Don Poynter, Bus ’49, was such a novelty on campus that any grad from the late 1940s probably has memories of him on the field as an “extra-ordinary” drum major, meaning his incredible talent was far from ordinary. So it probably came as no surprise to his classmates that he went on to carve a career for himself in many novel ways and ended up becoming famous for inventing novelty items such as:
- the first talking toilet seat
- whiskey-flavored toothpaste
- the first basketball backboard for a wastebasket
- Uncle Fester's Mystery Light Bulb (featured on the “Addams Family” show and which could light up in your hand or mouth)
- the Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle (which aired on Jack Parr’s TV show)
As UC's drum major for three years, Poynter was rated one of the "finest baton twirlers in the country" and identified as "pep personified" by the 1947 and '48 Cincinnatian yearbooks. In 1948, for example, at the Thanksgiving Day game against Miami University, he dove into a tepee during the halftime show and emerged dressed in Indian attire.
Unfortunately, muddy turf pulled off his moccasins, leaving him in a dangerous position to be swinging a sharp knife under his feet. The next yearbook contained a photo [above] and called him a "versatile jack of all trades." He upheld the reputation with an interesting list of activities and accomplishments:
- Supported himself at UC by performing as a ventriloquist and at magic shows, a sideline career he began in the Army
- Toured with the Harlem Globetrotters for three years after graduation, twirling batons on a unicycle at halftime, serving as assistant tour director and shooting newsreels for television
- Met Eva Perón and partied with Prince Rainier of Monaco
- Produced and did puppet work for "Big John and Sparky's No School Today" television show, which aired in 280 cities for 13 weeks
- Produced a stage show starring Basil Rathbone on the West Coast
- Appeared on the television show "What's My Line?" and won $25 by stumping the panel as the creator of whiskey-flavored toothpaste
A hint of his future surfaced at age 11, when he began making and selling remote-control toy tanks and working cannons. Next, Don Poynter incorporated Poynter Creations while a UC student to sell "Play Logs" -- similar to Lincoln Logs, but large to create a inside play space for children. Later he changed the company's name to Poynter International and spent nearly half his time in Asia manufacturing novelties.
Thanks to Poynter, the world got to enjoy the first basketball backboard for a wastebasket, "The Thing" coin box featured on the “Addams Family” TV show (14 million sold), crossword-puzzle toilet tissue and the Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle. Later, when the bottle aired on TV, Jack Parr covered part of its "anatomy" with a handkerchief. Poynter also created the world’s smallest working record player, sold with 39 tiny records that Poynter recorded with real orchestras, and a Steer-N-Go landscape for Matchbox cars, which grossed $75 million in its first year.
Retiring in the late '90s, Poynter has held patents on 100 or so novelty items, admittedly a nebulous number because "I never really bothered looking it up," he says. He also built and currently owns Triple Crown Country Club in Union, Ky., and the new Widow's Watch Golf Course in Lexington, Ky.
In 2002, UC Magazine let him give advice on how to make the most of being silly. His “Tips from the Top” follow: