American Pop Culture may lack regalia, polish and social grace, but it's the only real living breathing culture we've got. Maybe we can't all find our state on a map or properly fill out a job application . . . but we can all name the three Rice Crispies guys! What's more important to Americans than fun? Nothing. That's why we made a culture out of "Fun" and "Nothing". And nobody does it better. Crap culture belongs to us . . . relish it, embrace it with pride and honor it's heroes . . . I am proud to have had the opportunity to chronicle some of the genius of Harold Von Braunhut, inventor of fun and creator of Sea-Monkeys!

Story by Erik Lobo
Editor and Publisher of F.A.L. Brand Funny Pages

"Sea-Monkeys are the perfect pet. You don't have to walk them, you barely even have to feed them and they don't leave any nasty surprises in your slippers."- Chuckie's dad Chaz on Rugrats


Planet X: Mr. Von Braunhut?

Harold Von Braunhut: Yes?

PX: I'm Erik Lobo for Planet X magazine. How do you do?

HVB: Fine, how are you?

PX: Fantastic! I finally got through to you. I hope you're feeling better.

HVB: Yes, thank you.

PX: Well I'm real glad we could meet today. To start off, I'd like you to answer a few questions about your amazing live Sea-Monkeys.

HVB: Okay.

PX: They were first called Instant Life?

HVB: Yes. Because we were able to get it to come to life right away, we called it instant life. I thought the animals themselves needed a name . . . Because they had these little monkey-like tails when they grow, we changed the name to Sea-Monkeys and it worked fine.

PX: When did you realize that you had a cultural icon on your hands? Sea-Monkeys are a part of Americana, bigger than Hula Hoops and poodle skirts!

HVB: Oh, it took a long time. It's a little bit like the story of the Wright brothers. Nobody believed it! (Laughs) And selling it? It was not an overnight sensation for the simple reason that there was too much incredulity and the buyers simply wouldn't buy it! So I came up with a different strategy that worked fine.


Sea-Monkeys were first
marketed under the name
"Instant Life".


PX: What was your new strategy?

HVB: I went directly to the public. I went to the kids in the comic books, I wrote some ads about Sea-Monkeys . . . just a sec . . . (silence)

PX: Mr. Von Braunhut? Are you there?

HVB: I lost the call. I'm all right now. I went to the comic books. In those days most toy manufacture's who were addressing the market trying to reach . . . just a sec . . .

(The voice of Mr. Von Braunhut's secretary breaks through) Erik? He's having difficulty with the connector on his hearing aid. We have a parrot and she likes to eat the cord!"

HVB: Hello, I got it back on again. I had a little problem here.

PX: I heard your parrot bit the cord?

HVB: Yeah, I have a cockatoo, and I have a cord that connects my hearing aid to the phone . . . I got a short circut.

PX: Does she sit on your shoulder, like a pirate?

HVB: No, right now she's somewhere else. She's a member of the family, you could call her that, I suppose. They're very intelligent. Unfortunately they've got too much curiosity. They do all kinds of horrible things. You can't stop them either. Uh, they're something else. Anyway, as I was saying , I wrote some ads about Sea-Monkeys.

 " What happened when I ran those first ads . . .
. . . a miracle happened . . . We got a response
that was absolutely unheard of. "

- Harold Von Braunhut

PX: Wow! You wrote the copy for those ads?!! Who designed the artwork? The little pink guys with crowns and tails?

HVB: My artist was a fella by the name of Ben Harvey, who was the art director for quite a number of magazines.

 PX: So, did Harvey develop that first cartoon that was seen in the "Instant Life" ads?

HVB: The original Sea-Monkey logo, the little guy hatching out of an egg was done one night up in a studio by an artist . . . by the name of Henry Lamore. And Henry was in the Business Book of World Records!(eventually we got him in there.) He was the worlds' greatest high diver!

PX: Really?

HVB: . . . And an acrobat. He would go from 40 feet into a kiddie pool filled with 12 inches of water.

(I errupt into uncontrollable laughter at this point.)



HVB: Oh yeah, there's pages of it published in People magazine and things. He was in every paper in the country. We had him jump off the Flat Iron building on his birthday. Where 50 years earlier Houdini escaped from a straightjacket hanging by his heels. He got tremendous acclaim. I handled his act. I did a little bit of that in those days.

PX: Like a talent agent?

HVB: Yeah, something like a talent agent. I handled a few acts and produced a number of shows and things too - but that's another story.

PX: It has nothing to do with Sea-Monkeys?

HVB: Other than it was one of the ways I kept going because buyers wouldn't believe it! They wouldn't even try it! I came up with something I figured people believe in. I called it Invisible Goldfish. I did a handbook on Invisible Goldfish, how to raise them and all the rest of it. It came with a little glass bowl, little pebbles to put in the bottom, a little plant and Invisible Goldfish food.

PX: (Laughter) That's funny!

HVB: Funny. I actually (sold) out of Invisible Goldfish! They bought it right away. Guaranteed you'll never see them. And that they believed.

PX: But they wouldn't believe Sea-Monkeys.

PX: You had trouble convincing retailers, distributors and the like to except your new invention?

HVB: That's what we were dealing with. As I said, it's a lot like when the Wright brothers (when they) were trying to sell their airplane.

  "Then I came up with something else I needed.
X-Ray Spex! You've heard of them?

- Harold Von Braunhut



Another Von Braunhut pop culture gem - "X-Ray Spex".

HVB:Then I came up with something else I needed. X-Ray Spex! You've heard of them?

PX: My God, are you kidding? I have a pair right here! "See through bones, skin, clothing . . . " Did you write the copy?

HVB: Yes, and Henry did the artwork. It was a complete mail order success. All those things and lot's of others were driven because we couldn't sell the Sea-Monkeys! But as I said, there was some serendipity with the Sea-Monkeys.

They were being spurned. The market wouldn't except it. Actually, it was a good thing because we got tremendous popularity in the comic books. Most toy manufacturers were advertising on television.
Back in the 1960's TV was a big deal. The rates are much lower than they are today and it was a good medium but everybody went for it. So I said, "Now, where could I go that the toy manufacturers aren't going near?" And they weren't touching the comic books. In those days comic books were 15 cents, a dime, up to a quarter and every kid read them.

PX: I know I did. What were some of the titles you advertised in?

HVB: We had Sea-Monkeys in Superman/ DC comics, we had it in Harvey comics, Archie, in fact every comic book on the market we bought 303 million pages of advertising a year for years. A tremendous amount of advertising. To make a long story short . . .

PX: Yeah, like that's still an option now!

HVB: What happened when I ran those first ads . . . a miracle happened. Something people dream about and write about - "How to get rich quick." We received five sacks - #1 sacks of mail a day. We got a response that was absolutely unheard of. Thousands of letters, people sending in coupons to get Sea-Monkeys. With no other advertising.

PX: Just comics?

HVB: Yeah! It was so overwhelming that I was able to build a factory and put in machinery and start developing the product for the general market. We still were getting resistance . . . But it changed the whole picture completely.

PX: Since they're real living things, was it difficult to register a patent or trademark on Sea-Monkeys?

HVB: Oh, no. That was very easy.

PX: Did anyone try and copy you?

HVB: Oh yes, and they immediately had a "cease and desist!" We've had all kinds of attempts at what they call knock-offs. But they didn't work. It is our formula that really holds our market exclusivity to this very day. We're going on our 38th year now.

Copyright 2002 Planet X Magazine