Tuscany. Wood shaves piling up on a workshop floor. The humming of an old woodworker’s voice as his work nears finish. But the creation is no shoe, no table, no chair or bench. Nothing so simple and lifeless. On the counter before the gray-haired Geppetto is a wooden marionette, almost complete, awaiting the adhering of his last piece. The old man’s careful hand slides his knife across the ridge of the piece, pauses for a moment, and mumbles his satisfaction. A little glue, a careful placing, and Pinocchio has his nose. Geppetto pauses again. Perhaps… Perhaps that wasn’t the last piece after all. Out the window and in the sky, Geppetto’s eyes settle upon a star. He makes his impossible wish.
The story is Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, or rather, Walt Disney’s 1940 animated adaptation of that book. But, to those who have known him even briefly, the tale might just have been that of Richard J. Maddocks, toymaker.
Richard has just been told that he will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Toy & Game Innovation Awards in Chicago. I sit with Richard Maddocks in his office at Hasbro’s Pawtucket, Rhode Island headquarters, listen to a few of his many stories, and try to better understand the mind and heart of this snowy-haired, wizard-like toymaker. He has surrounded himself with his creations, his innovations, and his characters. Shelves, desk and floor are piled high with Fur Real Friends cats, dogs, parrots, 17 years of Furby models, assorted interactive Yodas and E.T.s, Elmos and Cookie Monsters, and even the four-foot-tall pony, Butterscotch. Some of those toys are retail products, others are test models and prototypes, and still others are intriguing fur-less plastic skeletons. His table is strewn with gears, foam, fabrics and a few servos. He is a warm, charming, and unassuming man with a childlike sparkle in his eye, whose small stature casts a remarkable and enduring creative shadow over the modern toy industry. He speaks humbly of his toyography, 500+ toys including Matchbox, Mattel, Tiger Electronics, and Hasbro. He is a working legend, a pathological tinkerer, and a fount of knowledge and experience pivotal to making the greatest animatronic products become far more than just toys. He’s also more than happy to avoid the spotlight and continually insists that everything is “a team effort.”