Friday, September 29, 2006


Anyone who was not alive during the Apollo space missions cannot appreciate the excitement of those heady days. In recent years, the quest to land on the moon is often viewed cynically as a show of Cold War one-upsmanship or a chance for Lyndon Johnson to give some fat government contracts to his buddies in Houston. But for a young boy who knew nothing of politics, the space program was purely about adventure. Unlike those of previous generations, I couldn’t really believe that a man like Tarzan could exist, or that a lost world of roaming dinosaurs could have escaped man’s awareness on some uncharted island. But when it came to the moon and the planets beyond, that was anybody’s guess. We were venturing into the unknown, and in the process, creating new technologies that would benefit all mankind, like anti-gravity pens and Velcro and Tang. Okay, I’m being sarcastic here, but this stuff was really exciting to a kid.

Major Matt Mason was born in this environment of gee-whiz enthusiasm for the trek into space. The figure’s costume was based more or less on the Mercury and Gemini space suits. He stood about six inches tall, and was made of rubber with an inner wire frame for posing him in various positions. Today, he would be known as a “bendy.” The part about his anatomy that I found most disturbing was that his jointed areas (shoulders, elbows, and knees) were basically a series of rubber discs pressed together. It was as if he had no human joints. I kept thinking of that creepy rock group, The Way Outs, on The Flintstones.

Some of the initial accessories were also based on early designs of what the astronauts would need during their exploration of the moon. For example, there was this moon suit, which was featured in an old Popular Science magazine. I know because I had a copy of the issue, found in a box load of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines that my Uncle Clark gave me in the early 70s. By that time, we had visited the moon several times, and I don’t think Neal Armstrong would’ve been caught dead in this goofy monstrosity.

Some of the other accessories, particularly the later entries, were more fanciful in nature, putting Major Matt Mason somewhere between NASA and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. This was a set that I clearly remember having. It consisted of a flying jet pack for zipping around in space or across the lunar landscape. The back of the pack featured one of those hypnotic spinning swirls which was spun as you extended the jet pack’s tether. I got my tether tangled pretty quickly, rendering the hypnosis feature useless. If Matt preferred to fly with something under his feet, he could use the space sled, sort of like a jet ski for outer space. I wanted a real one of those as a kid!

The piece I most wanted was the one I knew I could never have: The Space Station. This three story high-tech headquarters represented the epitome of what futuristic space living was all about in the late 60s. Even as a pre-schooler, I had a sense of how far my parent’s generosity would extend, and I didn’t dare ask for a toy as big and elaborate as this. My friend Johnny, who got anything his heart desired, had one of these. I was so in awe, I wouldn’t even touch it. I only admired it from a safe distance.

Mattel continued to push the fantasy envelope with each new Major Matt Mason offering. Soon, the intrepid astronaut had alien friends like Callisto. This nonresident alien from Jupiter had a translucent green, heart-shaped head and cool green and black outfit. He was supposed to be Mason’s friend, but since he was green and featured a pissed off expression, I always made him the villain in my adventures. He also had a giant buddy from Mars called Captain Laser. At 12 inches in height, this guy towered over the Major, and was made of hard plastic. Thanks to some batteries (sold separately) and a few buttons in his jet pack, Captain Laser could make his eyes glow, his laser gun flash, and the color wheel on his chest pulsate. I loved this dude!

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was pretty good at losing my action figures. I believe I went through four Major Matt Masons. Pretty soon, I gave up on the Major and his pals. By the time I was in grade school, we had traveled to the moon and back several times. The novelty was over and Americans focused on the more dreary realities of Watergate, inflation, and the energy crisis. As the Apollo missions ground to a halt, so too did the Major Matt Mason toy line. We could no longer afford to expend time and energy on frivolous adventures like space travel. When the astronaut disappeared from the toy shelves, I felt no loss. I simply moved on to the next big thing. In retrospect, I think Major Matt Mason was a shameful loss, since he was one of the few figures who elicited a powerful sense of adventure without resorting to weapons or fisticuffs. Like the real NASA astronauts, he was a hero simply because he was willing to jump headlong into the unknown and show us what secrets the universe held.

(Note: the links in this post are to a Web site called Keith Meyer’s The Space Station: Major Matt Mason HQ. It’s a wonderful site to learn about all things related to Major Matt Mason.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


At the risk of sounding a little weird, I always looked at my childhood experience with Captain Action as “the action figure that got away.” For reasons I still don’t know, my Captain Action disappeared rather quickly from my life. The fact is, I lost a lot of toys as a tot, and my favorites had the highest mortality rate, thanks primarily to the fact that I insisted on carrying them around everywhere and usually left them behind when my attentions were diverted elsewhere. I recall sitting in the child’s seat of a grocery cart, playing with one of my Major Matt Masons and dropping him. I called out, but my mother was too preoccupied with her shopping to realize what had happened. I still can see in my mind’s eye the image of the intrepid space explorer left on the surface of an alien world near the canned vegetables, disappearing into the mists of time.

