No one sets out to become a novelty czar-Malcolm Alexander is still surprised when he hears himself referred to as the Bobblehead King. The 43-year-old Australian is the founder and president of Alexander Global Promotions (AGP) in Bellevue, Wash., the leading producer of bobblehead dolls. "There's certainly no straight line in my career path," says Alexander, who served in an Australian counterterrorism unit before moving to the U.S. in 1990. "It's all about having fun and being in the right place."
For Alexander that place was on the receiving end of an order for a San Francisco Giants giveaway in 1999. The team wanted to honor Willie Mays on a Turn Back the Clock Day by giving out bobbleheads, those kitschy sports figurines from the '50s and '60s. Despite having, he says, "no idea whatsoever" what a bobblehead was, Alexander assured the team that his three-year-old promotional products company could do it. After much trial and error in the manufacturing process, AGP ultimately churned out 35,000 wobbling Willies. The dolls were such a hit that eight other teams soon put in requests for bobbleheads. Within two years fans in Seattle were camping out overnight to get an Ichiro bobblehead, and a craze of Cabbage Patch proportions had begun. In 2002 AGP will produce more than 12 million dolls at its factory north of Hong Kong.
Every major league team, every NFL team and most teams in the NBA and NHL has had a bobblehead promotion. While the collectibles market has suffered lately from the glut—there are 14 variations of a Derek Jeter bobblehead—Alexander has kept his business thriving by going international. He sells dolls in Japan (where likenesses of the Yomiuri Giants are a hit), in Australia (there's been a run on miniature Aussie Rules Football players) and in Europe (British soccer stars are big). In the U.S. he's come up with innovations including a ?'bobble-armed" Tommy John doll, a Dikembe Mutombo doll with a bobble finger and a bobble-scene of Giants' broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper seated at a desk, which will be the first bobblehead creation to have a conversation with itself. (There's a 15-second sound chip inside.)
Although AGP has made more than 2,500 different models, Alexander has his limits. The three-year veteran of Australia's Special Air Service, who led a U.N. peacekeeping team in Iran in 1988, blanched at the recent request from the Class A Hagerstown Suns to make an Osama bin Laden doll. ("It didn't seem right," he says.) He's also refused orders for representations of certain actresses, whom Alexander would rather not name, created with their proportions enhanced—and hobbling away.
Alexander says the key to the success of bobbleheads is not the spring-action parts but the ratio of head to body size. "For some reason it appeals to people to have these realistic heads and then these cute, whimsical bodies," he says. To that end Alexander believes the future of bobbleheads lies in even more realistic faces. "The next thing we're doing is laser mapping," he says, referring to a process in which players' faces will be digitally reproduced. The result, Alexander says, will bobble, er, boggle your mind.