Do you remember this nightmarish "Freddie Freaker" ad from your childhood?
After recently rediscovering it on Youtube, I instantly remembered watching it as a kid in the early 90's. But even after recalling its existence, I still had no idea what the hell I was looking at. Seriously, what was this?
Of course as a kid, my parents never let me call a 1-900 number, let alone to talk to a "Freddie Freaker" so I never knew what the Freak wanted to discuss with all of us. The commercial itself doesn't even give you a clue why you should call the number in the first place. There's literally zero context for the ad. All we know is that we should "join the party the fast and easy way, to hear what's scammin from New York to LA".
Who knew a lyrical description could make things more confusing.
Determined to figure out what this 'Freak Phone' was all about, I found a few facts online:
1. On May 23, 1988, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for "The Party Freak" and "Freddie Freaker" by L.A. Toys Inc. in Calabasas, CA, by Michael L. Wachtell.
2. Both trademarks were cancelled in 1995 (Party Freak) and 1996 (Freddie Freaker). So it looks like those are up for grabs if you want'em.
3. Freddie Freaker actually has his own Facebook Group page...created by this guy.
Via facebook: "Kevin Leto created the group"
4. Apparently there were Freddie Freaker t-shirts made back in the day, as shown on the Facebook page. Even the shirt design left Freddie with arms out in a Jesus-like pose. Were the artists not allowed to draw him in any other position?
These were really the only facts the internet could hand me until I stumbled across a tumblr page dedicated to The Freaker (that's right, dedicated) that mentioned the designer/creator of the puppet, Patrick Simmons. Someone had made contact with the artist through Youtube, and this is what he said about his time creating the creature.
So I decided to track down Patrick on Twitter in order to ask a few questions of my own. Low and behold, Patrick was nice enough to write back to me. Here is the conversation that we had through Twitter which helped shine some light on the random television ad.
PATRICK: OK, so in the fall of 1987 I was working in the special FX industry in Hollywood on such films as Nightmare On Elm Street & Friday 13th Part 7. I was in between gigs & an FX artist turned me onto the "Freddie Freaker" commercial because they weren't interested or were too busy. So I met with the guys producing the commercial and phone line. They had zero artistic talent so it was up to me to come up with Freddie's concept and look.
Gremlins was very popular at the time and they wanted something similar, so I designed Freddie to have that kind of funny, playful look. I then sculpted, molded, and made the foam latex puppet. He was fully articulated and yet they chose to videotape him in that awkward T-pose for some reason. I mean his arms, hands & fingers could bend, so why not take advantage of that? But I wasn't at the filming of the commercial, so it was out of my control once I handed it over to them.
I was paid around $1200 to make the puppet and was supposed to receive a portion of the money they made off the 900 number, but they never gave me another cent after the initial payment.
ME: That's amazing. Do you know what would happen if you called? Was it a party line? Was it even for kids? Considering they were going after a Gizmo kind of look?
PATRICK: I'm not sure, I think it was supposed to be a party line. I believe the phone line was for 18-25-year olds. College age. The ad ran on MTV. I never saw it until a few months ago. We did discuss producing a line of Freddie Freaker toys, I even created a prototype, but nothing ever came of it. I also designed other Freddie Freaker characters that were to be his friends. There was a female version who was his girlfriend and a larger chubbier version of Freddie who was his best bud.
ME: Do you have the names of the guys who made this stuff and owed you?
PATRICK: I can't remember the names of the two guys who produced Freddie or their company. This was 27-years ago. A lot has happened since. I now work as an artist for Disney. I never knew Freddie had a following online, it's pretty amazing and makes me happy that the little guy is so fondly remembered.
ME: Very cool! Do you have any sketches/pictures or anything of the characters or of Freddie?
PATRICK: Here are my personal photos of the Freddie Freaker puppet taken before I handed it over to the production company. I wish I could've found some of the original clay sculpture pictures, but those are probably in a shoe box somewhere. At the time I was making this I was only 23-years old and still fairly new to the FX business, so even though there was little money in it for me it was a big deal. I'm not sure how successful the 900 number was, but I'm guessing it didn't do too well since I never heard from them again about producing the other characters I designed or the toy prototype I made.
I eventually left the FX industry in 1990 and started working for the Walt Disney Company where I am currently employed as a sculptor and designer for their theme parks and collectible figurines.
A big thanks to Patrick for sharing his experience while working on this random bit of late 80's nostalgia, and especially for sharing the cool photos!
Discuss Freddie the Freaker with me at @Todd_Spence