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Designer profile: The “Big Daddy” Legacy Rocks On
By Jeremy Loudenback
February 1, 2003

Ed Roth's Rat Fink sculpture

Aficionados 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.

Ed Roth Rat Fink watch

TDM: 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
name ?

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 a character

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.


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