June 03, 2008


Marvin Glass and Associates is the source of many of the most beloved toys and games in recent history. Classic playthings such as Mr. Machine, Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots, Lite Brite, Ants in the Pants, Mouse Trap, Operation, SIMON, and the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle were all originally presented by this Chicago-based toy firm. Surprisingly, the web offers very limited info on the company and even less about the man behind it. In an effort to fill this void I've transcribed two incredible, vintage magazine articles that focus on Marvin Glass (1914-1974).

Troubled King of Toys
traces back to the beginning of Glass's legendary career and gives us a snapshot of the company as it teetered on the brink of greatness. The second piece, A Playboy Pad: Swinging In Suburbia, catches up with Glass a decade later and millions richer as he shows off the spoils of his drudgery in pure Swinging Sixties fashion. This pair of articles contains a treasure trove of facts, and even more fascinating, a rare insight into Mr. Glass's persona. (A big thank you to former MG & A employee, Erick Erickson, of MarvinGlass.com for sending me a scan of the Playboy article.) Enjoy!

For boys and girls who want to play doctor, [Marvin] Glass, shown here in his Chicago office-apartment, came up with the Hypo-Phony, a bizarre instrument they can use to give their friends “blood tests.”

Troubled King of Toys
The reigning genius in an immensely lucrative business, Marvin Glass considers himself “a complete and utter failure.”
By Peter Wyden
Originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, March 5, 1960

In the $1,650,000,000-a-year toy business, a savagely competitive jungle where even the fittest can’t survive unless their gamblers’ luck holds up, the most knowledgeable combatants are agreed on one thesis— that Marvin Glass, a forty-five-year-old Chicagoan who measures five feet five inches, weighs 127 pounds and slumps through the world with the pained expression of a depressed dachshund, is their most important and prolific independent designer and idea man.

Manufacturers pay him $1000 a day plus expenses merely to have him inspect their pilot models and answer one question— “Should we make this?” In his own shop Glass has conjured up enough best-selling toys and novelties to outdraw his equally spectacular flops. Ten years ago he was buried in debts. Today he is a millionaire, and his taxable income for 1959 was $260,000. Nevertheless, he says, “I consider myself a complete and utter failure.” This estimate, he feels, was affirmed by no less an authority than the United States Supreme Court. It happens that the only judgment on a toy ever rendered by that tribunal within memory of patent experts was a Glass invention— The Hungry Piggy. In 1949, having observed how frustrating it was for his wife to persuade their baby daughter to eat, he designed a greedy-looking pink plastic hog and mounted it on a bowl so a mother could appear to feed it. Actually, the food would pour back into the bowl’s bottom, but babies imitated the toy’s action and did not wise up to it until 700, 000 were sold at $1.98 each.

To help coax infants into eating, Glass designed the Hungry Piggy ($1.98). Food put in its mouth goes back into baby’s bowl.

Glass has not manufactured a toy for years; and with the piggy he followed his usual course— he patented his creation, sold it to a manufacturer and started collecting royalties which eventually totaled $49,000. Another company, doing what comes naturally to many toymakers, decided to “knock off” the piggy; that is, the other firm brought out a similar gimmick. Glass sued for patent infringement. The lower courts sustained him, but the Supreme Court did not, even though the justices chuckled benevolently while the piggy perched on the bench and Glass’s attorney gravely explained its operation—“One for the piggy, and one for baby.”
The financial blow was immaterial to Glass. “The only value to money is not having to worry about it,” he says and he lives by this dictum. He almost never writes a check or looks at a bill. His secretary pays for everything. In restaurants where he is known he doesn’t even sign the check and lets the waiter struggle with the ethical dilemma of determining his own tip.
In the Hungry Piggy case, however, much more was involved, and Glass’s psyche has never shaken off the moral burden of the precedent cited by the court. It was another patent case, in which Associate Justice William O. Douglas had written, in a concurring opinion, that a legitimate invention must be “of such quality and distinction that masters of the scientific field in which it falls will recognize it as an advance.”
To Glass, who reads Plato and worships Beethoven, the daily self-reminder that he is not advancing anything but his bank account is adequate reason for spending many of his waking hours hating himself. Since he never sleeps more than four to five hours nightly- “I dread sleeping longer; it’s like being dead,”— this adds up to a lot of brooding time.
“I'm a frustrated man,” he says quietly. “I never wrote a play or a book or relieved anybody’s suffering for an hour.”
Instead, he makes himself suffer too. Now divorced, he has been married three times, twice to the same woman, and has been in psychoanalysis for four years. Except for an occasional weekend in Las Vegas, he has not taken a vacation in fifteen years. He smokes three packs of cigarettes and about a dozen one-dollar cigars daily. Every headache is symptomatic of a brain tumor to him, yet he refuses to take pills because “I’m afraid they’ll make me stupid.”
All day he asks his secretary for meals, sandwiches, coffee and soda pop. He peeks at these morosely, shoves them away and, shortly afterward, pronounces himself “starved.” He owns fifty-three suits and keeps them in his office. He lives there, although he pays $325 a month for an apartment. He has accumulated $7000 worth of cuff links which he never wears, and he is seriously contemplating opening his own night club “so I’ll have a place to go at night.” He now spends many evenings telephoning out-of-town friends and customers, sometimes at midnight or later, and chatting with them by the hour.

