Judith Blau - A Serendipitous Journey
A Serendipitous Journey
Childhood play should never be underestimated as setting the stage for one’s life. Sadly, adverse childhood challenges can play a pivotal role in deciding one’s future. A difficult experience can turn out to be strangely serendipitous.
At seven years of age, Judith Blau had just such an experience when she became ill with rheumatic fever, needed surgery on both legs, and was confined to her bed for two years.
With her Dad, a dentist and philosophical man of science; her story telling bagel baker grandfather, who visited often to entertain with humor and magical tales; and her Mom, a fun-loving, “out of the box” thinking attorney, she had quite a support team!
Early on, Judith recalls her mother telling her, "Just because you can't leave your bed does not mean your bed can't leave the house."
The oldest of four children, Judith spent hours trying to entertain herself in her bed, her only playground, situated in the side yard of their Bronx, NY home, under the oak trees.
Equipped with paper, crayons, scissors and yarn, she drew pictures of the surrounding trees, her best friends, and all the "life" they embodied. She made small wearable yarn dolls, and created her own paper doll fashions.
Each day at three o’clock her Mom moved her bed to the sidewalk, where she set-up shop selling her work to children and passersby for a nickel each. She was in business.
Her bed was even taken to Girl Scout meetings.
Indoors, she created her own world. She filled cardboard box lids with soil and landscaped them with small tree-like plants and toothpick buildings she constructed.
To attract her siblings to her bedside she created entertaining stories and made puppets to help animate the show.
Once well and free, her school years were filled with more puppet shows, scenery design, school newspaper cartoons, as year book art editor and other projects that used skills she had developed while confined in bed.
At 18, Judith met Larry, her amazing nuclear physicist, husband-to-be. They discovered they had both been delivered by the same doctor and during their lives, they had lived within several blocks of each other as their parents moved from home to home. Then both families joined the same beach club and they met.
One day in the 1970's, when finances were low, Judith began to hand paint designs on denim jeans and kaftans to sell at boutiques in addition to exhibiting and selling her paintings.
Out shopping, Judith stopped at a local bagel bakery. She remembered her grandfather drawing funny chalk faces on stale bagels for her Mom. Inspired by the idea, she asked the baker to make some small bagels. She added a red string to a painted bagel face and sent her daughter off to school wearing the bagel necklace. It was a hit.
Around the same time, she was invited to a luncheon at the Advertising Club in NYC where she met a PR person from the Denim Institute, who admired her dress and asked if she would like to be interviewed by a reporter from UPI about painting on denim. The morning of the interview, her husband laughed and dared her to sell the bagel necklaces to Bloomingdales. Into her bag went a handful of bagels necklaces.
To Judith’s dismay, the Buyer ordered a hundred dozen bagel necklaces. How would she produce so many? Her interview resulted in national coverage of her denim painting and when the necklaces fell out of her bag, they were included in the article, calling her, “The Bagel Lady.” From there, the bagel baker was overwhelmed, her bathtub overflowed with bagels waiting to turn stale.
She hired teenagers to help paint bagel faces assembly line style. The article brought NBC news to film her bathtub.
A local newspaper article mentioned her grandfather which led to the Children’s Editor from McGraw Hill inviting her to lunch. The Editor said, “Write a book! We’ll hire an illustrator.” Judith told the woman she was an artist and was good at telling stories, but had never written a book. “Come up with a style and we will see,” the Editor answered. McGraw Hill liked it and,” The Bagel Baker of Mulliner Lane,” became her first book.
Numerous TV invitations and appearances followed. She declined because she was raising a family. It was a decision she never regretted.
Then, a serendipitous meeting with the licensor of “Believe It or Not Ripley,” who proclaimed Judith’s bagel story was also a license. So, off she went visiting dozens of companies. She designed concepts on the go and read trade journals while waiting for appointments, so she could learn the jargon of each industry.
Wanting to license her “Bagel Happy® Family,” of Elephantagel Bagels and Pigagel Bagels in plush, led her to Knickerbocker Toys. Their question, “Have you ever thought of inventing toys?”, started her sketching some toys that needed plastic prototypes. Greg Hyman and Larry Greenberg, Model Makers, were in the phone book and recently moved into her neighborhood. A quick call revealed they were Toy Inventors. They introduced her to the toy industry and became great friends and mentors.
Using a playful twist to design ordinary objects for kids had been practiced by the little girl in the bed. She now knew that is where her Puppet Sheet Theater, Bedkins license, and Bedside Buddies originated.
Her tiny leaf-tailed characters, Treetures®, whispered to her until she finally heard them in 1984. She enjoyed helping children and adults find their “green hearts.” Her heart had become green in her “garden bed” where she was certain the trees had helped heal her.
Sweetie Pops came from the intricate, hard to dress little dolls she had played with during her childhood. Baby Check-Up doll? Well, a sick little girl needs to be the doctor sometimes.
Judith’s journey as a toy inventor has involved hard work, never giving up, and some “serendipity.” She loves the spark she finds in other toy inventors and inventor reps. She admits, we all have our bad stories, but the good must outweigh the bad if we are all still here playing the "game."
Judith Blau brings play to many industries and product lines.
Over 60 of her toy and gift concepts have been licensed and marketed.
Sweetie Pops, Hasbro, 1987
Baby All Gone®, Hasbro,1991, 2010-2017 (originally developed with Hyman & Greenberg)
Foot Lights, Mattel, 1990
Baby Check–Up, 1993
Baby’s First Haircut, Mattel, 2001
Loveable Look-a-Likes. Applause, 1998
Perchers, Russ Berrie, 2006
Judith has written, illustrated and/or developed 15 children’s books. Some are:
The Bagel Baker of Mulliner Lane, McGraw Hill, 1975
Mitten Books, Random House, 1992
Bright Beginnings, Groliers with Nancy Hall 1991
Welcome Spring, Meet the Mudsters, Forest Adventure, Search for Autumn, Grosset & Dunlap, 2008
Bedding designed for fun:
Puppet Sheet Theater, Springs Performance
Bedkins, Kellwood Industries
Awards and Collections.
Hasbro Inventors’ Hall of Fame Award, 1986,
The Strong National Museum of Play, 2012
Tree Science/The Environment- Pro bono Initiative
Treetures® Environmental Education Program 1984,
Endorsed by USDA Forest Service
United Nations Environmental Education Programme.
Environmental Awards and Recognition
Trees America Board for President George H. Bush
The Program Performance Award of Excellence from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service
Millennium Green White House Council for Hillary Rodham Clinton 1998-2000
“Earth Keeper” by American Forests Magazine (1998)
Environmental Educator’s Award from the N.Y. State Department of Conservation, 2003
Lyons Club Service Award and for having created the Magic Treetures Forest Nursery
Girl Scouts of America’s Green Angel Award, 2004
Treetures partner with the WISA, Britton Fund and The Tree Circus.
Service on Boards
The Friends of Thirteen for WNET/PBS, NY, CT, and NJ. Since 2012
President and Co-President of Eastchester Beautification Foundation since 1995
A Founder of the Eastchester League of Civic Association Leaders
(Story By Judith Blau, edited by Ruth Green-Synowic)