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Ken Forsse dies at 77; Teddy Ruxpin creator attended Burbank High

April 15, 2014|By David Colker, Los Angeles Times | By David Colker, Los Angeles Times
  • Ken Forsse holding the Teddy Ruxpin character in front of the set of the Hard to Find City, part of the adventures of the Ruxpin character being filmed at Renmar Studios in Hollywood.
Ken Forsse holding the Teddy Ruxpin character in front… (Al Seib / Los Angeles…)

Talking toys have been around since at least 1960, when pull-the-string Chatty Cathy debuted. But Teddy Ruxpin, a cuddly teddy bear that hit stores in late 1985, marked a technological leap forward.

Created by then-Granada Hills resident Ken Forsse, the talking Teddy moved his mouth in sync, making him seem much more lifelike. The effect was both delightful and a bit creepy, and kids loved him.

"1986 and 1987 were insane; you could hardly find Teddy Ruxpin in stores, it was so popular," said toy expert Jim Silver.

Forsse, 77, died March 19 at home in Laguna Woods. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Josh Isaacson, a friend of the family who has long maintained a Teddy Ruxpin tribute website.

Teddy's reign as the top toy was relatively brief, ending in a mire of financial and legal troubles. But the gentle bear who told storybook adventures was instrumental in sparking a new category for the toy industry — electronic plush. He still crops up in pop culture references on movies and TV shows. And he still has ardent fans.

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"The slogan they used to advertise Teddy, 'A friend for life comes to life,' described aptly the friendship Teddy Ruxpin made with millions of children," Isaacson said.

Forsse was born Sept. 17, 1936, in Bellwood, Neb., but his family moved when he was a child to Southern California. He graduated from Burbank High School and teamed up in the late 1950s with others to develop a children's TV show starring puppets. "My job on the pilot was to sculpt and cast the latex puppet characters and build the settings," Forsse said in a 1999 interview with Isaacson.

The pilot didn't sell, but he began forming ideas for a character that decades later became Teddy Ruxpin. In the meantime he worked at the Walt Disney Co. on various jobs and for the Sid & Marty Krofft company that produced TV shows starring puppets. Forsse also served three years in the Army.

In the early 1980s he developed technology for animated puppets. Teddy Ruxpin had a cassette player built into his back where specially designed tapes provided audio and drove motors in the doll's head to make facial movements. A deal was struck with the Silicon Valley company Worlds of Wonder to produce and sell the doll.

Silver, who now heads the toy review site TTPM, said he saw a prototype back then. Like many in the industry, he didn't think much of it. "A lot of people were laughing at it," he said. "A teddy bear with a cassette tape in the back? C'mon."

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