Anyone who prefers to picture a toy designer’s studio as a cozy workshop where Santalike character presides over a crew of merry elves would do well to stay clear of Marvin Glass and Associates. The firm, of which Glass is sole owner, is headquartered in nine seam-bursting rooms on the ground floor of the Hotel Alexandria, a less-than-fashionable establishment on the corner of Ohio and Rush streets on Chicago’s grimy near north side. Al doors are always kept shut and locked. Each is equipped with two or three locks which are changed frequently.
“it’s like being in the underground during the war,” says Bayard (Jud) Reed, a designer who has been with Glass for twenty-two years. Reed is one of twenty employees, most of whom earn $15,000 to $30,000 a year. Not all, however, have access to every room in the shop, and none may breath to any outsider, including his wife, what he is working on. Glass will not try out models of new toys on children for fear that one of them might innocently betray a business secret. Before unveiling a prototype, Glass requires a customer to sign a document designed to render his idea theftproof. This policy is so rigid that one of the country’s largest and most respected manufacturers, affronted at the idea of having to sign such an agreement, recently negotiated seven months in vain just for a peek at a new Glass item.

Glass (center) won’t unveil a new toy to a buyer unless he signs a promise not to copy it. Left, engineer John Parks of Glass’s staff.

Glass’s idea was a new doll, which he has since sold to another manufacturer and which, he says, “will revolutionize” the field. He has invested more than $100,000 in its development. It is one of fourteen still-secret items which have eaten up a total of $700,000. They will be launched on the one annual occasion when all the gamblers in toys pull up to the same table and the chips are down—the toy show in New York this month.
Some 200,000 new toys will be introduced there. Selected by the buyers at the show, perhaps 50,000 will go into production. Only about 200 will make real money.
To understand the mercurial world where Glass flowers and frets—and into which he must launch his doll— it is necessary to examine the forces that buffet it. To begin with, the stakes are big and growing—sales increased more than 60 per cent in the last five years. Many of the trade’s practitioners are estimable citizens, but exceptions are numerous—one of the leading figures, for example, is unanimously described by insiders as “a thief.” More than 2500 American firms call themselves toy manufacturers, but the mortality rate among them is steep. Only a few hundred hang on more or less permanently, and many of these are over-expanded and underfinanced. It is a business nearly devoid of reliable statistics.
Determining public tastes in toys is equally elusive because toy purchasers and users are rarely identical. “A parent buys a toy because it’s what he’d like to play with,” says one industry spokesman. This allows a designer leeway for originality to whet the appetite of novelty-hunting adults. “It’s stepping into the unknown, very much like a theatrical production,” says Burton Meyer, one of Glass’s executives. “Anything goes.”
Yet most parents also want to please their children and, at least subconsciously, they have absorbed a key truth about youngsters. “Kids are ultraconservative,” as Glass puts it. “They’re too insecure to be innovators. They’re imitators. The thing that works as a toy is the commonplace that the child has seen before and can understand and manipulate.”
The industry, therefore, expends much of its creative energy hatching new ways to cross the same old t’s and dot the same old i’s. Thus Glass learned that toy dogs will always sell if he can just keep on endowing them with something different.
In 1953 he made the Moody Mutt, a puppy that smiled until a push on its forelegs caused it to bare its fangs and turn into a ferocious menace—3,600,000 were sold at forty-nine cents, netting Glass $64,000.

