An Interview with Bing McCoy
Ever since starting Rom, Spaceknight Revisited, I've wondered who created the Rom action figure and how I could find out. I would like to say that after weeks of research, I was finally able to track him down, but that's not what happened. From out of the blue in April 2004, I got an e-mail from a man known as Lawrence "Bing" McCoy saying, "greetings from the guy who created ROM. I've got some bits and pieces around - what do you need?" My immediate answer was, "an interview!" Thank goodness he agreed. Due to his busy schedule, it's taken some time, but here, finally, is a brief interview with the man who created Rom.
Rom, Spaceknight Revisited: There's very little info about you on the Web. What was your background before creating the Rom action figure?
Bing McCoy: [I'm] not surprised as I've generally kept a low profile and away from the media. Here's the URL to all my info at my company website: http://www.stonefoundationentertainment.com/mccoy.html.
[Interviewer's note: The page did not exist at the time I first asked the question. McCoy's credits include Electronic Battleship; the Starbird (check out Bug Eyed Monster's page on it); the direct to video children's show Adventures of Gregory and Bushkin, which he wrote, produced, and directed; and the Photon Guitar Synthesizer.]
Prior to making toys I was a touring musician. [I] played with people like EmmyLou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, etc. (Odd, because I am not a country musician.) Music has become a great hobby and now and then I put out a CD for friends. [Here's a] link to streaming mp3s of recent music, if of interest.
RSR: What term do you use to describe your job title/career? Both now and in the late '70s, if they're different.
McCoy: Never had a title or thought about it. Used to be an inventor. Now I'm told I'm an executive producer. Sounds fancy, but doesn't really mean anything to me.
RSR: What was the toy market like around 1979, when Rom was released? Electronic toys were still very new, right?
McCoy: Electronic toys were very new and as a result we sold them as fast as we could make them. I probably sold 20 - 30 toys in the space of five years.
RSR: Tell me about the genesis of Rom.
McCoy: ROM started out as an Egyptian mystic toy. Of course I was young and dumb and didn't consider that no toy company would want to sell an Egyptian mystic, so I made it into a cyborg (part man / part machine) after all the toy companies passed on the "Egyptian" concept. Parker Bros. picked it up because they thought it would be good to try something outside the board game business.
RSR: Did you name him or did Parker Brothers? Was he named for Read Only Memory?
McCoy: I originally named him "COBOL" after the programming language. Parker Bros. changed the name to ROM. I figure that was because of read only memory - plus it sounded like a name.
RSR: Rom's box is marked "patent pending." I have been unable to find any patents related to him in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's database. What was the patent for? Was it merely a design patent or was it related to his electronics?
McCoy: The patent was issued May 12, 1981. Patent #4,267,551.
[Interviewer's note: This is an off-site link to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. The patent is for a "multi-mode doll," described as, "an electronic toy doll including electronic circuitry for selectively generating a number of simulation sounds typically associated with a mystic or science fantasy character."]
In addition to your name, I see Scott Dankman and Richard C. Levy on the patent. What were their roles?
McCoy: Scott Dankman and I originally started a company after my success with Electronic Battleship. Scott handled the biz stuff and I did the inventing. Later on we brought Richard Levy as the 'marketing guy'. I agreed to let them sign on as co-inventors so that they could [claim] capital gains status on their tax returns. Both Scott and I dissolved the partnership after a few years.
RSR: Did Parker Brothers make any tweaks to your design?
McCoy: Well, of course they improved/designed the appearance, but the electronics and basic concept stayed the same.
RSR: Why does Rom have so few points of articulation?
McCoy: Cost. At that time, making an action figure that large was considered a gamble, so Parker Bros. cut cost anywhere they could. The original ROM had green LED eyes and those were changed to red becuase green LEDs were a lot more expensive back then.
[Interviewer's note: Upon later consideration, this probably isn't a fair question. The Rom action figure had about the same number of points of articulation as Barbie did back then.]
RSR: What sort of toys were Rom's main competition? Big Trak? The Starbird (which you also designed)?
McCoy: I actually don't know what toys were competition. I know later on other companies decided to put electronics in action figures.
RSR: Did you plan or design any other toys to go with Rom?
McCoy: I didn't plan any more toys for ROM. It was a one-off.
RSR: Did you create any sort of backstory for him?
McCoy: My only back story was that he was a cyborg. Marvel came up with the main story concept.
RSR: Do you know why Parker Brothers never created any Dire Wraith toys? If not, do you have any theories?
McCoy: ROM pretty much flopped as a toy, so Parker Bros. didn't want to make any more stuff. My (personal) theory is that Parker Bros. didn't market it very well. Which is understandable because they were a board game company, not an action figure company.
RSR: What do you feel could have been done to make the Rom action figure more successful?
McCoy: Better marketing. And the box was a terrible graphic design. It just didn't look very sexy.
RSR: Rom was sold by Parker Brothers in the U.S. and Palitoy in the U.K. What other countries was it available in?
McCoy: I don't know. If Palitoy sold it, then it was probably available in a number of European countries - but that's just a guess.
RSR: Do you know roughly how many Rom figures were manufactured or sold in the U.S.? The U.K.? Elsewhere (if applicable)?
McCoy: I think about 200k-300k units were sold.
RSR: Early interviews with the comic book's creators indicated Parker Brothers came to Marvel with the name "Dire Wraiths," but had no idea what a Dire Wraith might be. Was that a name you created?
McCoy: No. I did not create the name. Parker Bros. pretty much took it and ran with it. Then Marvel took over the story line.
RSR: Did you read the Rom comic book?
RSR: Were you surprised that the comic outlived the toy by so many years?
McCoy: No - the comic was good and the final toy product didn't really fulfill the story in the comic.
RSR: Does it bother you that Rom was more successful as a comic book character than a toy?
McCoy: No. I thought the comic was better than the toy and was happy just to be part of it. The only thing that ever upset me was when Paul Verhoeven blatently ripped it off as "RoboCop". Pretty much same design, and very similar storyline. Unfortunately "intellectual property" lawsuits of this nature rarely succeed, so we just let it go.
RSR: Marvel, however, went on to secure the rights to produce a RoboCop comic. Also, well known comic book creator Frank Miller wound up writing RoboCop 2 and 3. And when the Rom comic book series debuted, Miller provided the cover for #1. There's a certain irony there, don't you think?
McCoy: Yes, I knew about all that. When Marvel became so successful that Stan Lee was no longer in control, things changed - and I don't mean for the better. After Frank Miller wrote the second RoboCop he realized he didn't want to do that anymore, but he was stuck. His quote about writing features - "you're a fire hydrant and there's a line of dogs around the block."
RSR: Did you ever meet any of the creators behind the comic?
McCoy: I know Stan Lee pretty well. We used to go to lunch regularly, though I haven't talked to him in a long time. Other than that I didn't meet any of the people behind the comic.
RSR: Any parting comments you'd like to make to Rom's fans?
McCoy: Long live ROM, those who have followed his chronicles, and the pursuit of galactic peace. If you want more info my on current projects, go to the website: http://www.stonefoundationentertainment.com.