8 Fun Facts About Pillow People

vontoo_home_goods, eBay
vontoo_home_goods, eBay

With $120 million in sales from 1986 to 1996, Pillow People can lay a pretty good claim to being one of the great success stories of the plush toy industry. The anthropomorphic bedding offered different personas (Mr. Sandman, Beddy Bye Bunny) and licensed characters like Garfield in an effort to keep children feeling comfortable and secure after the lights went out.

Despite a love for all things ‘80s, the poly-filled people haven’t yet staged a comeback. While we wait for a company to revitalize the brand, check out some facts we dug up about their unique sales approach and the mystery of their “lost” animated series.

1. THEY WERE INSPIRED BY A NIGHTMARE.

Penny Ekstein-Lieberman had a perfect background for toy development. A former therapist with advertising credits, Ekstein-Lieberman conceived of the Pillow People after she ran in to comfort her daughter, who had just woken up from a nightmare. Sensing a need for a “friend” with a soothing face a child could turn to in order to curb their nocturnal fears, Ekstein-Lieberman developed the line as her answer to a security blanket and found a distributor in Springs Industries. The first six People—Sweet Dreams, Pillow Fighter, Mr. Sandman, Rock-A-Bye Baby, Punky Pillow, and Big Footsteps—were released in 1986.

2. THEY WEREN’T SOLD IN THE TOY DEPARTMENT.

2571ted, eBay

While Pillow People were an immediate hit, not all parents knew where to look for them. Consumers who visited the toy section of department stores would emerge empty-handed. That’s because Spring Industries was a home furnishings distributor and placed the Pillow People in the home goods or bedding sections of retail stores.

3. THEY HAD THEIR OWN PETS ...

Like any successful line of kid merchandise, Pillow People immediately looked to branch out into ancillary products. One easy spin-off: pets, which were introduced in time for the holiday 1987 season and included Little Bo Sleep, Dina Snore, and Drowsy Dog. The line also expanded to include licensed bedsheets, towels, slippers, and sleeping bags.

4. ... AND THEIR OWN HOLIDAY SPECIAL.

Pillow People Save Christmas was a 1988 seasonal special in the vein of annual animated presentations like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Airing regularly for roughly a decade, it was produced by Ekstein-Lieberman and told the story of a ragtag band of pillow creatures who fight a nightmare witch plotting to ruin the holiday season in North Pillow Valley. The special can be seen on YouTube (above).

5. A REGULAR ANIMATED SERIES DISAPPEARED.

On the strength of the holiday special, Ekstein-Lieberman pursued an ongoing Pillow People animated series via her Sandbox Entertainment production company. In this incarnation, the People would be residents of Snoozeville and charged with inserting good dreams into the sleep-scape. Three insomniacs (Wake Up, Stay Up, and Hush-Up) try to thwart their plans. Although Sandbox apparently completed preproduction work on close to 13 full episodes in anticipation of a fall 1996 debut, there’s no evidence the series ever made it to the air [PDF].

6. THEY CAMEOED IN FILM AND TELEVISION.

Pillow People mania reached sufficient heights in the 1980s and 1990s that set designers for film and television projects began adding them to scenes. The Window Rattler frequently popped up on Full House; Sweet Dreams makes an appearance in the 1988 Tom Hanks film Big; and Punky Pillow cameos in 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting.

7. THERE WERE PILLOW PEOPLE KNOCK-OFFS.

A true sign of success is fending off copycat products from companies looking to capitalize on your brand recognition. Pillow People was no different: Bibb Company released Dream Pals, a line of sleep companions that licensed characters from Pound Puppies. Similarly square-faced, they went by names like Rip Van Rabbit and Bunky Bear.

8. THEY WERE REPLACED BY AN ALL-STAR TEAM.

banfampicks, eBay

Pillow People sold strongly from 1986 to 1991, but were eventually phased out to make room for a line dubbed Pillow Stars that featured recognizable characters based on licensed properties. Among the more popular sellers: Trolls, the California Raisins, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, the Little Mermaid, and Snow White. (The latter was accessorized with a tiny Dopey.)

