In 1953, Al Konetzni joined Walt Disney Productions as an artist and idea man for the character merchandising division, then headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York. Over the next 28 years he developed ideas for toys, clothing, stationery, greeting cards, jewelry, and more. Featuring beloved Disney characters, these items were licensed for production by major American corporations. Among Al’s most famous creations was a popular lunch box set, featuring a host of Disney characters on board a school bus. The lunch box, which sold its nine millionth unit in 1976, is now a prized collector’s item among Disney fans.
Al loved designing and developing Disney merchandise. He once said, “One of the biggest thrills in my work was to see an item begin with my rough design, then develop into a prototype and become a product that reaches the sales counters and, eventually, people’s homes.”
Born in Brooklyn on May 19, 1915, Al showed an interest in art at an early age, asking his parents “only for crayons and drawing pencils for Christmas.” After high school, he attended Pratt Institute of Art at night while working as an artist in the advertising department of the Gertz Company on Long Island. He went on to become an art director for the Pal Personna Blade Co., where he developed the company’s Pal man character which was featured on product packages.
After 16 years with Pal, Al brought his creative skills and self-taught knowledge in sales, marketing, and copyright law to Walt Disney Productions. Al soon found himself named a marketing account executive, coordinating licensing with such industry giants as General Electric (for the Mickey Mouse night light); Lever Brothers (for the Mickey Mouse toothbrush); and Bradley Time and Elgin (for Mickey Mouse watches and clocks, among others). He was also responsible for the development and licensing of the now-collectible Pez Mickey and Donald candy dispensers.
Besides being an idea man and an artist, Al considered himself a salesman with a pencil. He said, “I had creative jam sessions with people from Hallmark or Hasbro and I’d always bring my drawing pad. I’m an artist and could best explain a concept through drawing. I imagine myself a silent salesman; I use my graphics to sell the products.”
After retiring in 1981, Al served as a merchandise consultant for Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus for two years. During that time, he helped develop merchandise for the joint Disney and Ringling Bros. touring ice show, Disney on Ice. He also published a best-selling cartoon book, Double Bogey, which took a hilarious look at the foibles of golfers everywhere.
Al passed away on Monday February 8, 2016, at the age of 100.