By Robin Postell
VALDOSTA, Ga.- Bobby Brabham, a longtime Valdosta resident, sits in his home studio surrounded by a lifetime of memories and achievements, creations and wonders.
Former adman, gymnast, filmmaker, stunt man, jazz musician, songwriter, artist and playwright, and a black belt at 60, Brabham has done enough for a couple of lifetimes and is itching to do more.
He’s got this driving desire to get a musical he’s been working on for years into the minds and hearts of the world, much like the strange device upon which it is based.
Slinky, which was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2000, is the inspiration for Brabham’s musical.
“Slinky the Musical” is a project Brabham’s been passionately devoted to since 2004 and along with his daughter, Becky Brabham, penned an overture, 25 songs and a finale.
But wait? A musical? About Slinky?
Okay. Let’s go back in time.
You might remember the catchy jingle associated with the toy from the 1960s.
What walks down stairs alone or in pairs and makes a slinkety sound? A spring a spring, a marvelous thing. Everyone knows it’s Slinky!Slinky jingle
And the commercial?
Why Slinky, you might ask?
The toy that took the world by storm and continues to be sold on toy store shelves and online, new and used, throughout the known consumer universe, has a quirky tale behind it.
Brabham worked at a Columbia, South Carolina ad agency in the late 1960s, Barton, Blair & Cureton. “That was where we had the Slinky account,” Brabham explains from his home studio, filled with bits and pieces of his wild ride of a lifetime. “Tom Cureton was my contact and he had the toy account of Slinky. He had seen my work and wanted me to do a trial run video to see how kids would react.”
Brabham famously made the commercial, a black-and-white marvel, during the 1960s and that began his involvement with Slinky and the creators.
Slinky was invented by a civilian Naval engineer, Richard James, in 1945. James was sitting in his office with a bunch of springs thinking how sick he was of them and threw one across the room. It hit the wall and did what Slinky is known for and a light went off in his head. He went home and told his wife Betty that he was quitting his job with the Navy and they were about to be rich. James designed a machine to coil 80-feet of wire into a two-inch spiral. The couple borrowed $500 to manufacture the first Slinkys and once Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia allowed demonstrations for Christmas 1945, it took ofF. The first 400 Slinkys sold within minutes. The toy became a huge success, with around 300 million Slinkys purchased since then. A quarter of a million Slinkys are still sold every year around the world today.
The story behind Slinky got Brabham intrigued after speaking to Betty, Richard James’ wife, who had been left by Robert to raise their six children and run the Slinky company all by herself in 1960.
“James wasn’t very hip, you know,” Brabham elaborated. “Just an engineer. Never did anything cool. When he came in touch with all these people he was ready to boogie and left Betty with six children and the Slinky plant.”
Boogie he did. James went off to Bolivia and joined a cult and died of a heart attack in 1974. Betty James lived till the age of 90.
And “Slinky the Musical” is about this odd American, human tale.
Brabham created the musical around this story of American Dream, of human frailty, redemption and success.
“Slinky the Musical” was produced for stage on January 13-14, 2017 at the Gillespy Theatre in Daytona Beach, Florida. But Bobby and Becky and supporters want it to go bigger.
There’s been talk of a movie.
“The talk of a ‘Slinky the Musical’ most likely depends on the monetary support of possibly the Toy Hall of Fame (they have a store) or Alex Brands, who now owns Slinky,” Becky Brabham said. This talented singer is a daddy’s girl, and currently is doing audiobook recordings as voice talent. “Unfortunately, I don’t have that gift of composing an eye-catching proposal to these businesses. I h ave managed to get the show in screenplay format recently.”
Becky knows that in order for the magic of “Slinky the Musical” to be grasped wholly it will take a truly unique visionary to do a top notch job and that’s all they would ever want. “This is a huge production and only the best will do,” she added.
Brabham turned 81 last year and spends his days in his studio doing commissioned drawings of people, hanging out his sweetheart and wife Marbeth, and with his buddy Sonny Shroyer, and his talented children.
What’s next? There’s talk of a “Slinky the Musical” movie.