Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ATTACK OF THE MECHANICAL TOYS!

As I've mentioned numerous times in this post, my brother is six and a half years older than I. That meant that his childhood toy references were very different from my own. His early Christmases were filled with the mechanical toys of the 60s, while my own were filled with the action figures of the late 60s and early 70s. He often talked about the guns and rifles and secret agent gadgets that he had, but as far back as I can remember, I don't recall seeing any of those toys in the house. It was as if my brother gave up on toys at an early age.

His friends, on the other hand, still had old toys hanging around their basements and attics, and I loved to sneak a peek at these artifacts of toy past. There were three brothers who lived in a large house behind our own smaller house, and my brother hung out with all three of them since they were pretty close in age (one a little older than Craig, one the same age, and the third a little younger). The youngest brother, Barry, was the most mild mannered and was the only one who actually treated me like a friend rather than a pesky younger brother. Every so often, he'd give me one of the old toys that was lying neglected around their house. This was such a thrill for me because these were not toys I could buy in the store and none of my friends would have anything like them.

One day, I was playing in the alley that divided our house from Barry's house. I saw Craig and Barry walking down the alley toward me, carrying this green thing between them. When they got nearer, I could see that it was a plastic dragon or monster of some kind, like Godzilla.

"Here Neal," Barry said, "this is for you."

My eyes grew big and I stammered and stuttered the usual things like, "Are you kidding me?" and "Is this a joke?" They kept reassuring me that Barry was actually giving it to me to the point where I think Barry was becoming annoyed and was tempted to take it back. Before that could happen, however, I grabbed it and helped them drag it back to my house. It was green with chartreuse legs and a long, pointy tail that wiggled a bit. It clearly was battery powered, but I don't recall ever putting batteries in it. I would just drag it around and growl like I was attacking Tokyo.

Only recently did I discover that this creature was called King Zor, made by Ideal in the early 60s. From what I can gather, it also came with a dart gun that I never had. The idea was that King Zor would shoot marbles out of its back at you while you tried to stop it by hitting the end of its tail with a dart. Toys with flying projectiles didn't seem to bother parents back then. I didn't experience any of this excitement with my King Zor anyway; I just loved lugging this heavy chunk of plastic around and pretending to menace the world.

I discovered this commercial for King Zor on YouTube. This should provide a good glimpse at how the toy worked:



This was one of the few mechanical toys I ever owned. By the late 60s, the scene had shifted to action figures and items that didn't require so many batteries. I do recall, however, having a couple of those Japanese robots. These clunky metal monstrosities lumbered along while flashing lights and making irritating grinding noises. I believe it was Christmas 1969 when my aunt and uncle gave me a robot known as Super Astronaut. He was a variation on another robot known as Attacking Martian Robot, the gimmick being that after taking a few steps, the robot would stop, open the doors on his chest, project twin machine gun barrels, then fire these machine guns as its torso spun around 360 degrees. Here's a video to show you the robot in action:



At the time, I found the whole display rather horrifying. I had seen enough war movies to know the destructive power of machine guns, and this robot not only had two, he could spray the entire room with bullets without even taking a step. As I played with the robot in my aunt and uncle's living room on that cheery Christmas evening, I could just picture my entire family being mowed down in a blood bath of human carnage. The part that I found especially creepy was that the robot had a human face. This impassive male countenance peered through the glass shield of the robot's head. My five-year-old mind imagined that a person had been imprisoned in this robot body, thus losing all his human compassion, and was coerced by some alien force to annihilate humans indiscriminately.

Needless to say, I didn't play with this toy very much. And I've always been a little curious as to how the grown-ups felt about such toys. I suspect they didn't give it much thought. To them, it was probably just a mechanical toy that moved and lit up and made noise. Nothing too terrifying in that, is there?

3 comments:

Kathy said...

Super Astronaut (Kenny!) reminds me of something out of Doctor Who, a human/robot hybrid created by an evil genius to take over the Earth (or at least Greater London).

Superflash said...

Do you still have the King Zor?

Neal Patterson said...

No Superflash, I'm afraid it didn't last more than a year. In fact, I really don't know what happened to King Zor or so many of my other toys from that era. I suspect my parents either threw them away or gave them to charity when they noticed I wasn't playing with them anymore.