Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I’m thinking it must’ve been Christmas 1968. It’s one of my earliest memories. I can recall that, for some reason, my parents set all the toys in the dining room rather than the living room that year. We had a rather sad, shapeless fake green tree in the living room, but in the dining room, we had a shimmering three-feet-high creation that looked like a stack of silver pipe cleaners. Fully decorated with mirror finished balls of blue and pink, it was the physical manifestation of commercialized, 60s-kitsch Christmas. I loved it! My mom set it up on the credenza, covering the bottom of the tree and the table top with cotton wool studded with metallic confetti. I remember the room glowing with shades of pink and silver.

Rather than wrapping the presents, my parents made an artful arrangement of a western scene underneath the metallic tree. The western part came courtesy of the Marx Toys Best of the West line. I especially remember Johnny West’s son, Jay West, perched atop his colt or pony or whatever the small horse was supposed to be. The whole vision was like Bonanza meets the Jetsons. I wish I had pictures from that Christmas, but then again, it’s probably just as well. Nothing can match the images in the viewmaster of my cranium.

The Best of the West toys, a huge line of western figures, was likely the most successful of the Marx Toys action figures. Their run was about as long as G.I. Joe’s and covered a wide assortment of characters. In addition to the Johnny and Jay West that I received that Christmas, I also received a Captain Tom Maddox figure and a Sam Cobra figure from my Aunt Pat for Christmas 1972. Captain Maddox was a cavalryman, but I didn’t quite understand that. Military figures prior to WW II were alien to me. I just treated him like a cowboy. Sam Cobra, on the other hand, was clearly a Western style bad guy through and through. You could tell right off because of his devil-like van dyke beard and all-black ensemble. This one was a favorite, although I felt bad about liking the bad guy more than any of the good guys. The main reason I liked him so much was because he came with this wonderful line of accessories. He had a cane with a knife hidden in the handle, two rifles (a short one and a Winchester), pistols, skeleton key, time bomb, pool cues, and a doctor’s bag. He even had his own safe to crack and a special hole in his right palm to hold the tiny derringer he hid away. This was a bad mother – shut yo’ mouth! I’m talkin’ ‘bout Cobra!!

Flash forward 30 years. I was reading Tom Heaton’s terrific book titled The Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures, and I discovered that Captain Tom Maddox and Sam Cobra had an interesting connection. The head of Maddox was originally designed to go with Sam Cobra’s body as a Wild, Wild West action figure. Sure enough, the head did look a lot like Robert Conrad, and the Sam Cobra body looked exactly like Jim West’s suit, right down to the “W” notches in the lapels. I was determined to make my own Jim West custom out of spare parts. As luck would have it, I was trolling eBay for Marx toys when I came across a figure that someone had already customized with the Maddox head on the Sam Cobra body. With only a little painting to the body, I had a ready made Jim West action figure!

Although G.I. Joe was the gold standard of action figures back then, Marx figures offered some tremendous thrills. They were sturdy, hard plastic toys that could take a great deal of punishment. They also offered a wide assortment of accessories complete in the box with the figure, so you could hit the ground running with imaginative adventures from the minute you received it. I didn’t realize how much I loved those figures until long after they were lost or sold in my mom’s various yard sales.

No comments: