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R.I.P. a true original


TRIBE Member
you know those wacky products in comic book ads? this was the guy.

Harold von Braunhut, Seller of Sea Monkeys, Dies at 77

December 21, 2003
Harold von Braunhut, who used comic book advertisements to
sell whimsical mail-order inventions like Amazing Sea
Monkeys, tiny shrimp that pop to life when water is added,
died on Nov. 28 at his home in Indian Head, Md. He was 77.

His wife, Yolanda, said that he died after a fall but that
the exact cause was not known.

Mr. von Braunhut was to quirky inventions what Barnum was
to circuses. His X-Ray Specs, which advertisements said
allowed wearers to see through flesh and clothing, are
still selling after 50 years of guffaws. Hermit crabs as a
pet? Thank Mr. von Braunhut for Crazy Crabs.

And yes, perhaps only this verbally snappy holder of 195
patents could have realized that what the world needed was
Amazing Hair-Raising Monsters, which allow a child to add
water to a card and watch hair grow on the previously bald
pate of the monster depicted there.

But Mr. von Braunhut's pièce de résistance was Sea Monkeys
- which come from dried-up lake bottoms, not the sea, and
are not monkeys but brine shrimp. His extravagant claims
for the crustaceans - for example, that they come back from
the dead and that they can be trained and hypnotized - are
convincing because they are sort of true. (The shrimp do
follow light.)

Billions of shrimp have been sold, not to mention a Sea
Monkey aphrodisiac and a wrist watch filled with swimming
shrimp. There are Web sites for sea monkey fans; CBS
briefly had a Sea Monkeys series on Saturday mornings; 400
million of them went into space with John Glenn in 1998;
and, for the lazy, a new Sea Monkey video game allows a
player to "virtually" care for a shrimp colony, lest the
animals "virtually" die.

Mr. von Braunhut gravitated toward life's crazier edge,
racing motorcycles as the Green Hornet and managing the
career of a man who dived from 40 feet into a kiddie pool
filled with 12 inches of water. He sold invisible goldfish
by guaranteeing that owners would never see them.

In a radically different sphere, Mr. von Braunhut's hard
right-wing beliefs drew notice. According to a 1996
Anti-Defamation League report, he belonged to the Ku Klux
Klan and the Aryan Nations.

The Washington Post in 1988 published an article on him and
his affiliations, adding that his relatives said he was
Jewish. He himself repeatedly refused to discuss his
beliefs on race or his own religious background with
journalists, and in an interview on Thursday his wife
declined to comment on the subject.

Harold Nathan Braunhut was born in Memphis on March 31,
1926, and grew up in New York City, where he lived until
the mid-1980's, when he moved to Maryland and set up a
wildlife conservation area.

He may have first noticed brine shrimp being sold in a pet
store as fish food, or perhaps in a fisherman's bucket of
live bait. In either case, the event occurred in 1957, by
which time he had changed his name.

He learned that brine shrimp were a quirk of nature,
surviving for years in suspended animation. In this state,
they are powderlike and easily packaged. In 1960, he began
advertising "Instant Life" in comic books.

In 1964 the animals became Sea Monkeys, because of their
long tails. There were breeding improvements, and an ABC
News commentator suggested in 1968 that the larger shrimp,
now guaranteed to live two years, might be called sea apes.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2000 that two
distributors had canceled their licenses for Sea Monkeys
because of discomfort about Mr. von Braunhut's views. The
license is currently owned by Educational Insights of
Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

George C. Artamian, president of the Sea Monkeys division
of Educational Insights, said the earlier companies dropped
the Sea Monkey license for business reasons, not the least
being that Mr. von Braunhut was "not easy to work with." He
said that when his company bought the license in 1995, Mr.
von Braunhut promised to stop his public political
activities, and that he believes Mr. von Braunhut did so.

Mr. von Braunhut was formerly married to Charlotte Braunhut
of New York. He is survived by his wife, Yolanda
Signorelli-von Braunhut; a son, Jonathan; a daughter,
Jeanette LaMothe; and a brother, Gene.


TRIBE Member
I was in line at Winner's behind a guy who was carrying 3 boxes sea monkeys. I didn't have the heart to tell him.
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