NEW YORK -- The last time judges' robes were a big Halloween seller was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Sammy Davis Jr. made the phrase "Here Come De Judge" a national inside joke on "Laugh-In."
"It was hot then," said Mike Burke, co-owner of Zak's Fun House.
Enter Clarence Thomas.
When Burke and his partner, Larry Greenberg, watched the extraordinary public airing of sexual harassment charges against Thomas by law professor Anita Faye Hill, one word kept coming to mind: masks.
"We had played with the idea while the hearings were going on," said Burke. "We held off going into production until the Senate took the vote."
As soon as Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, Burke ordered about 50 cardboard masks with an artist's rendering of Thomas' face and an elastic band on each one. He also ordered a quantity of Hill masks. Both batches sold out in about a week.
"They're moving like hot cakes," Burke said. "Pee-wee [Herman] was hot until Clarence Thomas came along."
But the biggest winner in the 1991 Halloween popularity contest -- bigger than Thomas, bigger than the Terminator, bigger, even, than Freddy Krueger -- may turn out to be one of Thomas' interrogators.
"We got a tremendous number of calls on Ted Kennedy, but no one could come out with [a mask] fast enough," Burke said, adding that a cardboard Kennedy mask was being rushed to the shelves.
Over at Hocus Pocus Costumes, full head masks of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Bush are big. But no one seems to recognize the latex features of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, the hero of the aborted Soviet coup. That includes salesman Isaac Sharon, who said, "I thought it was Tip O'Neill."