Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US

Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US

Saturday, December 24th, 2016 1:40pm CST

Categories: People News, Interviews
Posted by: Va'al   Views: 32,480

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In a recent issue of Newsweek, the magazine featured an interview with Harry Orenstein - a Holocaust survivor and a the man practically single-handedly responsible for bringing the Transformers to the US way back when. Check out the whole piece in the magazine here, or read some relevant snippets from the interview below!

Orenstein is now 93, and his wife, Carolyn Sue (Susie), is 72, but he is too busy having fun to sink placidly into his dotage. Three days a week, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., he hosts a high-stakes game of five-card stud in his Manhattan apartment with his poker buddies. “He calls ’em friends,” Susie says, grinning. “They’re sharks!”

Ken Oakes, Orenstein’s longtime driver, brings him a glass of water and a few cough drops. “I’ve been driving Henry for 24 years, since I retired from my regular job as a manager for Sears,” he says. “I managed the toy department there. When the Transformers came out, we used to talk about it.” That’s because Orenstein was the man who saw the potential for Transformers in America. They made him a very rich man. Again.

“Transformers, more than meets the eye!” Orenstein croons.

“He sings all the time,” Susie says. “He sings himself to sleep!”

[...]

Henry turned the small toy car over in his hands, gauging the weight of it. He’d spotted the thing in a showroom at the New York Toy Fair, on a shelf off to the side, so far away from the main display he assumed it had been discarded. He gently flipped the front doors open and nudged the backseat, and poof: The car transformed into a plane. He thought, This is the best idea I’ve seen in many years!

“He went into a trance,” recalls Susie, who was with him that day. “I didn’t know what he was talking about!”

It was the early 1980s; Topper had filed for bankruptcy in 1972 after the bank called back their loan (Susie calls it “the blemish on his career”), but Henry had remained in the business, pitching ideas to large toy companies. He always had an eye for the overlooked, so when he saw that car turn into a plane, he got the feeling he’d had many times before. “Ideas don’t come in little pieces. It’s in; it’s out. It’s there, or it’s not. It’s like a sparkle,” he says. “I was just an inventor. You needed a big company to do what I thought should be done: making real transformations from complex things to other complex things.”

That tiny car was manufactured by a Japanese toy company named Takara. “I knew the president,” Orenstein says. “I went to him and said, ‘I think this could be a great thing, building a bridge between Japanese ingenuity and American marketing.’” He then went to Hasbro, the toy giant behind G.I. Joe and My Little Pony, and became a matchmaker, pitching his vision for a line of transforming toys that went far beyond cars turning into planes. “Very definitely, Henry was the bridge in this one transaction with Takara,” says Alan Hassenfeld, former chairman and CEO of Hasbro. “Henry basically had a sense that Transformers was going to be something that would be transformational for the toy industry.… To be able to take a car and, with a little bit of dexterity, change it into another toy, that was something magical.”

“It was Henry who really saw the magic, the potential, that was inside all these different brands that Takara was presenting,” says Tom Warner, Senior Vice President of the Transformers franchise. “There’s a lot of toys out there, but it takes a very special individual to look at something, identify it, and say it will be a big hit in the U.S. ”

[...]

Henry didn’t style Bumblebee or create Optimus Prime’s backstory—teams of writers, designers and artists at Hasbro developed the ubiquitous Transformers we know today—but he was there first, the one who saw the promise. “Henry was absolutely the catalyst that made this happen,” Hassenfeld says.

Hasbro, working with Takara, created the Transformers in 1984, and since then those multifaceted robots have become one of the most successful action figure brands in history, touching all outposts of popular culture, from comic books and a popular theme song to numerous TV series, imitators (GoBots, anyone?) and a blockbuster movie franchise. In 2007, the first Transformers movie made over $700 million worldwide. Three more films followed. Hasbro says the Transformers franchise has brought in more than $10 billion since 2004.

Credit(s): Newsweek


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Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1848715)
Posted by Burn on December 24th, 2016 @ 5:20pm CST
This story? I like this story. 8-)
Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1848726)
Posted by fenrir72 on December 24th, 2016 @ 9:23pm CST
Thank you for surviving dear sir, your immense and immeasurable influence has lead me to many penniless months consuming the product you help conceptualize/push! :BOWDOWN: Which is a big finger to you you nazi bufoons! :lol:
Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1848737)
Posted by Chillyn on December 25th, 2016 @ 12:30am CST
Wow! That was an awesome read. This guy is like Jesus :BOWDOWN: truly an inspiration
Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1848845)
Posted by Emerje on December 26th, 2016 @ 3:27am CST
OK, this story fills a gap for me in the birth of the franchise. See, back in the early '80s Hasbro contacted Marvel with plans for a toy robot line they wanted to turn into a big project like G.I. Joe. Marvel wrote up a story, created characters, and did some art work when Hasbro suddenly told them to scrap it because they came up with something better. It would seem Orenstein was the reason behind the sudden change of plans.

This does completely throw out the popular story of how Hasbro reps discovered Diaclone at the '83 Tokyo Toy Show, a story that even TFWiki perpetuates:

TFWiki wrote:In 1983, Hasbro representatives discovered Diaclone and Microchange toys at the Tokyo Toy Show, and soon struck a deal to create the Transformers brand.

Seems more likely that Orenstein discovered Diakron at the '83 New York Toy Fair (held in the winter) and Hasbro went to the Tokyo Toy Show (held in the summer) to look for other robot toys that could be used to pad the line and probably meet Takara face to face as they should have already been in talks by then thanks to Orenstein's introduction. This story really makes a lot of sense now.

Emerje
Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1848975)
Posted by huryochagi on December 27th, 2016 @ 5:02am CST
GoBots weren't imitations. They were the first. Transformers became more popular due to having more variation in toys, a more sophisticated cartoon and better marketing.
Re: Harry Orenstein Interview on Life, Music and Bringing the Transformers to the US (1849561)
Posted by chuckdawg1999 on December 29th, 2016 @ 7:13pm CST
Emerje wrote:OK, this story fills a gap for me in the birth of the franchise. See, back in the early '80s Hasbro contacted Marvel with plans for a toy robot line they wanted to turn into a big project like G.I. Joe. Marvel wrote up a story, created characters, and did some art work when Hasbro suddenly told them to scrap it because they came up with something better. It would seem Orenstein was the reason behind the sudden change of plans.

This does completely throw out the popular story of how Hasbro reps discovered Diaclone at the '83 Tokyo Toy Show, a story that even TFWiki perpetuates:

TFWiki wrote:In 1983, Hasbro representatives discovered Diaclone and Microchange toys at the Tokyo Toy Show, and soon struck a deal to create the Transformers brand.

Seems more likely that Orenstein discovered Diakron at the '83 New York Toy Fair (held in the winter) and Hasbro went to the Tokyo Toy Show (held in the summer) to look for other robot toys that could be used to pad the line and probably meet Takara face to face as they should have already been in talks by then thanks to Orenstein's introduction. This story really makes a lot of sense now.

Emerje


I'm a bit confused as well. Also, what toy was he handling that was a car to a plane?

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