Live actors in Voltron costumes set off on a national mall tour. Kids flocked by the thousands to gape at Princess Allura and Commander Keith. The "mob" was so huge in Hawaii, a local TV reporter said, it reached Menudo proportions.

Voltron episodes released on VHS (another novel technology) went double platinum, meaning over 2 million sold within a year. Voltron toys and the animated series fed off each other in what Lacey calls "a rare synergy." Merchandisers hounded Keefe to sign deals on everything from pajamas to watches.

"Peter was Voltron," Lacey recalls. "His phone was ringing off the hook."

But it was in boardrooms that Keefe revealed his true genius, Lacey says. A voracious reader, Keefe would allude to French history while presenting in Paris. In Japan, he drew analogies to the shogun era. And for all his oddball flair, the mustachioed Keefe spoke to executives in their own terms: ratings, demographics and, most crucially, dollar signs.

Lacey remembers one broadcaster summing up Keefe's energy this way: If you shook the man's hand, you'd better not be standing in water.

"He was masterful," concludes Lacey, a 28-year veteran of the industry. "The best I've ever seen in the business."

But Peter Keefe's resentment was building.


During production of World Events' next major hit, Denver, the Last Dinosaur, Peter Keefe quit in anger. He felt that Koplar had verbally agreed to pay him more, but wasn't following through.

In 1989, Keefe filed suit in California against Koplar and the company, alleging breach of contract and demanding $9 million. Four years later, a jury awarded him $2.6 million. The adversaries then reached an out-of-court settlement.

Franklin Cofod testified on Keefe's behalf at trial.

"In my opinion, [World Events] did what a lot people do when they get successful," Cofod says. "They figured it was cheaper to get sued than to pay. And Peter sued them. And he won."

Keefe and Koplar were not on speaking terms during the '90s, but the Voltron franchise did not die. In 1998, World Events ran a 26-episode sequel in 3-D computer-generated imagery. The characters looked different. Reviews were lukewarm.

Worse, the Japanese creators of Beast King GoLion — Toei Animation — began saber-rattling. Toei believed World Events had overstepped the boundaries of their 1984 agreement and made the CGI series without buying those explicit rights.

To quash this dispute once and for all, Koplar and crew purchased GoLion outright in 2000. Now they had the freedom to adapt at will. But nothing was in the works.

In 2001, Tiffany Ilardi — a five-foot-tall brunette all of 27 years old — slid into the vacant seat of managing director at World Events. Hundreds of e-mails and phone calls were pouring in every day, she discovered, from fans across the globe. They wanted more Voltron, and they also wanted merchandise. She didn't have much to offer.

So she went onto eBay to take stock of vintage Voltron items still in circulation. And she was shocked.

"I had no idea how big this was back in the '80s," she says. There were Voltron dinnerware sets, bedsheets, viewfinders, Easter egg wraps, shrinky-dinks. She bought all of it. Her office filled up so fast she had to move it all into storage.

For the show's twenty-year anniversary, Ilardi made a deal with Media Blasters to re-release the entire original series in eight collectible tins. It sold well. Then Toynami came out with some limited-edition classic Voltron toys. Those sold out. Ilardi even had some cheeky apparel made, such as boxer shorts emblazoned with the words, "Form Blazing Sword!"

Reebok took notice of the buzz and designed five different pairs of Voltron-themed sneakers, each for a different lion. The New York City launch party, which featured Voltron-themed martinis, drew the likes of Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl. Within six months, Ilardi says, Reebok had unloaded all 125,000 pairs.

In 2005, the prospect for a live-action Voltron movie grew bright as Grey's Anatomy producer Mark Gordon took an interest. Variety reported in August 2007 that World Events was ready to ink a deal with Gordon and 20th Century FOX.

But Toei came a-knocking once more. "Congratulations!" the company's lawyer wrote in January 2008 after reading the article. "We, however, were surprised with the fact that Toei has not been contacted in connection with this movie planning." Once again, the Japanese felt they had retained some Voltron-related rights.

Gordon and the Hollywood studio caught wind of this confusion and recoiled. World Events filed a federal lawsuit against Toei, alleging that it had scotched a lucrative film deal.

The St. Louis-based company hired a new attorney in his late twenties to assist with the case: Ted Koplar's youngest son, Bob.

Along with his three siblings, Bob had served as an original Voltron guinea pig. He still remembers screening early episodes in Ted's office, with his father asking the children, "What are your impressions?"

"We just went crazy," he says with a grin. Bob Koplar was also the kid in school with the most Voltron toys. "It was like currency to get friends," he jokes.

After finishing law school at Washington University, he put in time as a corporate lawyer in New York City but felt the pull back home. Upon returning in 2009, his first major project was to help with the lawsuit against Toei. The parties settled in late 2010.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
13 comments
Prairie Librarian
Prairie Librarian

A fascinating, well-researched and spot-on local interest story that reaches beyond St. Louis in its devoted fans and franchise suits who benefit from its reincarnation. I am always looking for a slightly tilted but popular new subject to add to my small rural library's DVD collection. Voltron will be a hit, I can tell.

sorphin
sorphin

I used to watch that all the time. I even had the lions. Grabbed it up on DVD once I figured out that it was on DVD. Awesome to know that St. Louis actually played a part in its existence.

Dennis Paruch
Dennis Paruch

Excellent article. The most comprehensive story on the history of Voltron I've ever read. Thank you.

J
J

1. This show was amazing. It was the reason that I woke up Saturday mornings. Sadly, if my memory is correct, there were just a couple of seasons before it went kaput.

2. Can we please get someone to proof these artices? "But the princess and four of her pals — Keith, Lance, Hunk, Sven and Pidge..." This kind of mistake is pathetic. Can the author not count past four?

 
Loading...