Bunhill: Choosing the brute that kids will love

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The Independent Online
WITH dinosaur mania at fever pitch last week, I caught up with a man who winces at any mention of the pesky critters. John Amerman, chairman and chief executive of Mattel, the US toys giant, has the distinction of turning down the exclusive rights to make Jurassic Park toys.

(For readers who've spent the past six weeks unconscious, Jurassic Park is Steven Spielberg's new movie - a kind of Jaws meets One Million Years BC. The MCA/Universal studio hopes to beat the record dollars 1bn of merchandise sales spawned by Batman.)

Amerman, who was on a whistle-stop tour of European institutional shareholders, admitted: 'I may have made a mistake, I don't know.' But he thinks the film will be traumatic for youngsters. 'I don't want to stand on a pedestal but I felt it was too violent.' The licence went to arch-rival Hasbro.

Instead, Amerman is putting his shirt on Last Action Hero, a not entirely violence-free yarn starring the restaurateur and sometime actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mattel is knocking out moulded plastic toys based on the movie and hopes to sell dollars 20m worth.

Schwarzenegger was very particular about the figures of his character and insisted on a change to the prototype. 'He didn't like his left bicep,' confided Amerman. 'He didn't think it had enough muscle.'

Amerman, a youthful 61, is something of a Schwarzenegger of the toy industry himself, boosting Mattel's share price seven-fold since his appointment in 1987. Last year it made net profits of dollars 144m on sales of dollars 1.8bn. By my calculations, he's sitting on a dollars 9m profit on his personal stock options.

His business credo is simple: little girls can never have too many Barbie dolls. Average Barbie ownership for Americans between three and 10 years old is eight. Deprived British girls somehow manage with only three. Occasionally he has to flex his muscles to defend the doll. Some parents and feminists are none too happy with Talking Barbie, who lisps pathetically 'Math (sic) is tough', nor with her scarcely credible bust.

Then there is the long- running battle with Sindy, the girl-next-door rival from Hasbro. Last month, Amerman won an injunction banning further shipments to the UK of old-style Sindy, whose cheekbones were allegedly starting to resemble Barbie's.

I wouldn't advise anyone to mess with Amerman. He has 14 German shepherd dogs. Real ones, not toys.

(Photographs omitted)