By Brian Heiler

It's hard to track down people associated with Mego, so it was a great day when lucky circumstances connected us to Orit, former Creative Director at Mego.

Orit was kind enough to sit down with us and paint a picture to what it was like to work at the World's Greatest Toy Company.

OritMego Museum: So was working in the toy industry your first goal?

Orit: [Mego] was my third job out of college. My first job was at ADC working in the corporate design department and then I moved to DoubleDay and did a stint there. I was dating a guy who worked in the toy industry. In fact, my first job interview out of school was for Ideal Toys and I didn't get the job, but I got the guy. He introduced me to the world of toys [and] he got me the interview at Mego.

What was scary for me was that I was a graphic designer, I wasn't a packaging designer. In those days, we didn't have computers, it was concepting but it was a lot of sketching. After my first week, I remember saying I didn't think they'd keep me.

My first package was a doll called "Fresh Face" where if you pressed her belly, her tounge would stick out. I remember I had to come up with concepts for the package. Everyone in the studio could draw, I mean Vinny [Baiera] could draw beautifully and I couldn't. I thought "I am going to get fired."

I made it, though, and I actually grew with the company.

When I came I think there were six or seven people in the art department. The company grew so much that each of us ended up finding our own niche. For instance, Karyn [Weiss], who was also a designer, focused on licensing more. That's where she is today. Liisa [Ripatti], who was a fabulous designer and an illustrator, went off and did that.

I worked my way up within the group, from being a designer, to art directot to assistant creative director. I worked really very closely with Marty Harrison and when Marty was let go, I assumed the Creative Director position and that's when Mego was hotter than hot, no one could touch us. It was us and Mattel.

MM: So when did you start at Mego?

Orit: I graduated college in '73, I would say I started in '75 something like that.

MM:So when Mego was really starting to take off.

Orit: Yeah, we were hot. When I was there, I know I did all the fashion dolls… you know Diana Ross, Farrah, Cher, Jaclyn Smith, Micronauts, Muhammad Ali, Starsky and Hutch, all that stuff.

When I went into the Creative Director position, I was really running the studio and the design and focusing more on the catalog, the annual report. I did the annual report for several years.

What I remember mostly was toy fair. [We] would pull all-nighters setting the show room for Toy Fair. We had great toy fairs, so when they let go of Marty.

MM: When was that?

Orit: Marty came in, his father was somehow in the toy industry [Ed. note: Sol Harrison worked at DC comics] and Marty was this wonderful kind of hippie; he was so talented but a real free spirit. I would love to reconnect with him.

He was not the corporate type, he was always butting heads [with management] and at one point they just fired him. I assumed that position; at a killer time, I think it was annual report, toy fair and catalog time.

I went through it for about six months and then went up and said "I've been Creative Director now and I'd like to be compensated" and I was faced "What if I don't?" I said, "If you don't, I'll have to leave." And they said, "That's your choice," and naïve young kid that I was, I just left. Shock of shocks the next morning, it was "What the Hell did I just do?" But it was probably the best thing that happened to me.

We were a really tight group, I remember eating hamburgers and fries in the lunchroom or going out drinking. We were young and were excited and we were in a really great space at the time, the hottest of hot studios, we were really giving Mattel a run.

It's a shame that they just grew too quickly and they didn't know how to handle it, I think.

MM:I have personal theory that Mego's success was tied to it's very creative atmosphere.

Orit: Yes, we could come with whatever we wanted with ideas of "what's the hottest thing?" and say, 'Maybe we should do this or that,' and they would go with it. They were very entrepreneurial because I think it was a family-owned business, they grew quickly and even though we were up against the big boys no one really looked at it that way. We were doing our thing.

We weren't scared of failure, I guess because it happened so quickly and we were so hugely successful that it just was a deal.

They just let me do whatever I wanted to do and that's what made it fun. All they cared about were the numbers and all I cared about was great graphic design and having a good time doing that. So I really found my niche when I became Creative Director because I wasn't designing toy packages any more. I was putting in my two cents' worth, but I was really doing what I do now: running a company dealing with designers and clients. It was really the Mego people; It has a lot to do with why my business is successful today.

MM: So Mego was almost a business model for you?

Orit: Yes, the business model was about having fun and I think that is a testament to the people that work [at my business] now. I have people that have been here for over twelve years now. I think that has a lot to do with that, as a designer, I loved coming into work every day and I loved hanging out with my friends. I think [Mego] was a good experience for me and I've just continued it on.

MM: One thing Mego Collectors have never seen but hear a lot about are the Mego Toy Fair displays. What made them special?

Orit: They were just over the top. We didn't get into schlock like, 'let's recreate the moon and show Micronauts.' They were more about pedestals and white-on-white. Very classy. It was always either about letting the toy and the package sell itself, or we would get into these major dioramas. I think our models were always top of the line. What's sort of an interesting situation for me is, years later, after leaving [Mego] and starting my own company, we started designing the marketing materials for Toy Fair. I think we did Toy Fair for three or four years, all the campaigns and the marketing materials. What's funny, is on top of the fact of going to the TIA and going to that building, our old offices on 24th street were right around the corner and across the street from where Mego used to be. So I kind of was always in that neighbourhood. I guess once it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

I have a thirteen year-old and when I used to buy toys, I still used to shop Toys "R" Us the way I did when I worked at Mego. [At Mego], we would take trips to toys "R" Us and specialty shops, and really shop not only our lines but the competitions' lines and really look at it from such a different vantage point. Now with the advantage of going online, the experience of going to a toy store is so different for most people. It's sort of sad.

When I look back at my career, I was really lucky my time was in the pure, simple designer days where, even though we have computers and the internet, it was different. You really got your hands dirty. I think as designers and creative people, it was better then. It was brainstorming and sketching and really knowing every typeface that was out there because you had to spec it. I was lucky because in my day at doubleday — that's when doubleday was hot — and then Mego was really hot, so I feel like the passion I have for my business came from the passion we had for those businesses.

Even when I look at [] and I clicked through to Hal [Shull], wow. Some of his paintings are curious to me. That's old world, it just made me smile.

MM: Any recollections of the Worlds Greatest Super-Heroes?

Orit: I remember Superman, I remember the playsets. That was also what made our claim to fame was that our playsets were so fabulous.

MM: Favourite project?

Orit: I enjoyed doing the annual reports and the catalogs. Out of all the toy projects worked on, the proudest? We did so much, I have to say that [when] I was on the Micronauts team. While that really wasn't my cup of tea because after a while it was just templated, once we came up with the logo. I remember coming up with the logo and then once we decided what it was going to be, it became the same thing over and over again. I guess I enjoyed working on all the Star Trek stuff because my boyfriend at the time, who became my husband, was a Star Trek freak. I must have watched every episode of Star Trek over a 150 times.

All the fashion dolls, that was pretty cool. I don't think I had a favourite toy. My favourite time was when I became a Creative Director and doing the catalogs and annual reports, because as a graphic designer that's when I was really shining, that was my strength. I didn't feel out of water. The other thing was we had such talented people that we were always competing against each other.

I can't tell you how many heads we had to paint for the Cher doll, we would paint head after head.

We were really free thinking, free wheeling and life was so much better because of that. We could just do what we wanted, we could work hard, we could play hard. The majority of us did work and play hard, and it was good to be like that.

For the past twenty years, Orit has been CEO of the O Group, one of New York's leading mid-sized design firms with an impressive client list that includes Fendi, Hennessy Cognac, Salvatore Fferragamo, Lacoste, Godiva and many more.