One of the men who helped make plastic vomit famous died recently. I know this because my father, who also had intimate ties to the plastic vomit empire, worked for that man.
His name was Howard Fishlove, and he was the third-generation owner of H. Fishlove & Co., once one of the country’s foremost novelty companies. Fishlove was the creator and seller of novelty classics like the Chattering Teeth®, Magnetic Scotty Dogs®, and the aforementioned plastic vomit or “Whoops,”® as it was properly known to aficionados and those in the industry.
My father was the general manager of Fishlove & Co. through much of my childhood. I don’t recall if he ever regaled us with dinnertime stories about the origins of the Chattering Teeth or the Magnetic Scotty Dogs, but the birth story of “Whoops” has stuck with me.
As legend and my dad had it, a gentleman who fabricated a number of Fishlove novelty items in a small workshop was cleaning the space one morning when he noticed that a pool of melted plastic had spilled to the floor and hardened overnight, entombing bits of dirt and pieces of sponge in the process. A lightbulb flashed over the man’s head; a vomit-encrusted lightbulb.
“Whoops” was born.
I share this story because in thinking about it on the occasion of Mr. Fishlove’s passing, it occurred to me that it illustrates a precious dimension of creativity. It is the ability to realize that you have happened upon a wonderful idea, whether as a result of hours of brainstorming or simply good fortune, e.g., discovering that the hardened plastic on your workshop floor looks exactly like something else, something that you can sell because it will make otherwise respectable people laugh out loud.
One famous advertising man said the mark of a great creative director is not knowing what to change but knowing when to leave something alone. In that respect and though they never worked a day in an ad agency, Mr. Fishlove, my father, and the guy who invented plastic vomit were first-rate creative directors.