The Moody Mutt (49c). A push on his forelegs causes him to bare his fangs and look ferocious, Glass got $64,000 from the sale of 3,600,000 of the pooches.

The following year his Swimming Puppy, with rotating legs that kicked up splashily in bathtubs, made him $40,000. The year after that, his Hungry puppy, equipped with eyes that greedily followed a magnetic bone when it was dangled before them, brought in $38,000. Robo the Robot Dog, a big square of a canine that walked, wagged its tail and barked, netted another $55,000. A 1960—model dog will make its debut in the spring.
Dolls are trickier. Glass’s first flier in this staple came in 1952—the Fever Doll. It had a thermometer in its mouth. Placed on its back, the doll’s face would redden and a pin in its mouth would shove the red plastic in the thermometer to indicate a rising temperature. The trade loved it, but it was a flop on the toy counter—one of Glass’s least expensive disasters. It cost him only $25,000. “mothers buy dolls,” he explains in rueful hindsight. “This was just too realistic for them. It reproduced an unpleasant situation and made them uncomfortable.”
Three years later he created the Crybaby Doll. It had a sucker in its hand. When the sucker was slipped into its mouth, the doll looked happy. When it was taken away, the doll cried. It cost the manufacturer $100,000 to tool up for this dollar item and advertise it in trade and general magazines. Glass made $47,000, but counts it as a relative failure—“Too subtle, too sadistic.” It was, considering that the 1959 doll best-seller—Ideal Toy Corporation’s Patti Play Pal, a remarkably lifelike thirty-five-inch model designed to wear real clothes— was marketed at $29.95 and will net its manufacturer an estimated $1,000,000 the first year.
If Glass pulls a coup in dolls for 1960, it would be quite a feat, for in 1959 he rocked a section of the industry that is just as strategic and just as hard to impress—the gun makers.
The epic of his Ric-O-Shay pistol, which retails at a sensationally high $3.98 and sold 1,003,000 in its first eight months, began more than two years ago. The toy gun business had long been dominated by staid operators who sold their weapons at twenty-nine cents to $1.49 and rarely added a new wrinkle. In 1957, though, a $2.98 gun hit the market. It could be fanned like a real pistol. It was advertised on television and sold like crazy.
For Glass this was startling intelligence. In one product meeting after another, he and his colleagues debated the problem. What could a gun be made to do? It could make a bang; that was old stuff. It could smoke; but it seemed doubtful whether a safe, self-renewing source of thick, clean smoke could be built into a little pistol. It could shoot bullets; but parents might object. It could make a ricochet noise! To Glass, who spends hours each week scouting for ideas by disconsolately watching every Western on TV, that was the answer.

The Ric-O-Shay pistol ($3.98), which makes a noise like a ricocheting bullet on TV, in one of Glass’s technical triumphs.

A staff engineer who had once designed musical instruments was assigned to the task. In two months he coaxed the authentic zing of a phony television ricochet out of a banjo string. Unhappily the string had to be seven inches long, stretched taut between two vises and couldn’t be made to stay taut.
An electrical specialist got the job next. He concocted a device that sounded good, but was too large for a gun handle, cost five dollars to make and offered no proof that it could zing consistently. At this juncture the problem was handed to one of Glass’s inspired tinkers, Cuban-born Carl Ayala. In four and a half month, working seventy to ninety hours weekly, he came up with a small brass diaphragm. Pinged in the right way by a meticulously curved piece of tempered piano wire, it made the perfect sound. Ayala proved this by recording the ricochets of Gunsmoke on tape, playing them to an oscilloscope and observing its vibrations.
“When I hear that sound I get sick,” Ayala says. “I still hear it in my sleep.” Finally his vibrations matched those of Gunsmoke.
Placing the diaphragm in a gun handle was not easy. The brass surface had to be kept clear to make the sound, but it had to be mounted tightly. Ayala solved the problem by soldering a rim around it and squeezing the whole assembly between two metal rings tightened by screws. The piano wire had to be attached no more than one-thousandth of an inch from the diaphragm. It took $64,000 and almost a year to make a model Ric-O-Shay. And it worked only after a cap had been shot. The resulting gas in the chamber set off the ricochet mechanism.
Glass then made an appointment with Jack Holden, director of new products of the highly reputable Hubley Manufacturing Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the oldest and biggest gun makers.