While the line was briefly revived in 1996, the Pillow People have since gone dormant. Ad agency Omlet bought a stake in the brand in 2011 but has yet to pursue any product. If you’re still desperate for a bedtime buddy, they’re usually available on eBay, often at premium collector's prices. A Window Rattler in "very good" condition recently sold for $250.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Great Gifts for Teens

Fjallraven/Polaroid
Fjallraven/Polaroid

If it’s been a few years since you were a teenager, you might be feeling at a loss when it comes to finding the perfect gift for the teen in your life. But you don’t have to worry—we’ve culled the internet to figure out what’s cool these days, and we found 10 items to suit any teen (and any price point).

1. Fjällräven Kånken Mini Classic Backpack for Everyday; $70

Fjällräven/Amazon

Fjällräven’s Kånken backpack was originally introduced in 1978 as an affordable and comfortable bag for Swedish schoolchildren, but it recently took off as a trend among American high schoolers and college students. With 43 different color options, chances are you’ll be able to find the perfect trendy backpack for the teen in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hydro Flask Standard-Mouth Water Bottle; $30–$35

Hydro Flask/Amazon

Hydro Flasks aren’t only trendy, they’re sturdy and environmentally friendly. Plus, they keep hot drinks warm and icy drinks cool for an absurdly long amount of time. The standard-mouth water bottle is currently available on Amazon in 17 different colors, but the brand also offers tumbler cups and coffee mugs depending on your niece/nephew/cousin/friend/child’s preference.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Polaroid Originals OneStep+ Bluetooth-Connected Instant Film Camera; $140

Polaroid Originals/Amazon

Teens can kick it back old school with this Polaroid camera that hides some surprisingly contemporary features. Using a special app, users can fine-tune their camera settings to suit their personal tastes. Plus, this camera makes it possible to capture two scenes in a single frame, so it's that much easier to create uniquely artsy Polaroid pics.

Buy it: Amazon

4. 4th-Generation Echo Dot with Clock; $60

Amazon

Tech-wise, the fourth-generation Echo Dot is almost identical to its third-generation predecessor. But the updated spherical design seems poised to make the Echo Dot a worthy contender for traditional alarm clocks—the speaker face shows the time and it even includes a tap-to-snooze function for drowsy sleepers.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Bubble Tea Kit; $38

Uncommon Goods

Part of the reason bubble tea is so popular is that it’s customizable—and what could be more customizable than making it yourself? This kit, made by an Atlanta-based couple, comes with two reusable straws and enough supplies to make up to eight servings.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

6. Mixtape Card Game; $20

Uncommon Goods

This party game challenges players to find the perfect songs to suit specific prompts. Some cards might prompt players to use Spotify or Youtube to search for the songs with the best guitar solos, while other cards call for participants to play their “favorite slow dance love jam from junior high.” This game is sure to be a hit at any high school sleepover or house party—or, in true 2020 style, at any digital hangout or Zoom meeting.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

7. Giant Flour Tortilla Throw Blanket; $18-$35

Mermaker/Amazon

This goofy double-sided blanket turns any human into a giant-size burrito, and it comes in four different sizes to suit any height. One reviewer even went so far as to say that “once you wrap yourself in it, you will be convinced that you are a burrito.”

Buy it: Amazon

8. The Cup of Destiny; $22

Shelter Harbor Press/Amazon

Here’s a prediction: Your hunt for the perfect gift is almost over. This kit is ideal for the teenager who is fascinated by the supernatural and loves exploring new ideas. Included, you’ll find a 96-page illustrated instruction book along with a cup and a saucer marked with patterns and symbols.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Wreck This Journal: Now in Color; $9

Penguin Books/Amazon

This journal is not intended to be pretty. It’s made for messiness and exploration and a little bit of chaos. Artistic-minded teens will love filling out pages that prompt them to catalog various stains or poke holes through the paper. Reviewers say it’s not only a source of creative inspiration, though—it’s also a stress reliever. And considering that the middle-school and high-school years aren’t exactly known for being relaxing, this journal could be a welcome reprieve from the daily pressure of managing homework and a social life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Therapy Dough; $15

Uncommon Goods

Some teens focus better and relax more easily when they have something to fidget with. If the teen in your life fits that description, this therapy dough may be the perfect gift for them. Each 4.5-ounce container is infused with essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, orange, or pine, making relaxation smell delicious (and all natural!).

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

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