Technically, former Toledoan Elonne Dantzer doesn't have any children. Unofficially, she's a “mom” to a famous teen-ager known and loved by little girls the world over.
Ms. Dantzer, 60, a freelance toy designer living in the Los Angeles area, is the creator of Betty Spaghetty, the bendable fashion doll introduced in the spring of 1998 by Ohio Art Co., of Bryan.
``I got really lucky with Betty and I'm just really pleased with the way everything's gone with it. I couldn't be more pleased,'' said Ms. Dantzer, who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., with her husband, Gary Saffer, himself a famous toy designer, with Hot Wheels cars to his credit.
Ohio Art has turned Betty into everything she hoped it would be: a colorful, bendable doll that would bring out the creativity and imagination in little girls.
``I wanted to do a girls' Lego, where kids could twist and turn and use the fiddle factor of their hands,'' said Ms. Dantzer, who grew up on Castlewood Avenue in West Toledo and went to Notre Dame Academy.
She said the idea for a Betty-like doll was on her mind for many years, but the timing never seemed right.
Her 34-year toy-designing career included a stint at Kenner, which resulted in a unusual “milk-producing” cow known as Milky, and two stints at Mattel Corp., where she designed accessories for Barbie and a series of Disney-related toys.
Big toy corporations, Ms. Dantzer said, have a way of taking a simple design and complicating it so that the designer seldom recognizes it.
She left Mattel in 1996 and began freelance designs, including a line of Kush characters called Kushy-Koos.
Working on her own time, she brought Betty Spaghetty to life and began shopping her around to small toy companies like Tyco and Ohio Art.
Her first effort at Betty, which Ms. Dantzer dubbed “Bendy Boop” (a play on Betty Boop), was made from a painted fishing bobber and a bendable plastic piping toy called NeonLeon.
``I wanted a round head that looked cartoony,” she said. ``But I wanted it to be bendy because I noticed little girls, when they're 6 and 7 and 8, their little hands are busy every minute. They like to make stuff. I found you could put her in really outrageous positions.''
She said she wanted a toy for girls with a sense of humor.
“I wanted a funny toy. I wanted something where they would sit there and say, `Awww, look what I did,''' Ms. Dantzer explained.
She met with Martin L. "Larry" Killgallon, Ohio Art's president, during a 1997 Los Angeles visit for designers by the Bryan company.
``The meeting went very well. His kid was with him and he was about 9 or 10 at the time. He just loved it,'' Ms. Dantzer said.
Jo Wood, Ohio Art's vice president of research and development, said her gut instinct from working many years at Hasbro, Mattel, and Ohio Art told her the doll was a winner, but for a trade name, “Bendy Boop” had to go.
A test session in Bryan with a young girl yielded the name “Betty Spaghetty.''
``What we saw in Betty Spaghetty was different for a doll than we had seen before,'' said Ms. Wood, whose Yorkshire terrier provided the inspiration for Betty's dog, “Jake.”
But Betty isn't just an abstract creation. She has a lot of Ms. Dantzer's bubbly personality, and bears a striking resemblance to her designer.
``I'm a short woman,” Ms. Dantzer said. “But I have a way about me. I often have my hair up in tuberettes like Betty. When you see a drawing, you'll see a little bit of [me] in there. I have a lot of humor in me and it's in Betty. ... She's a combo of Olive Oyl and Barbie.''
The doll has been a success for four years and a phenomenon in Europe and Australia, Ms. Wood said.
Those sales have helped the small Williams County toy maker. The company announced in August it had turned a $686,000 profit in the second quarter, largely because of international sales of Betty Spaghetty.
International shipments were up more than 30 percent in the first six months of its fiscal year from the same period a year ago, the company said.
Betty, whose life is a year short of what is considered industry-staple status, has her own web site and gets hundreds of e-mails weekly from girls worldwide, Ms. Wood said. An Ohio Art employee answer the letters weekly.
Recently, the toy maker held a contest to design the new play set for Betty. The winner was “Betty in space,” a sign of the empowerment that girls receive from the doll, Ms. Wood added.
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