Old Pals ($5.98) on the assembly line at the Hubley Mfg. Co., of Lancaster, Pa. Glass designed the horses to walk when the rider rocks back and forth.

He asked Holden to sign a “confidential disclosure” agreement guaranteeing that Hubley would not make anything similar to what they were about to be shown. Holden hesitated.
“There can be only one thing new in a gun,” he said, “a ricochet.”
Glass blanched and said, “I presume that’s true, but do you have a ricochet?”
“No, but we’ve been working on it for two years,” said Holden.
“Well,” said Glass, “we’ve got it.”
Holden signed the agreement and wanted to try the gun. But Glass wouldn’t let him. Hubley’s board chairman, president and six other trusted key officials had to be assembled. Tense and silent they sat around a conference table. Glass stood in the middle of the room wielding his gun. “Gentlemen,” he said, “the ricochet!” And then he fired. The men around the table smiled. Glass, with sweat pouring across his eyes ducked behind chairs and kept firing like a TV cowboy. Then, as shouts of “That’s it!” filled the room, he placed the gun on the table. Every hand reached for it, but president John H. Hartman Jr. got the first chance to fire. Quickly Hubley signed an agreement advancing Glass an initial $50,000 against a 10.9-cent royalty on each gun sold.
Then the real difficulties began. The Hubley engineers said the gun was too expensive to manufacture. Besides, it would be easier for salesmen to demonstrate if the ricochet sound could be produced even when the gun was not loaded with caps. Four months later the Hubley engineers, working with Glass, made such a model. Its ricochet was set off by trigger action instead of gas. So tight was Hubley’s security that its salesmen were not shown the gun at their annual meeting.
New production problems arose. Outside engineers had to be called in to help design a machine that would stop production if the space between the piano wire and the diaphragm varied by more than two thousandths of an inch. By that time Hubley had invested an estimated $200,000 in the gun. The patent application was 10,500 words long. And it wasn’t until just before the March, 1959, deadline that a reliably performing gun could be mass-made. But when it was demonstrated at last at the toy show before an assembly of retailers, this often cynical audience did something nobody could recall their doing before— they applauded.
Frequently toy-production problems prove undefeatable. In 1957, for example, after reading George Orwell’s futuristic book 1984, Glass decided to make a twenty-dollar Brainmobile. It was a thirty-six-inch car with “atomic” motors and twenty-five instruction cards bearing directions like “left,” “right,” “forward” and “backward.” An intricate route plan could be punched into each card. When a card was fed into a slot of the car, the vehicle executed its orders. Five months’ work and $63,000 yielded a working model. But the manufacturer, after investing another year and $150,000, still could not product it. It never left the factory. It also ruined Glass with the manufacturer and caused the $30,000-a-year designer who had worked on it to quit in a state of nervous exhaustion.
There has been at least one other breakdown on the staff; and despite Glass’s chronic generosity—he hands out $2000 bonuses quite often and once game an employee $10,000— it requires a rather special state of mind to keep working for him. His people sometimes labor for days with no sleep.
Glass’s loyalty to them— an to their ability to come up with next year’s toy “revolution”— is fierce. Not long ago, when his secretary’s keys were missing they turned up in the pockets of a new employee. Lie-detector tests indicated that there was reason to believe the man was trying to gain access to secret projects that were none of his business. Glass was frantic. He consulted his lawyers, his assistants and his psychiatrist. All advised him to fire the fellow. Glass barred the suspect from all workrooms except the worker’s own, but kept him on.
“The guy’s a genius in his field,” he says. “I’ve got a fortune in the job he’s working on. He’s got two kids and he broke down and cried. I just can’t believe...”
Glass’s friends believe that he requires excitement and pressure to sustain himself. Glass agrees and adds, “I’m like a trained dog. I can’t stop.” Moreover, each year he must prove to himself anew that he is top dog, even if life fated him to play this role in a field for which he lacks respect.