My Captain Action figure must have met a similar fate, but I have no memory of it. I do, however, remember how he entered my life. In my town, we had a discount store called Two Guys. They had the most amazing toy department, far better than any of the larger department stores of the day. The Corgi cars were displayed in a glass case like fine jewelry, and the latest G.I. Joes were shown off to great effect in a display case where they were arranged in exciting dioramas. The department itself took up an area similar in size to the KayBee stores you now see in the malls. This was the first place I flocked to when we went to Two Guys, unless my mom insisted on dragging me through the women’s clothing section (oh, the horror!).

So anyway, the Two Guys toy department was the place where I saw all the great Captain Action stuff laid out. For those who don’t know, Captain Action was a multi-level toy. He was a super hero in his own right, complete with a sidekick, Action Boy, and a blue alien arch-villain named Dr. Evil (no relation to the Mike Myers’s creation of 30 years later). Captain Action had accessories like G.I. Joe, but his were more James Bond in style, like his anti-gravitational power pack, inter-spacial directional communicator, inter-galactic jet mortar, and his amphibian super-car The Silver Streak. That was one level: he had his own super hero persona. The second level was that he could also change into other established super heroes. There were no less than 13 different costumes, from DC favorites like Superman and Batman to Marvel guys like Spiderman and Captain America. Like a lot of kids in the late 60s, I was a huge fan of the Batman t.v. show, so the opportunity to dress up an action figure as Batman was a big thrill. I had to have Captain Action and at least the Batman costume.

The problem was that, I started on this obsession early in 1969, so Christmas was a long way off, and my birthday was not until August, so the chances of getting such a high ticket item for no particular reason other than I wanted it just wasn’t going to happen. I talked constantly about Captain Action to my parents, but the usual response was the expected response: “Maybe for your birthday,” or “Maybe you can ask Santa.” When you’re four years old, even a month is a lifetime. I couldn’t bear to wait.

As luck would have it, I came down with a really nasty fever that winter. I was completely wiped out, hardly able to move or eat. I think some chicken broth was about all I could stomach. One evening, as I lay on the living room sofa covered in several blankets, praying for the ability to screw off the top of my skull and pour ice water over my brain, my dad came home a little later than usual. He handed me a paper bag with the Two Guys logo imprinted on the side. He had a habit of getting me small gifts when I was sick, so I was expecting a coloring book or a puzzle. Instead, I pulled out a long box with Captain Action emblazoned across the front in bold red letters. For a few moments, I had no awareness of my fever. I opened up the box and found the man himself pinned in place by cardboard inserts. I freed him from his prison and equipped him with his trademark Captain’s hat, laser gun, and saber shaped like a lightning bolt. Captain Action was now officially in charge of ridding the Patterson household of evildoers, wherever they may lurk.

Over the following months, I really bonded with Captain Action in a way that was different from any other action figure. I think it had to do with that incredible head sculpt. Nowadays, it’s quite common for even the most mundane action figure to have a distinctive head sculpt, but in those early days of boy dolls, the heads tended to be pretty generic. G.I. Joe had no personality at all, and every G.I. Joe, even the African-American one, had the exact same face. Captain Action was distinct. He had a tough but friendly countenance, with a slightly bewildered expression, like he was always puzzling over some problem to overcome. You could sense that he took his job seriously.

Sadly, I don’t think my Captain Action made it to the end of the year. I probably left him at a relative’s house, or unknowingly discarded him in a store like Major Matt Mason, but he was soon gone. I have a photo here of me with my family and my maternal grandmother on Christmas 1969. I’m holding a figure dressed in the Captain Action Batman costume, but I suspect that is a G.I. Joe wearing the costume. I got both the Batman and the Captain America costume that Christmas, but Cap wasn’t around to wear them. To make matters worse, Ideal stopped producing Captain Action that same year, so I couldn’t get another one. For 30 years, I was haunted by the memory of Captain Action. I held a special place in my heart for my dearly departed friend. It wasn’t until 1999, when my then fiancĂ© got me the new reproduction Captain Action and Dr. Evil figures for my birthday. They weren’t as precisely recreated as I had hoped, but I felt like I was reconnecting with my old friend. The experience kicked off my renewed interest in action figures that carries on to this day.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Tonight begins the third season of one of my favorite shows, Numb3rs (10 p.m. on CBS). Through all the rapid fire editing of the preview, I could discern that F.B.I. agent Megan Reeves, played by the terrific Diane Farr, is kidnapped by some baddies. This alone is enough to draw me in.

