People Staff
February 11, 1980 12:00 PM

Not since Kennedy impressionist Vaughn Meader’s comeback chances stalled in Iowa has politics so dramatically foiled a shot at stardom. Misha the Bear—official mascot of the 1980 Summer Olympics—was popping up on tote bags, baby bibs, saltshakers and cigarette lighters, and Misha teddies were delivered by Santa to hundreds of thousands of American children. But then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan—and the linked futures of the Moscow Olympic Games and mascot Misha were suddenly as up in the air as Baryshnikov. “The damn thing was really taking off, much better than the projection,” says Stanford Blum, 39, who holds Western Hemisphere merchandising rights to the summer Games. “We expected to gross $50 to $100 million. Now we’re in a holding pattern.”

An L.A. producer and promoter who made millions through movie-related merchandising (Rocky T-shirts, Bee Gees posters and Star Wars iron-on transfers, among others), Blum began competing for rights to the Moscow Olympics back in 1977. “I asked myself, ‘What’s the next biggest thing looming in the darkness?’ ” he recalls. The light dawned on Misha, whom the Soviet citizens picked as their Olympic mascot in a national contest. “They couldn’t have chosen better,” says Blum, “because bears have traditionally sold well.”

Over the next two years Blum’s corporation, Image Factory Sports, sold the Misha trademark to 58 licensees. Their nonrefundable advances have already paid back Blum’s $250,000 investment, but if the Olympics fall through, he is out a lot of chickens that were due to hatch. “What I lose is two and a half years of blood, sweat and tears and the potential of a hell of a lot of money—a couple of million dollars,” he figures. “The Olympics have had mascots before, but people don’t remember because it wasn’t merchandised. In Canada it was a beaver, in Munich a dachshund,” he notes. “But Misha is the first mascot to be taken advantage of.” Royally so. On glum display in Blum’s Century City office are, among other items, Misha calendars, stickers, pins, mugs, radios, Western hats, pajamas, footstools, underwear, ice buckets and Frisbees. Even so, 1980 doesn’t look altogether bearish for Blum—among his other properties are a piece of the Bo Derek poster action. “I’m disappointed, but I have a lot of things going,” says Blum, the father of a 3½-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. “And if we have to eat all these products—well, my kids already think every day is Christmas.”

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