The roots of his drive reach deep into his past. Glass was born July 14, 1914, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. His parents, both immigrants from Germany and now dead, did not have an ideal marriage. His father, an engineering consultant and a tall man, kept wondering aloud why Marvin turned out so puny. And why did he have to be such a dreamer:
Marvin’s dreams manifested themselves in toys he made himself. At four he turned out a cardboard dog—“I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make the tail wag.” At eight he equipped his friends with homemade Roman helmets, swords and shields— “I always played Caesar and I never got assassinated.”
Later he made a military tank big enough to sit in and a submarine that shot wooden torpedoes. His skill made him friends; but even so, he always felt lonely and withdrew to make more things. Sent away to military school in Wisconsin—“I hated it”—he produced scale models of pirate ships and Egyptian galleys. Neither parent came to his graduation.
In 1935 he received an A.B. degree from the University of Chicago, and his father kept asking what he wanted to become. “I said ‘nobody,’ ” Glass recalls.
“He used to get mad as hell.”
Sharing a two-room Chicago apartment with an artist friend in an Ohio Street studio building, Glass soon was involved in his first professional toy production. His friend Eoina (Joe) Nudelman, who also designed animated window displays, was asked by a customer for a toy idea. Joe and Marvin obliged with the Tiny Town Theater, a projector in which kids could insert and illuminate comic strips. They sold the idea outright for $500. The manufacturer made more than $30,000, and Glass never again parted with an idea without a royalty agreement.
Next, Glass and Nudelman netted $18,000 each on Cradle Pal, a toy-lined plastic bar for baby cribs. Jud Reed, who had worked as an artist on mail-order catalogues, joined them. For years they lived and worked together in Nudelman’s studio, playing gypsy music, drinking vodka and talking toy ideas. Their first big hit was Hingies, a set of cutout figures that could be animated. Under franchise agreements they animated Mickey Mouse, Blondie and other favorites. Glass’s share of the profits was $94,000, and after that he bought out his friends.
“They didn’t like the customers,” he recollects. “Sometimes they insulted them. I was always mercenary enough to be polite.”
Before moving to his present location some years ago, Glass set himself up in a loft building under his present firm name. He devised another set of animated comics for another company, netted another $341,000 and became accepted in his circles as a boy genius. His reputation grew further with the Catholic Weather Chapel, a little structure with a moisture gauge— “I wouldn’t’ guarantee its scientific accuracy.” The gauge caused a “Sacred Heart” to appear for good weather. St. Barbara, the protectress against disasters of nature, materialized for an adverse prediction. The chapel netted $161,000, just enough to round out Glass’s first $1,000,000.
Then, one night in 1949, he was walking down Michigan Avenue with Jud Reed and spotted a stained-glass window in an antique shop. Then and there Glass decided to bring out little plastic “stained-glass windows” for Christmas trees. Planning to sell them himself by mail, he hired eighteen girls to handle the orders and watchman to guard the cash. He invested $700,000 in production, plus $400,000 for advertising. A nationwide ad barrage began one Sunday shortly before Christmas. By the following Wednesday the scope of disaster was plain. “Instead of a fleet of trucks, one mailman came,” Glass relates, shuddering. “Why? Because Christmas isn’t really a religious observance any more. It’s a time for fun, and this wasn’t fun.”
Moreover, the plastic used for the “windows” turned out to be of poor quality; three girls had to be put to work mailing refunds. They were refunding away when Glass was visited by Edward Goldfarb, a young inventor who demonstrated a little cardboard box on two legs. When the box was pressed down, a mechanism within caused a marble to fall out of the bottom.
Glass was $300,000 in debt, but friends lent him money to start afresh. He turned Goldfarbs’ box into the pocket-sized Busy Biddee Chicken. When pressed, it unburdened itself of five marbles, one at a time. Topic Toys of Chicago sold 14, 267,000 of the chickens. They retailed at thirty-nine cents and Glass cleared $314,000. “You know why they paid attention to the chicken?” he asks. “Everybody wanted to know where the marbles came from, that’s what. They were like circus clowns tumbling out of a jalopy.”

