APART FROM THE FACT THAT THEY CAN HATCH WITHIN MINUTES AFTER contact with water, brine shrimp are unappealing creatures. They’re ant-sized and translucent and bear a striking resemblance to sperm. Yet brine shrimp packaged as “Sea Monkeys” are currently sold as children’s companions, and portrayed on their boxes as pink, pear-shaped simian creatures with spindly legs, paunches and coy smiles. They are one of the most impressive achievements in the annals of marketing.
Harold von Braunhut, a former manager of novelty acts, first packaged his patented hybrids in 1960, transforming the Sea Monkeys into American icons via millions of comic book ads. Von Braunhut also wrote the 32-page handbook that is included in most Sea Monkey kits to this day, which states that the creatures can be hypnotized, play baseball and rise from the dead. The tone of the handbook is florid and huckstery: “It seems that at mating time in the Animal Kingdom, the males engage in combat to win the fin, paw, flipper, hoof, wing or what-have-you, of their ‘lady love.’ ”
In 1999, the Sea Monkeys were in line for an overhaul: The freeze-dried creatures were, and still are, licensed to Educational Insights Inc., a Carson-based company whose ExploraToy division handles production development and sales of the Sea Monkeys … Any decision regarding the appearance of the Sea Monkeys must be vetted by Harold von Braunhut.
The 75-year-old inventor currently lives on a nature preserve in Bryans Road, Md., and drives a red Corvette. “Harold,” as he is known at Educational Insights, is notoriously protective of his patented Sea Monkeys. ExploraToy Vice President George C. Atamian says Von Braunhut once refused to do business with a company desiring to make Sea Monkey refrigerator magnets after he discovered risque magnets in its catalog.
…I ask Atamian for Von Braunhut’s unlisted number. Atamian says he would prefer that I not speak to Harold. Each time I ask, Atamian puts me off with a series of excuses, ranging from Von Braunhut’s reclusiveness to his poor health–a few years ago Harold fell off a balcony, then his “gallbladder exploded.” Atamian also mentions that whenever Von Braunhut gives interviews, there’s “fallout.” Curious as to what this “fallout” could be, I do a database search on Harold von Braunhut.
Read the entire article on the Los Angeles Times