Don Poynter, Who Made Toilets Talk, Walked Golf Balls, dies at 96


Admittedly, some of Don Poynter’s works had a certain whooping-cushion quality.

For example, there was the Talking Toilet, a chatty gizmo that could be hidden over a toilet; as someone sat down, a recorded voice shouted, “Run, you’re blocking the light!” he was shouting. Or similar.

And there was the Go-Go Girl Drink Mixer, which is a glass-holding doll that rotates her pelvis to mix a cocktail.

But if some of the myriad innovations Mr. Poynter has invented and produced are humble, the subtle brilliance of one of his earliest and most successful is undeniable: The Little Black Box. Created in 1959, it was an unadorned box with a key on it. Activate the switch and the box flickered a little; Then a hand came out and turned the switch off.

That’s it: a device whose sole purpose is to turn itself off. Other people in the same period, so-called useless machine, but few saw the marketing possibilities as clearly as Mr. Poynter.

“Representatives at the New York trade show kept asking what he was doing,” he said. told alumni magazine From the University of Cincinnati, which he graduated more than 40 years later. “I said, ‘He doesn’t do absolutely anything but shut himself down. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I sold it to Spencer Gifts. Within a month, it was the hottest item they had.”

Later, when the television show “The Addams Family” aired in 1964 with a character known as The Thing who only had one hand, Mr. Poynter made a deal to market a variation of the box under that name. Mr. Poynter said he had sold 14 million of them. He has accumulated so many patents over the years that he has lost count.

Poynter, a drum master, entertainer, puppeteer and golf course developer at the Harlem Globetrotters games, died August 13 in Cincinnati. He was 96 years old. His daughter, Molly Poynter Maundrell, said the cause was cancer.

In a phone call, she said that her father was sane even in his last days, telling such extraordinary stories to the nursing home staff. asked for a phone.

“I knew exactly what the social worker was going to ask me,” Ms. Maundrell said. “I was worried that he was hallucinating,” she said. And I said: ‘They’re right. All true.'”

Donald Byron Poynter was born on May 14, 1925 in Cincinnati. Her mother, Gertrude (Johnson) Poynter, was an artist and housewife, and her father, William, was an inventor and photographer.

Young Don showed a creative streak early on; Ms. Maundrell said her father told stories about how he secretly took flash powder from photographic materials and made small bombs out of them and dropped them from remote-controlled planes.

“I started trying to entertain myself,” Scripps told the Howard News Service in 1988. “Then I discovered that it is fun to entertain other people.”

But he did this first, not as an inventor, but as a radio voice actor at WLW in Cincinnati (where young Doris Day is sometimes an actress). After graduating from Western Hills High School in Cincinnati in 1943, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, but joined the Army the following year, serving until 1946 and occasionally entertaining other soldiers with a show of magic and ventriloquists.

Back in college, he became a drum major and caught the attention of the press with his elaborate baton spins, sometimes performed while walking on a tightrope.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing in 1949, the Harlem Globetrotters recognized his spinning skills and spent several summers touring the world with the basketball troupe, providing pregame and halftime entertainment that included flaming batons spinning at a game. darkened arena

The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote in 1950: “His whirling batons captured British fantasy. The newspaper said he had agreed to an endorsement deal with a British company that produced the “Don Poynter baton,” along with an instruction book he had written.

Returning to his home in Cincinnati during this period, he worked for Jon Arthur, who broadcast a national children’s series. radio show, “Big Jon and Sparkie.” Mr. Poynter made a puppet version of the elf-like Sparkie character that Mr. Arthur was on tour.

Poynter Products was founded in 1954. Mr. Poynter’s first major success was whiskey-flavored toothpaste, which prompted him with the “What’s My Line?” He gained fame enough to be a contestant on the game show. Another big seller introduced in 1957 was the Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle, which Miss Mansfield, a blonde bombshell-era movie star, agreed to pose over the objection of her handlers.

Erik Liberman, an actor who has worked on a book and documentary about Ms. Mansfield, said via email: “He concluded that the hot water bottle would sell exponentially if it was designed in the image of someone worth hugging.” “Jayne Mansfield fits the bill.”

Mr. Poynter spent a week in Hollywood with Ms. Mansfield to make the statue, which was used as a model for the bottle. “I could have finished it in two days” He told Cincinnati Public Radio In 2015 “but why hurry?”

Although Mr. Poynter uses overseas factories to manufacture some of his biggest vendors, he always made the first version of a product himself. “He just had the idea and gave it to someone else to engineer it,” his son Don said over the phone.

His other son, Tim, remembered that he and his three brothers would be put into service. He said he often spent Saturdays at the library, where his father sent him to look through directories for possible suppliers. “Here’s a list of companies I need to find that have this type of plastic or this type of metal,” Tim Poynter said.

Ms. Maundrell remembered the role played by her mother, Mona (Castellini) Poynter, in creating a series of fake medical specimens such as toes, noses, and the like, which were sold in liquid-filled test tubes.

“God loves my mom – she shaped her ear,” he said. “He had to put the mold on it and stick his head in the oven.”

Don Poynter noted that there is at least one reward for the efforts of the children. “We were great at show and tell in school,” he said.

Mr. Poynter’s other innovations included the Incredible Creeping Golf Ball with claw-like feet. While on the green, a golfer can substitute it for the actual ball and the ball walks towards the trophy.

Pat Green, who has worked with him for decades, said another golf tool had prompted Mr. Poynter to build golf courses. It was a funnel filled with golf balls, for use on a driving range; When a golfer hit a ball, the rubber tee would automatically dive into the chamber and bring another ball. Mr. Poynter opened the World of Golf in Florence, Ky., in the early 1970s just to showcase the device; It turned into a World of Sports complex.

Mr Green said that in addition to saving the golfer the hassle of bending over to get a fresh ball, the device has the effect of making customers hit a lot more balls.

“It was a big money maker,” he said in a phone interview. “You could hit 100 balls at once and we were getting eight cents a ball.” (Similar automatic tee-up systems are used by some driving sites, such as at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.)

Mr. Poynter has opened other golf businesses, including the Triple Crown Country Club in Union, Ky. Mr. Green has mostly worked on Mr. Poynter’s golf projects, but said he would also run the ideas for Mr. Poynter’s inventions.

“He said, ‘Let’s go out and get some black ants,'” said Mr Green once. “I was like, ‘What’s the need for black ants?’ said.

Called to power small cars ants, of course.

Mr. Poynter’s son Tim eventually took over Poynter Products and sold the business in 1992. Mr. Poynter’s wife died in 2007. In addition to their children Don, Tim, and Molly, he is survived by another daughter, Amy Poynter Brewer; 10 grandchildren; and 11 grandchildren.

In an interview with Scripps Howard in 1988, Mr. Poynter meditated on the device he wanted to invent for his own tombstone.

“When you go near it,” he said, “you activate an electronic voice. And it would say, ‘Come down.'”


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