Busy Biddee Chicken (39c). When she is pressed down she lays five white marbles. The public snapped up 14,267,000 such hens.

Goldfarb became Glass’s top assistant, earning up to $50,000 a year before going into business for himself. Prior to his departure, he came up with the Yakkity-Yak Teeth, a set of dentures with a motor inside. Wound up, the motor made the teeth click. “Eddie had an overly talkative mother-in-law,” explains Glass. The manufacturer, H. Fishlove and Company of Chicago, sold 3,200,000 sets of teeth at one dollar retail, netting Glass $84,000.

Yakkity-Yak Teeth ($1). Total sales of these clacking spring-powered dentures, dreamed up by a former Glass assistant, grossed $3,200,000 and netted Glass $84,000.

Occasionally, among the thousands of suggestions Glass gets annually from would-be toy inventors, a useful idea turns up. The best one came from David W. Jones, a Denver engineer who worked up for his nephew what the patent application subsequently called “a self-propellent toy which circumvents obstructions.” Jones’s model required electronic computers and would have to retail for fifty dollars. Glass turned it into the Brainy Bug, and eight-inch-long plastic orange insect that ran on two flashlight batteries. Any time any of its four feelers ran into an obstruction, the bug changed course and marched on.

The Brainy Bug ($4.98). Powered by two flashlight batteries, it changes course upon hitting an obstruction. Glass developed the toy from an idea sent in by an amateur inventor.

Glass contribution to Jones’s idea is an example of the one factor that causes the greatest tension, delay and expense in toy designing—simplification and consequent price reduction. After experiments costing $45,000, Glass had replaced Jones’s electronic equipment with electrical and mechanical devices that enabled the manufacturer, General Molds and Plastics Corporation of Pittsburgh, to retail the Bug at $4.98. Gloss cleared $178,000 after paying Jones $26,800 in royalties.
Most Glass productions evolve from the often bitter debates at staff meetings or from his own brains storms. Cop-’N-Car, for instance, a siren-equipped motorcycle cop who caught up with a speeding sports car and made it stop, grew out of Glass’s personal experiences as a chronic speedster— and made him $81,000.
Considering the talent, experience and stomach linings invested in each item, the list of failures is impressive—the Dipsy Diver dived efficiently in bathtubs, but kids couldn’t have cared less; the lion in the Magic Cage never roared right; the Windup Clown didn’t turn enough somersaults; buyers expected to sell 10,000,000 of Glass’s reproduction of Dennis the Menace, but parents went on strike against it because Dennis squirted water out of a water pistol.
Once in a rare while Glass makes a toy that fills him with pride. In 1959 it was the Tic Toy Clock, a big open-faced timepiece with multicolored plastic parts that can be dismantled and put together again. It keeps fairly accurate time for twelve hours per winding. At $4.98 each, more than $2,000,000 worth had been sold months before Christmas. Because of Glass’s ingenuity, millions of children are thus being lured into an act of self-education—while simultaneously satisfying a common childhood desire— to take a clock apart and rebuild it to see what makes it tick.

Tic Toy Clock ($4.98). It keeps fairly good time for twelve hours per winding— and busy-fingered children can take it apart and reassemble it.

This sort of triumph sends Glass into flights of exultation. “We’re re-creating the dreams of kids in three dimension,” he says on such occasions. “You know, a toy is the only thing measured down to a kid’s size. A desk and even a doorknob give a kid a sense of inferiority. With a toy he can learn to cope with reality. We may not push back the frontiers of science, but we may put into the hands of children the tools that will help them push the frontiers back.”
Such moods are brief for Glass. More typically he is so disgusted with himself that he won’t shave until evening. He fumes because manufacturers don’t like to admit that he designs their toys and therefore keep his name off their packages. He keeps harping on his size—“Wouldn’t you like me to be as tall as he is?” he kept asking his first wife. His conscience has driven him into buying $3500 worth of foreign dolls for his ten-year-old daughter, Diana, who won’t play with them because they are too fancy; and he voluntarily bought for his first wife, Dorothy, a house and, without alimony agreement, gives her anything she needs and more.

Every time Glass sees a new doll he buys it for his ten-year-old daughter, Diana. Her collection is worth $3500, but she rarely plays with the dolls because she considers them too fancy.

“We’re better friends now than when we were married,” says Mrs. Glass. “I think he was born to be dissatisfied. That why he can keep on creating.”
Glass knows that a husbandly routine is not for him and that he needs to live his business full time just as other men need oxygen. But he is too wise not to realize the futility of the race he runs against himself. “I make something and all I see is a check and nobody to pat me on the head and make me a bowl of noodle soup,” he says. “It really is very sad.”



