A RocSubway reader is looking to sell this old Rochester “Wheeler Dealer” board game ($50)*. Wheeler Dealer is a game of two parts. First, players travel the world while buying, selling, bargaining and trading products. In part two those products are sold back to the bank or auctioned to the highest bidder. Licensed versions of the game were produced for many cities around the world in the 1980s, including this one for Rochester…
The game features many local businesses like Sibley’s, McCurdy’s, Vic & Irv’s, and Captain Tony’s Pizza. And even a few local landmarks like Highland Park (where players start out).
Pretty neat. But the game isn’t the most interesting part. Check out the alien in the corner of the game board…
Do you recognize this guy? It’s Irbir the alien, a Rochester mascot from the early 80s. He appeared in advertisements and television commercials by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and was used to promote local retail businesses.
Here’s the only other image I could find of Irbir, from the Fairport Herald-Mail (Oct. 27, 1982). Thanks to Deepthirteen on Flickr for this.
And here’s one of the old “I’d Rather Be In Rochester” TV commercials from the early 80’s. This not the one with Irbir, but it does feature the catchy jingle, plus a few well known Rochesterians: Ramon Santiago (artist) , Terry Diehl (pro golfer) , Joe Altobelli (pro baseball player and manager) , Jeff Tyzik (musician) , and Don Potter (musician & producer) .
Animator and producer Brian Bram told the story of how Irbir came to be in the comment section of Rocwiki…
3 years BEFORE E.T. was released, my friend Jeff Sackoff came to my office (The Effects Factory) with an idea for doing a commercial that would showcase our talents. He had gotten permission from the Chamber of Commerce to use the jingle to the “I’d Rather Be in Rochester” civic pride project (from Hutchins Y&R), and suggested we do a kids commercial about a little alien landing in Rochester because he’d rather be there than anywhere else. We storyboarded a spot that had him arriving from space, passing by the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and coming to Rochester where he looks down at and says, “I’d Rather Be in Rochester…It’s Got It!” With the Chamber of Commerce’s blessing, we began production.
Irbir was the result of several talented people working together. Including Dave Kindlon, known more recently for his work on the “starring” robot in I, Robot and other films. (note that “Irbir” is the acronym of “I’d Rather Be In Rochester). In addition to Dave Kindlon there were about 10 others that directly contributed to the project. Dave’s friend Derek designed Irbir’s face. I can’t remember everyone’s name now, but there was Larry (?), Marte Cellura, Chris Elling, Gale Gand, Terry Conheady, legendary view camera photographer Mark Sampson, and Jim Bennett, a makeup fx friend of Dave and Derek’s. If I’ve left someone out, please forgive me.
We built the Irbir figure in an industrial loft in the Cox Building at 25 St. Paul Street. We did the first commercial at Channel 31 where I had done the “Sci-Fi Saturday” movie open. Mark Phillips and Ron Dylewski at 31 were kind enough to let us use the studio for our production. They also arranged for Irbir to appear on The Buckaroo Club with Ranger Bob several times, and had Irbir do a RIF (Reading is Fun-damental) PSA. It took seven of us to operate the puppet in that first spot.
The first spot, featuring great music by Terry Conheady, aired with heavy rotation (lots of showings), and we decided to make a second one. We rented a cherry picker and shot on Cobb’s Hill (with giant rubber mushrooms to make the scene more magical), following Irbir as he walks up the path to look out upon his chosen home, Rochester. Then we built a version of the puppet that was capable of live appearances. A cabinetmaker whose name I’ve forgotten built a large-scale version of Irbir’s spaceship, MXR donated a pitch transposer, and we began to do appearances in shopping malls. Derek designed T-shirts (for sale at McCurdy’s) and Terry operated the puppet (redesigned to be operated by one person). We did several live appearances at area malls and at Camp Good Days and Special Times before retiring Irbir. Last I knew, he was in a series of boxes in Jeff Sackoff’s basement around the corner from Jeremiah’s.
E.T. came out about 6 months after Irbir debuted on the air. We ran into a lot of people who thought this was an E.T. imitation. Irbir looked absolutely nothing like E.T., but the timing was such that people (especially kids) saw any little alien character as E.T. We became disheartened as we had to explain again and again that this was not E.T.
McCurdy’s wanted to leverage the Irbir character for promotion (of McCurdy’s), but didn’t want to pay to license it from us. We offered full rights to the American Cancer Society with underwriting by corporate sponsors, but they declined (Bill Finger, a McCurdy’s executive was on the ACS board and allegedly killed the proposal…and Irbir). So Irbir went in the box. Additional info can be found in the Times-Union archives in an article about Irbir by journalist Karen Heller.
Do you remember Irbir? If you do, or if you have photos of the friendly space alien, please drop a comment below.
*UPDATE: Sorry, the Wheeler Dealer game has sold 🙁
Tags: Brian Bram, I'd Rather Be In Rochester (IRBIR), IRBIR Alien, Laurie Dirkx, Michael Glenn Productions, Rochester board game, Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Wheeler Dealer
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on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 7:18 am and is filed under Art + Culture, Rochester Gifts, Rochester History.
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