable magnets, with too many descriptions of debilitated children (yes, the stories are sad, but after two it is time to move on to other issues). Even here, he fails to look into whether the company might have acted in a more ethical manner, instead portraying it as simply self-serving and uncaring (is there a more complex situation there, like an internal debate? We never learn about it as the question is never posed). Once again, pathetically superficial, at least for me, who wanted to understand how the company works in a market context. Did they have an ethics policy? Did they institute one? What should they do to improve on it? None of that is even mentioned.

I would recommend this book for those who want a quick tour of corporate scandal and the eccentricities of high rollers. It can be a fun read that way and I do not mean to look down on that kind of reader. But for those who want to understand the company's business, this book is a big disappointment. In my opinion, it was written quickly to get into best seller territory - with all the grotesque detail and facile judgments, which I found superfluous.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel
Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel by Jerry Oppenheimer (Hardcover - February 24, 2009)
$24.95 $18.45
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.