Based on a prototype screen from the proposed Intellivision game Happy Holidays
Designed by Dale Lynn, Graphics by Kai Tran & Lori Sunahara
Blue Sky Rangers
An exclusive for the Intellivision Productions mailing list
Some companies slow down around Christmas, but Mattel Electronics was not one of them. A major trade show for the video game industry - the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas - was held each year on the first weekend of January. Programmers worked 'round the clock throughout December to finish working demos of new games. The one interruption of this schedule was the annual Christmas party. While everyone looked forward to it, many arrived late, coming directly from their terminals - and many returned to the office after the last dance. There were only three Mattel Electronics Christmas parties, but they are remembered fondly...
In 1981 Mattel Electronics broke from Mattel Toys, becoming a separate company in the Mattel Inc. family. To celebrate, the company rented a ballroom at the local Marriott and threw a lavish Christmas party. Entertainment was provided by up-and-coming comedian Jay Leno. Though few of the programmers had ever heard of him, he was a hit,. He absolutely killed with the line "You know what the three big lies are, don't you? 'The check is in the mail,' 'I'll still respect you in the morning' and 'The Keyboard will be out in the spring.'" (You had to be there.)
In 1982 Mattel Electronics was flying high and the Christmas party, again at the Marriott, was grander than the year before. The company could even afford a big-name comedian: Red Buttons. With all due respect to Mr. Buttons, the mostly under-25-year-old programmers would have preferred a performer of (or closer to) their generation, but Red was reportedly a favorite of Mattel Electronics president Josh Denham. Red performed his trademark "Never Got a Dinner" routine, modifying it to one-liners about famous names (such as "the Ayatollah Cockamamie") who "never did a Mattel Christmas dinner."
Hear an excerpt of Red Buttons's "Never Got a Dinner" routine, taped at a roast of Milton Berle.
A lot happened between Christmas 1982 and Christmas 1983. Mattel Electronics lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Josh Denham and other top executives "resigned." Two-thirds of the Intellivision programmers jumped ship or were laid off. As Christmas rolled around amidst rumors of the imminent shutdown of the company, it was pretty clear that Mattel would not be springing for a party.
But the Blue Sky Rangers felt the situation demanded one. They rented a banquet room at nearby Barnaby's Hotel for a holiday blowout. There was no big name comedian, but there was an appearance by Santa, a sit-down dinner and a video parody of "A Christmas Carol" featuring the programmers.
After dinner, Gabriel Baum rose to make a toast. Gabriel, vice president of Applications Software, was the head of Intellivision and M Network programming. He was the "Hal" of "In Hal We Trust" on the Blue Sky Rangers emblem. With all the rumors and turmoil, everyone was anxious to hear what he would say.
While the official corporate position was that Mattel was committed to the video game industry, Gabriel knew the truth. And knowing that this might be the last time he would address the Blue Sky Rangers as a group, he didn't want to lie to them with a pep talk promising a bright 1984 for Intellivision.
In carefully chosen words, he praised the work they had done and the dedication they had shown. He then talked about looking forward to all of their future successful projects - whatever those might be. He never mentioned Mattel or Intellivision, and most present realized it was a farewell speech. Those projects would be done somewhere else.
Indeed, exactly one month later Mattel Electronics was shut down. But that night, there was drinking and dancing to do.
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