“Big Daddy” Legacy Rocks On
By Jeremy Loudenback
February 1, 2003
Roth's Rat Fink sculpture
of custom car culture are no strangers to the expansive, eccentric
genius of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Starting in the late 1950s,
Roth pioneered the use of car modification kits to explore his wildly
weird car designs, while his irreverent, do-it-yourself approach
influenced the counterculture of the 1960s and earned Roth legions
of devoted fans. After introducing a series of animated characters
that colorfully epitomized Roth’s insouciant attitude and
the daredevil ethos of the hot rod culture, Roth parlayed his underground
success into a thriving licensing business. Though Roth passed away
in 2001, his outré designs and characters like the infamous
Rat Fink survive, thanks to the efforts of designer David Chodosh,
who oversees licensing and design for the Ed Roth estate.
ToyDirectory Monthly (TDM): Describe how you first
starting working with Ed Roth?
David Chodosh (DC): I started out designing a plush
Rat Fink, which was conceived by Big Daddy [Roth] and I. He was
into creating a certain attitude, and Big Daddy’s whole worldview
was about doing something unexpected. We designed the plush doll
to be really different, for it to look like a monster instead of
being really cute. We even gave Rat Fink bad breath, a sort of old
pizza breath. After that, we worked together because he liked how
the plush doll came out, and we worked together on a few more things.
Later, Big Daddy came to realize he was a celebrity. He had always
known about fans in the custom car culture, but he didn’t
realize all the toy people were going to be into it, too.
Roth Rat Fink watch
What kind of products have you designed recently?
DC: We’ve done sticker sets, really nice
etched foil stickers with a vintage look. We have done key chains,
action figures and a lot of t-shirt designs, a watch, all sorts
of models. I think the backbone of all of this is Roth’s characters.
Rat Fink has maintained his place as the mascot of the custom car
culture. People really love cars from that era—the attitude
of drag racing and all the different cars that have Roth’s
touch on them, like the Rat Rods. People grew up with them.
TDM: In terms of licensing, how do you determine
what is worthy of the Big Daddy Roth
DC: Big Daddy would scrutinize anything with his
name on it. Anything approved would have to have the same attitude
that he did. It’s the same thing today. We are careful about
what we put out. Anything licensed in our collection has to meet
his standards. At the same time, Ed Roth always had a lot of ideas.
He didn’t stick to anything if it didn’t show immediate
success. He ditched it and went on to something else. Roth went
through so many changes, you never knew what his state of mind was
going to be. His whole mindset was to just encourage creativity
and do something that’s cool. The people he chose to carry
that on, he trusted to perpetuate that legacy. If anyone understood
that life moves forward, it would be him.
TDM: Why have Big Daddy Roth’s creations
remained so popular?
DC: He had a very strong intuition about his fans,
and he wanted to stay loyal to his fans. He was able to create a
real world that people wanted to buy into. Rat Fink is a low-level
fever: it won’t go away and it could get worse. It’s
been a backbeat in the whole car movement and American motoring
scene. Ratfink’s deliberately an out-there character. He’s
got a surreal look to him, and it’s an attitude as much as
TDM: I know many of your original fans are a bit
older. Is there an appeal for younger audiences?
DC: Older collectors are able to identify Rat Fink
and all of Ed Roth’s designs, but younger kids aren’t
as directly aware of Rat Fink. It’s interesting how kids are
starting to really latch on to it, though. Kids may have grown up
and seen Dad around the house with Rat Fink, and now Rat Fink has
really seeped into the skateboard culture. When kids respond to
it, it’s exciting, there’s something obviously visually
compelling there. There’s been a great attempt to keep Ratfink
alive, to try to spread his appeal, beyond those who didn’t
grow up with him in the 1960s. We’re working with Troy Lee
Design, a maker of bike helmets, and one of the most popular with
the X Games group. They’ve created a motor-cross helmet and
put Rat Fink into that mix. There’s a certain balls-to-the-wall
attitude of the X Games that works really well with Rat Fink.
TDM: What does the future hold for the Ed Roth
estate and Rat Fink?
DC: We want to continue to do really cool and exciting
stuff. There’s a lot of interest right now in many new products
and even expanding into new media. There’s a cartoon series
being developed that’s a real possibility. It has to have
wide appeal from kids to adults. But the idea of being a badass
is as popular now as it was then. That’s what keeps drawing
people to Rat Fink and Ed Roth’s work. We’re working
with Electra on a bike cruiser with the Rat Fink character. We’re
trying to keep our products high end and not scale things down.
We are even looking at producing a set of mini action figures for
Big Daddy’s characters.