A Playboy Pad: Swinging In Suburbia
An imaginative toy designer turns a staid old carriage house into a focal point for fun and games
Photography by Larry Dale Gordon
Originally appeared in Playboy, May 1970

Guests arriving at Marvin Glass’s Evanston, Illinois, home park their cars where a coach-and-four once stood at the ready; in former days, the pad was the carriage house to a now-demolished mansion. Glass completely gutted the interior of his digs, leaving the original roof lines untouched.

Although toy designer Marvin Glass has created some highly imaginative playthings, his most ambitious and successful undertaking to date has been the total renovation of a 96-year-old Evanston, Illinois, carriage house. A bachelor, Glass purchased the building several years ago, then got together with architect Jim Stewart and drew up plans to revamp the interior from gabled roof to cellar floor. The result, pictured here, clearly reflects Glass’s personalized approach to creating a live-in adult toy.

Most of the furnishings in Glass’s pad are both contemporary in design and entertainment-oriented, as the master of the house is self-admittedly a compulsive party giver. His bashes usually are just for the fun of it, but, on occasion, he’ll shrewdly combine business with pleasure and take the opportunity to gauge guests’ reactions to an adult game he’s perfecting. (The couples below are playing Funny Bones, a Glass money-maker.)

Since a good deal of the action at a Glass party takes place in the large beam-ceilinged living room, all the necessary ingredients for a gala affair are close at hand. Hi-fi controls have been guilt into a marble and black-glass cocktail table that’s framed by a three-piece sofa—and a grand piano and microphones stand nearby, awaiting the show-business personalities that invariably attend.

Glass’s hi-fi controls are built into the cocktail table’s top.

When it’s party time in the Glass ménage, showbiz personalities often entertain on the living room’s grand piano or grab a nearby hand mike. A Picasso hangs to the right of the piano.

Thirsts are quickly quenched at the pad’s well-stocked walk-in wet bar located between the living room, dining room and kitchen. With drinks in hand, guests can wander about, admiring Glass’s collection of sculpture and paintings by Picasso, Dali, Rouault and Frank Gallo, or study the primitive-patterned aluminum fireplace hood that dominates the first floor. The custom hood extends over two fireplaces and continues into the dining room, where it covers an entire wall. Other walls in the living room and dining room are paneled in rosewood cut from a single tree, so that the grain matches from section to section.

The living room’s focal point, a primitive-patterned hood , covers the two fireplaces—one of which is positioned opposite a fully stocked wet bar.

An island cooking counter stands at the hub of the spacious, fully equipped kitchen.

Most of the floors—and the stairway leading to the master bedroom and guest rooms—are of inlaid teak. The painting at the head of the stairs is by artist Frank Gallo, whose sculpture stands in the living room and bedroom.

An intricately carved screen creates a foyer near the front door.

Glass purposely placed his emperor-sized ceramic Roman tub for eight (which is adjacent to a sun-lamp-equipped sauna) below ground in what was once the carriage-house basement, in order to get all the depth he needed. When designing this room, Glass included several built-in gadgets that the pleasure-digging Romans would have liked; incorporated in the ceiling is a unique lighting system that changes the color of the room, and a Jacuzzi whirlpool stands ready to whip up copious amounts of bubble bath, should a sudsy frolic be in order.

Distaff guests frolic in Glass’s huge ceramic-tile tub as his Jacuzzi whirlpool whips up bubbles. And elegant drink dispenser is close at hand.

A complicated mechanism controls the colored-light system in the shower-tub room’s ceiling; hues span the spectrum, gradually changing from warm red to deep violet and back again. Den, sauna and outsized Roman tub are located on the lowest level, in what was once the carriage-house basement.

Adjacent to the sunken bath is a sauna equipped with stereo speakers, phone and a row of ceiling-mounted sun-lamp bulbs.

Those more romantically inclined can relax just down the hall in the wood-paneled den, where a blaze can be kindled in the field-stone fireplace and libations mixed at the black-leather-added bar that stands at the opposite end of the room. Vinophiles can choose from a complete selection of vintages housed in the den’s custom-built wine rack.

The den, a romantic below-ground grotto near the sauna, serves as the quiet corner for a tête-à-tête. Two leather Chesterfield sofas enhance the massive stone fireplace and rough-slate floor.

Glass, backdropped by a Dali, presides over a dinner party in his rosewood-paneled dining room.

