Doing Noah one better

Toy: John Beck and John Bilotta smoosh animals together to create a herd of Jumbies

Family Matters

September 17, 2000|By Marian Liu | Marian Liu,Los Angeles Times

Legend goes that storks carrying animal babies crashed, thus jumbling the babies together to create "Jumbies" ("jumbled" plus "babies"). This new generation of beanbag characters includes Bunker the Dingbat, a combination of a dingo and a bat, Arthur the Camelot, a camel jumbled with an ocelot, and four other two-animals-rolled-in-one.

The parents of this whimsical menagerie are John Beck and John Bilotta, both of Orange County, Calif. Together, they concocted the idea, the legend and the motto: "The storks really messed up this time."

"Jumbies are the newest, hippest thing for beanbags, and they are getting a phenomenal response," said Wendy Bautista, assistant editor of Bean Bag World magazine, of the $5.99 Jumbies. "They are certainly innovative and fresh as far as beanbags go. Two animals fused to one is a new concept for beanbags."

At Farr's Hallmark in Fullerton, Calif., one of the first stores to receive Jumbies, manager Dan Coloman said that the store sold out its first order -- 60 pieces -- in a month. Marlee Dressen, owner of Party Pizzazz store in Pacific Palisades, Calif., who received her first batch two weeks ago, wonders if Jumbies are the new Beanie Babies.

Beck and Bilotta, who call themselves Chief Jumbie Officers or CJOs, came upon the idea when they were casually discussing teddy bears. Bilotta, a 42-year-old freelance cartoonist with 22 years of marketing and business experience, was bouncing ideas off his friend Beck, 31, who has worked in the toy and collectible business.

"All of a sudden, it was like the sea parted," Bilotta said. "What if we took two animals and put them together. Suddenly Beck got it."

Bilotta said his interest in wildlife was first ignited when he received a wild animal book in the mail from a Saturday morning cartoon kids club at age 8.

Then at 9, he remembers playing with his friends, all pretending to be animals. Only Bilotta remembers he was a bear-cat, or even half saber-toothed cat and half wolf.

Like Beanie Babies, which each have a birth date, Jumbies have a date of jumble (DOJ). Zumbo the Zelephant ("zebra" plus "elephant") has the DOJ of Beck's birthday because the Jumbie idea was conceived on that date. Billy the Giraffalo (part giraffe, part buffalo) has Bilotta's birth date because he had to "stick his neck out on this business venture."

Unlike Beanie Babies and other beanbag toys with their embroidered eyes, Jumbies have plastic bug-like eyes. Bilotta explained that right before their collision, the Jumbies screamed, and their eyes ended up freezing that way.

"The eyes are the funniest thing. They are my most favorite quality about Jumbies. They look straight at you," said Melissa McGlensey, an Orange County fifth-grader.

The 10-year-old and her sister, Becky, 12, are Beck's neighbors and served as consultants during the Jumbie development process. Bilotta and Beck also tested the Jumbies on focus groups of area elementary school kids. Bilotta said the children gasped each time he brought out a Jumbie to show them.

Jumbies were first unveiled in January. The first line and the Web site (www.jumbies.com) came out in May. Beck said the company receives more than 100 e-mails a day. Jumbies are available in 41 states, but not in Maryland yet. They are sold on the iluvcollectibles.com Web site. A few Jumbies have even shown up for sale on eBay.

Janie Daniels, a "beanieologist," said that Jumbies appeal to adults as well. She has written about Beanie stuffed animals for five years for various beanie bag publications and has even written a book called "The Beanie Invasion."

"When I first saw them, I laughed so hard. They are really cute and have character," said Daniels, 40, who lives in Woodbridge, Va. "I mean, how many times have you wanted to call someone a dingbat, and now you can give them one."

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