Toys: The tragic demise of the "Sea Monkey" empire

Harold von Braunhut made a fortune in children's toys that cost pennies.

Toys: The tragic demise of the "Sea Monkey" empire

Harold von Braunhut made a fortune in children's toys that cost pennies. Brilliant inventions came from him, such as X-ray glasses. With it, adolescent boys hoped to catch a glimpse of the female body through their clothing. Von Braunhut conveyed the illusion with clear drawings of ladies, where the costume became invisible. As with all his inventions, customer disappointment was inevitable. The goggles produced a fun optical effect, but of course didn't undress women.

The biggest innovation from Braunhuts was the "Amazing Live Sea Monkeys". Delivered dried in a bag, these wondrous aquatic creatures were to be brought to life by the young buyers in a small plastic aquarium. In the 1970s there were ads for this miracle in almost every magazine. In the drawings, the Sea Monkeys lead an idyllic family life - a bit like Fred Flintstone's family just under water.

In fact, they were rather inconspicuous mini shrimp. If everything was done correctly, the dry powder actually turned into living crabs, but of course they didn't simulate US family life under water. The man was otherwise very energetic. From TV producer to manager of carnival performers, there was little he hadn't tried. He even took part in motorcycle races under the name "The Green Hornet". However, his political views were right-wing and racist. Even of Jewish descent, he said that Hitler was not a bad man at all, he just had bad press.

In the 1960s, von Braunhut met Yolanda Signorelli at one of her father's balls. The most beautiful of the five Signorelli daughters was a very special kind of film star at the time. She was the main attraction in a film genre that cinema history has mercifully forgotten. Cheaply shot strips that lured customers into the cinema with a few sex scenes and a lurid title. Yolanda was the attraction in such works as "Venus in Furs", "All Women Are Depraved" and "Death of a Nymphomaniac".

The success of Braunhut's inventions was not because they were overly original, but because von Braunhut was a master of marketing. The New York Times (NYT) calls him a Jedi master salesman and writes that he has brought the methods of a carnival charlatan into the TV age. He had learned the trade as a stage magician.

He sold the small crabs along the lines of TV shows. At the time, it was popular to place an all-American model family, complete with bungalow, in a completely foreign setting – in the Stone Age, in the jungle or in outer space. Accordingly, you should buy a lot of books for a supposedly possible training of the crabs for the Monkeys and you could turn their aquarium into a castle or a space station with the appropriate kits. There was even a love powder for the little animals. Von Braunhut even managed to sell an empty glass as the guaranteed invisible goldfish.

But his empire collapsed after von Braunhut died and he was no longer Zampano running the illusion machine. After her husband's death, Signorelli von Braunhut inherited his fortune and the rights to the still lucrative "Sea Monkeys". But she soon lost her fortune. Signorelli von Braunhut licensed the "Sea Monkeys" to a large toy company, which sold them out a few years later. Opinions are divided as to whether this is due to the company's malice or the widow's eccentric business dealings. Harold von Braunhut always claims that his Monkeys are a unique invention that he created with a partner through intensive breeding. Normal crayfish would not survive the long period of time in a seemingly dead state between fabrication, shipping and washing at the customer's. In fact, the toy company is now importing crabs from China, but they can apparently be revived without Braunhuts' genius.

Without the magic of the carnival magician, the shine of the good days was gone. When the "NYT" contacted her, Signorelli von Braunhut was living in the only habitable room in her huge mansion - without electricity and without heating. Incidentally, the gate to the park is guarded by wrought-iron "Sea Monkeys".

Even the former "Venus in fur" is still an impressive figure. The author of the "NYT" was surprised by her appearance. The over 70-year-old looks decades younger, he marveled, and wore skin-tight jeans and a "bold" V-neck top at a meeting.

Past greatness probably also binds the lawyer to Signorelli von Braunhut. He seems to adore her since the time she was the gleaming center of attention at her father's masquerade balls. It is doubtful whether the man will help her regain her fortune. The NYT describes him as follows: "T. is a tall, thin man who bears a certain resemblance to Nicolas Cage. At times he seemed uninterested, not so much in the Sea Monkeys as perhaps in the law in general, or just the malicious one , everyday reality into which we are all born."

Those: NYT

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