December 06, 1976 12:00 PM

The grandmother of invention

Narcissus would have been delighted. But Geraldine Naunheim of St. Louis was thinking only of her eight grandchildren when she developed her “Me doll.” Why the name? “The first thing a child says when he picks it up is, ‘That’s me,’ ” explains Mrs. Naunheim, 74.

The Me doll is two feet high, floppy-armed, comes in three ethnic colors (white, brown and black) and sells (only to teachers) for $17.95. What makes it unique is its face—an unbreakable acrylic mirror. Thus, in play, the doll takes on the owner’s features. “Kids are fascinated with mirrors,” says Naunheim, who used to advise schools on the use of classroom movies for Paramount Pictures. “But usually mirrors are way up high on a chest of drawers and kids can’t get at them.”

Six years ago Naunheim made her first crude doll for her granddaughter Jennifer, then 5. Eventually Graphic Resources, a firm which designs educational aids, heard about it. Naunheim’s husband of 50 years, Herman, an 86-year-old retired lawyer, negotiated the deal and landed her a fat five percent royalty (instead of the usual three percent). The Me doll comes with a teacher’s guide and a record. “Retarded children and developmentally delayed infants love the doll,” says one educator.

It’s also meant for normal children. “I read so much about people not knowing who they are,” Naunheim says. “I hope this doll helps kids develop a strong concept of themselves.”

From chemistry, dollars and no scents

Dr. Alfred A. Schleppnik was hard at work in the St. Louis laboratories of the Monsanto Company, engaged in the quest for a better deodorant. Heady vapors assailed his nostrils; then, suddenly, he smelled nothing at all. “We didn’t believe it at first,” says Schleppnik. “It was an effect we thought could not exist.” While most deodorizers conceal unpleasant smells by flooding the nose’s “receptors” with cosmetic odors, Schleppnik’s chemical compound—technically called “a malodor counteractant”—blocks the receptors entirely. It creates the illusion of fresh, outdoor air.

The Vienna-born Schleppnik, who has also developed 1,000 new perfume compounds for Monsanto, considers his discovery to be a major breakthrough in odor control. Monsanto plans to sell the counteractant for household and personal hygiene products. The company has already applied for several patents on the Schleppnik compounds, for which the scientist so far has received only $5 per patent.

Schleppnik came to this country in 1958 after accepting a cancer research grant at Washington University in St. Louis. Now 55 and a U.S. citizen, he lives with his wife, Frances, in nearby Richmond Heights, Mo. and wistfully remembers his work in chemotherapy. “Sometimes I think I should have followed it through,” he says with a sigh. “It’s one of the better things I did in chemistry.”

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