The master bedroom of the Glass house is highlighted by a rheostat-operated multibulbed headboard, which provides illumination for reading and a Gallo sculpture. Nearby is an auxiliary hi-fi system and a minibar with built-in ice maker.

On warm summer evenings, couples often take to the swimming pool, where there’s a row of cabanas for changing, along with a bar and a jukebox. Since Glass designed his pad with guests in mind, it’s no surprise that his parties and his eminently livable domain are both resounding successes.

Aquanauts who want to take a dip in Glass’s swimming pool located just outside the front door, can change in one of the cabanas shown above. Drinks are mixed in the end hut, which houses bar and jukebox.

The pool stands silent at dusk; in a moment, both cabana and underwater lights with automatically turn on. The fiberglass hut roofs are translucent, to let the sunshine in; at night, they create an atmosphere straight out of The Arabian Nights.


The Vintage Reader said...

Don't you know his neighbors must have hated him?

Those are really great articles. Thanks for doing so much work to bring them to us!

SARAHSPY said...

damn. i had no idea the guy behind Mouse Trap would have such a crazy life. although i suppose to really rig something like that up, you'd have to have some wild stuff going on!

Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff!!
He was a genius. Interestingly, I noticed you didn't blur the naughty bits of the nude statue...but decided to hide up God's own artwork!

Great post though, thanks!

Kirk D. said...

vintage reader- I'll bet he could have appeased the neighbors by inviting them to his parties.

sarahspy- heh, I imagine his brain looked a lot like the Mouse Trap board.

glad you enjoyed the post.
Good point. I'll blur out that statue soon as I get a chance.

RoverHaus said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this.

Is this house still intact? Have you ever been?

It would make a great road-trip!

Jody B. said...

I bought my first "hypo phony" in a Hot Springs, AR novelty shop. I remember taking it to school and showing the kids the "needle" going in my arm. My how times have changed. Nowdays the school would be locked down and a SWAT team would probably arrive. I think I bought a rubber hamburger patty at the same store. Anyway, great article, thanks for posting!

dayvid12 said...

Very interesting post! I've never read an article that was so detail with figures and earnings. Though I never heard of Marvin Glass until this article, I'm certainly familiar with his work (at least the commercials). Great job!

Max the drunken severed head said...

Lordy, that was one of the most fun and fascinating blog reads I've had in ages!

Thanks, Kirk!

Ben Wardle said...

Hey Kirk, these two pieces are invaluable stuff, as you say there is precious little about MG on the Web which I find astonishing. Could it be that like me, not many people have ever heard of the company as they licesed all their product and didn't have a big brand name splashed over the packaging? Big fan of your site, like you, I am obsessed with packaging from the 60s and 70s.

Big cheer. Ben

Mr. Fun said...

Absolutely fascinating! I'm a creative individual with all sorts of issues (as in A.D.D.) so I can relate to some of the crazy thought process this man had.

No doubt, Marvin Glass is definitely one of my heroes!

Thank you so much for putting this all together!

Kirk D. said...

roverhaus- great questions all. Would love to see an MG museum.

jody- wow, you mention some classics there. I have both of those, in fact, but burger will make an appearance here soon.

max- glad to hear it!

ben- yeah, another case of the behind the scenes guy losing out on proper recognition.

mr. fun- you bet!

Jay said...

What ever happened to Marvin's daughter Diana?

Kirk D. said...

I've wondered the same thing. I still don't know. Perhaps I should ask around.

joe said...

I also knew Diana .I went to high school with her and
Was also engaged to be married to her. I too wonder
What became of Diana

Anonymous said...

Diana is doing good for the world...

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe! It's Diana's best friend Barbara! Sorry to say I heard that Diana passed away some years back! I remember having to cover for the two of you after Marvin forbid her to see you. Are you that Joe>?

Joe Airdo said...

Yes Barbara I am that Joe ....so sorry to hear about
Diana ...Also sorry I don't remember you ....It would
be nice to hear from you ... those rebellious 60's
sure were fun ...thanks for covering for us .....
Joe at.........halfassacresjack@gmail.com

Vix said...

Just want to say thanks for this wonderful post. I'm working on a book of Boomer Christmas Stuff and was about to order the Sat Ev Post article from my library, but you've brought it to me--with bonus features to boot!

Kirk D. said...

Vix, so glad to hear that it was helpful to you! I wish you the best on your book.