12 Media Accounts of Beanie Babies Hysteria, Circa the 1990s

Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Ty Warner had struck gold. In 1996, his Beanie Babies had surpassed $250 million in sales, creating a phenomenon that was unlike anything the toy industry had ever seen. Millions of stuffed animals were methodically captured and stored in plastic, expected to mature in value like a war bond. For a time, it seemed U.S. currency would soon convert from paper to plush.

This never happened. Instead, some people went bankrupt investing in Beanies, ignoring the paradox of what it means to own a manufactured collectible. But prior to the Great Beanie Fallout, it was difficult to open a magazine or newspaper and not read about how you, too, could fund a child’s college education by stocking up on Kiwi the Toucan. If you weren’t around—or simply chose to forget—here are a few media snapshots of the Beanie fever that gripped a nation.

1. Leading to a Life of Crime

“I had one customer who told me her car was broken into because she had a retired Beanie Baby sitting on the dashboard …The thieves didn't touch the radio.''

The New York Times, March 14, 1997

2. As Courtroom Spectacle

“A divorced couple who couldn't agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection were ordered by a judge Friday to divide up the babies one by one in a courtroom. Maple the Bear was the first to go ... 'I don't agree with the judge's decision to do this. It's ridiculous and embarrassing,’ Frances Mountain said moments before squatting on the courtroom floor alongside her ex-husband to choose first from a pile of stuffed toys.”

The Associated Press, November 6, 1999

3. The Beanie as Car Dealership Trade-In

“Kelly Flagg, 14 … began collecting Beanie Babies as toys when they were introduced in 1993. She buys duplicates to trade, some of which are now valuable enough to barter for big-ticket items … she intends to sell the collection to buy a Corvette.”

The New York Times, October 30, 1997

4. Creating Financial Advisors

"Basically, if you can afford to do this, simply putting away five or ten of each and every new Beanie Baby in super mint condition isn't a bad idea."

The Beanie Baby Handbook, 1998

5. No Child is Safe

"In a way, it was a good thing the weather was so-so for the first-ever Beanie Baby swap and sale held Thursday at Jacobs Beach by the town's parks and recreation department … [Pam] Ertelt's 6-year-old daughter, Meryl, was injured in the mad rush for the popular toys. Someone in a big hurry to get to the Beanie Baby sale crashed into the little girl as she and her mother were walking to the tent, leaving the youngster with a bloody leg.”

The Hartford Courant, June 27, 1997

6. Bearing Witness to the Horror

“During several Beanie Baby quests, my son was trampled by a herd of women racing to the shelves to capture an endangered animal—the last Ziggy the Zebra, perhaps. And I have witnessed younger children, near tears, leaving shops empty-handed while someone else's grandma carried home a bag bulging with her latest Beanie bounty.”

The Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 1998

7. Crowd Control

"In pastoral Lancaster, Pa., where the Amish still ride buggies, a McDonald's manager summoned police when Teenie buyers got out of control. ‘I responded and observed approximately 50 people standing inside,’ Officer Delene Brown wrote in her report. ‘They said they were waiting for Zip cats to go on sale. The employees said the cat will not be sold until all the Dobie dogs are gone, and there were still over 100 dogs to be sold.’”

The Washington Post, June 8, 1998

8. As a Sophisticated Smuggling Operation

“As long as the Beanie Babies are for personal use and people buy no more than three of the same kind, crossing over the Canadian border with more than one Beanie Baby won't be a problem anymore, said Kathy Lisius, supervisory import specialist for the U.S. Customs Service … The restrictions come at a time when Beanie Baby smuggling has dramatically increased. More than 8100 have been confiscated since February at the Blaine crossing. ‘Last year, we didn't detain any Beanie Babies,’ Lisius said. ‘Now, people are smuggling Beanie Babies in similar places where they hide drugs, such as hidden compartments and the spare tire holders.’”

The Seattle Times, July 18, 1998

9. Dubious Financial Advice, Part Two

“Richard Gernady, a purveyor of collectibles, received a phone call in December that he will not soon forget. The caller, a middle-aged insurance agent from New York who was fed up with some underperforming stocks in her portfolio, told him she intended to sell them and reinvest the capital in a different class of assets: Beanie Babies. Ultimately she spent $12,000 on ‘all my best Beanies,’ recalled Gernady, owner of the Cat's Meow shop in Glenview. ‘I told her she was doing the right thing.’”

Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1998

10. Death by Beanie

“In October 1999, Jeffrey White, then 29, shot security guard Harry Simmons, 63, at a lumberyard in Elkins, W.Va, a small town where people used to line up at 4 a.m. outside the Hallmark store when a Beanie Babies shipment was due. Police said that White, who later confessed to the crime, blamed Simmons for getting him fired from his job at the lumberyard. But the two also had a dispute over $150 and several hundred dollars' worth of Beanie Babies that Simmons lent White, purportedly to start a trading business.”

The Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2004

11. The Beanie Forger

“A woman named Lu Venia recently had a 'Peanut' sent to her Beanie repair shop in Warrenton, Va. A self-described ‘Beanie Doctor,’ she examined its suspiciously crusty coat of polyester plush and realized something was seriously wrong. ‘The blue dye came right off,’ recalls Venia, who discovered that the toy was a much-less-valuable Light Blue Peanut dipped in dark blue dye. 'I felt terrible telling that collector that she got a rotten Peanut,' Venia says.”

The New York Times, July 5, 1998

12. At Least It's Not Crack

“The Wards, of Northeast Philadelphia, have more than 500 Beanies. They said they spent Memorial Day weekend last year in McDonald's eating Happy Meals, three meals a day, to get every limited edition Teenie Beanie, and plan to do the same thing this year … Their daughter, Kris White, said she was a little worried about them. 'She buys them clothes,’ she said of her mother. ‘They have them all over the house. She just bought the one in the kitchen a special chef's outfit.’

Dave Ward shrugged. ‘It's better than gambling or drugs, right?’' he said. ‘And we have it under control now. We only spend about $500 a month on Beanies.’”

The Hartford Courant, May 17, 1999

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.