Bearing up with Teddy Ruxpin outlasts his manufacturer

April 21, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

It was billed as the "Yuppie Toy of 1985," a local bear who made good.

Teddy Ruxpin, no average teddy bear he, burst onto the scene with his singing and storytelling talents. Millions were sold in two years, until the maker, Worlds of Wonder of Fremont, Calif., slid into bankruptcy.

But today, the original Teddy Ruxpin is alive and well, thanks to Dr. Bearwell.

The doctor is actually Clay Pimentel, 62, who worked for Worlds of Wonder fielding calls from worried children and upset parents when Teddy malfunctioned.

Mr. Pimentel got the job in customer service after retiring from General Motors Corp., where he'd been a financial manager for 30 years.

"I had paid my dues. I wanted to work only four days at something I could have fun with," Mr. Pimentel said.

When angry moms called to complain about malfunctioning Teddy Ruxpins, he would ask to talk to their children. When a bear had to come in for repairs, he soothed the children's fears, telling them Teddy had to go to the hospital for a short time.

Plenty of things can go wrong with Teddy Ruxpin, which sold in its heyday for $80. Forty different cassette tapes fit into the tape deck in its back. A computer chip reads a digital encoding on the tape and fires a signal to motors that operate the bear's movable parts: its mouth and eyes.

Pretty soon, everyone was calling Mr. Pimentel Dr. Clay, then Dr. Bearwell.

"I had a happy retirement," he said.

Then World of Wonders went belly up.

By that time, Mr. Pimentel had grown very fond of Teddy Ruxpin. So he purchased all of the company's existing stock and bought more accessories from its Hong Kong manufacturer.

In 1991, Mr. Pimentel opened Toy Faire in Fremont. In the back of the toy store, he runs the only Teddy Ruxpin hospital in the world, treating about 750 injured bears a year -- for a set fee of $40 each.

He also sells the original Teddy Ruxpin bears and has located an additional 5,000 in an Asian warehouse. He is trying to buy them.

In all, Mr. Pimentel estimates, 7 million Teddy Ruxpins were manufactured. He figures about 6 million are still around.

When they need repair, he's ready.

But, Mr. Pimentel said, "I don't do the surgery myself. I examine and consult."

The actual repair job falls to Nancy Wiseman, who comes in twice a week to do surgery. Since the bears are no longer manufactured, she uses the parts from old Teddy Ruxpins that were parts of a display.

Injured bears are brought in all the time by their owners, and dozens more come in the mail.

The most common injuries are to the nose and eyes, and Ms. Wiseman keeps a supply of those parts in plastic containers next to her workbench.

The Toy Faire medical staff can repair just about any injury -- except problems with the dreaded metal deck.

That's the old metal tape deck found in the very first Teddy Ruxpins. It was replaced later with a more reliable plastic one.

"There are no parts for the metal deck," said Mr. Pimentel, his head bowed.

But here's the good news. Replacement, original, full-sized, working Teddy Ruxpins are for sale at Toy Faire. Price tag: $50.

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