I still remember it like it was yesterday, me sitting at the Christmas tree looking at my presents waiting to grab the one or two that I could guarantee wasn’t clothes from my grandmother. When I tore into them, there they were, a Rancor and Ewok Village from the Return of the Jedi. The boxes were a work of art. I didn’t understand that then, but it did give me ideas on how I was going to play with my toys. Why am I bringing all this up? Well I had the amazing opportunity this past week to talk with the man who was responsible for that art and a lot of my childhood memories… Kim Simmons.
As a kid and even a collector you have to admit that it wasn’t always the toy they got your attention, it was also the pictures and art that was on the boxes and ads that made you want that figure or play set even more. One of the people we get to thank for that is Kim Simmons. While Simmons is a name that a lot of collectors are familiar with, for the ones that aren’t, he was one of the original photographers for Kenner / Hasbro. Simmons is responsible for the pictures you saw on many of the Star Wars toy line starting in the 1980’s through 2000. Luckily I was able to talk with Kim and hear about his amazing work and his current Kenner Star Wars Photography 1980-1982 book.
The Interview with Kim Simmons
First off, talking with Kim was an honor. I could of talked with him for hours just listening to him talk about Star Wars. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic we had to talk over the phone but it still was an enjoyable time and a trip down memory lane. Here is that interview.
When did you know you wanted to be an photographer?
“I always had a camera in my hands, it started with a brownie and worked it’s way up. My dad was a doctor and one of the hobbies of doctors was photography, well at lest when I was growing up. So I decided to study photography in college.”
How did you get the job with Kenner?
“Well, after I left grad school I still needed to complete my thesis. So, I was at a interview for Studio Art (now called LPK). After seeing my art book, a art director named Jim Gable told me I need to go see a man named Roy Frankenfield. He is going to lose an account if he does’t get help. So I gave Roy a call and he had me come in. After the interview Roy called me that day and offered me a job at $100 a week. Well come to find out that contract that Roy was about to lose was the Kenner Star Wars account.
When I started to work in 1981, it wasn’t as an assistant like I was hired on as, I was actually doing most of the work. And before you knew it I was doing it all. Roy would stay in his office as much as possible. He would come out with models or when designers would show up. Pretty much he left me alone and I never looked back. I was very lucky and I loved what I was doing.”
A fun story when he started
“I started to do the Star Wars Micro line, and I asked Roy if we had any camera lights, studio stands, tripods, or any else we can use on the set? He said we might have some down in the basement. So he handed me the key, and I went down there. There I first stepped into a puddle of water that was about 2-inches deep and turned on the light. Well I found a garbage can of cool stuff I would be able to use, but then I saw something else. OMG there were all these negatives and transparencies in galvanized cans. Well come to find out they were all the original Star Wars stuff from the first few years.
I came up and asked him about them. He said don’t worry about it, all of that is garbage. Well I said this is something that needs to be kept. Roy told me he wasn’t going to pay me for it so if I was going to go through them, it would be on my own time. So I said no problem and I brought it all up.”
So thanks to Kim he saved a huge part of Star Wars toy history.
Were you a fan of Star Wars before you started?
“When Star Wars first came out I did not know a thing about it. I was going to school and working both full time. A friend of mine, she said Kim we are going to see a movie on Friday. I tried to tell her I didn’t have time for this, but she made me go. Well that movie was Star Wars and I thought it was really cool.
Then when The Empire Strikes Back came out I had no clue. Again I was working full time and going to school, so what was going on in the world I didn’t know. All of the sudden I saw at the theater, Star Wars was playing. So I took my wife and son and liked it. And then a few months later I’m working with Star Wars. It’s funny I had to be drugged to go see Star Wars and then it became my life.”
Make sure to head over to page 2 for the rest of the Kim Simmons interview.