Lot #319
Atari 'High Strung Prima Donna' T-Shirt (c. 1980) from the collection of David Sherman

This lot has closed

Estimate: $400+


Super rare original in-house Atari, Inc. t-shirt from the personal collection of David Sherman, lead hardware designer of the innovative Atari games Missile Command and I, Robot. The light blue t-shirt, which is missing its inner collar tag (likely size small or medium), features text to the front, “Just Another High-Strung Prime Donna from Atari,” and a sketch design of an opera soprano, or ‘fat lady,’ singing on the back, her staff tipped with the Atari logo. In fine condition.

The origin of this shirt, according to Sherman: ‘Atari was a unique place to work. Silicon Valley at that time was dominated by defense contractors and large business electronics firms. Along came this collection of ‘exotic’ people, whose only mission was to bring fantastic new styles of games to the masses. Part of doing that was having a rebellious culture and an ‘anything goes’ work environment. I truly could not have had a career at the other firms, I would have been shown the door for my attitude.

Enter Ray Kassar, an executive from the clothing industry, who was brought in to turn Atari into a ‘proper company.’ This did not go well, as any sane executive at Warner Communications should have realized.

At the height of the ensuing discord, Kassar was quoted as calling the Atari engineers ‘high strung prima donnas.’ Naturally, every engineer showed up the very next day wearing one of these T-shirts. And often to subsequent staff meetings as ‘need arose.’ As much as this seems like a mere giggle now, many believe it highlighted the discontent to upper management at Warner and started the slow demise of Kassar's reign as CEO. Atari truly was the prototype for the typical Silicon Valley startups to come. For good or bad, ‘work hard, play hard,’ and sometimes, die hard.’

From the Collection of David Sherman

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Science and Technology
  • Dates: #650 - Ended December 15, 2022