The character of Megan Reeves was added last season, along with fellow agent Colby Granger. Both were welcome reinforcements, but I was particularly intrigued by Megan. I think it started with the opening credits, for she alone looked directly at me. Anyone who watches the show knows what I’m talking about. When each actor is shown in the opening credits, he or she is looking slightly off to stage left or stage right. But Megan looks me straight in the eye and smiles, like an old friend. That’s a hook. (Now I’m despairing that they might have changed that for the new season.)

Beyond the opening credits, Megan has proven to be a strong character who can more than stand her ground with an eclectic mix of male personas. It’s to the writers’ and producers’ credit that they didn’t fall into the Hollywood trap of casting an implausibly young bubblehead as the lone female F.B.I. agent just to draw young male viewers. Megan is tough when she needs to be, gentle and compassionate when the other guys aren’t, and smart all the time. Lesser actresses would simply muss up their hair and speak in a breathy, harried voice to suggest such a character. Diane Farr makes this character completely believable because she is an accomplished person in her own right. She seems completely natural in the role, and I’m sure she draws her fair share of young male viewers.

Having babbled all this, I can’t wait to see the season premiere and look forward to more exciting Friday nights. In honor of the premiere, I present my action figure version of Megan Reeves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


One of the first companies to tackle Hasbro’s G.I. Joe success head on was Marx Toys. Best known for their elaborate playsets with hundreds of little pieces representing everything from historic battle scenes to futuristic space ports, Marx decided that they could use their plastic injection technology to make an 11 ½” solid plastic army figure similar to the mighty Joe. The result was Stony Smith – a 1/6th scale army man with a solid body molded in olive green plastic. Only the arms had articulation at the shoulders and elbows. This soldier could stand guard forever since he couldn’t sit down! The head and hands were molded from soft poly-vinyl.

Since the figure had molded on clothing like a statue, there were no detailed costumes to buy. Nor were there elaborately detailed accessories – all accessories were molded out of solid green plastic with no painting. However, unlike G.I. Joe where most of the accessories were sold separately, Stony Smith came with dozens of accessories in the same box as the figure. What Stony Smith lacked in quality, he more than made up for in quantity. For about the same price or less than a G.I. Joe, you got Stony and a complete set of equipment and weapons to wage war anywhere in the world. No nagging your parents for more accessory sets; this guy came prepared!

My brother was actually the one in our house who received Stony Smith as a Christmas present from our Aunt Mildred. As I pointed out in an earlier post, my brother never really got into the action figure movement. His early psyche had been influenced by car and weapon toys, so while he was technically still young enough to play with action figures, he never found them appealing. I, on the other hand, was fascinated by these figures even while still in diapers. I provide proof with this photo:

The second Marx figure to grace our home was their answer to James Bond – Mike Hazard, Double Agent. This to me was the ultimate Marx action figure, providing no less than 62 (!) accessories. Mike was a rather benign looking figure, but he came equipped with disguises and numerous spy gadgets to mix and match to your heart’s content. Again, my brother originally received the toy during a Secret Santa at school, but I quickly appropriated ol’ Mike as my own. The picture above shows me putting a disguise on Mike Hazard, one of many variations you could put together. The guns could be outfitted with various silencers, scopes, and rifle stocks to turn them into exotic weapons like those seen on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He even came with an exploding briefcase! Marx knew how to please rug rats back then!

Of course, the drawback to Mike Hazard was the very thing that made his so great: too many little pieces of plastic. As a rambunctious preschooler, there was no way I was going to keep track of all those bits for very long. One by one, the accessories were lost to the vacuum or the tall grass or my always hungry cocker spaniel. Once the accessories disappeared, Mike Hazard was no longer a double agent but an ordinary guy with a dumb smile. But in his prime, Mike and I saved a good chunk of the world from the communist menace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


NCIS has its season premiere tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS. Today also marks the birthday of one of its featured performers, David McCallum. Although I’m only a casual viewer of the show, I am a big fan of David McCallum, stemming from the fact that he co-starred with Robert Vaughn in one of the coolest shows of the 60s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum is one of those stars that you feel like you’ve grown up with. I’ve really enjoyed him in everything I’ve seen him do. He even delivered a good performance in the otherwise awful U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie from 1983.

On NCIS, McCallum plays medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (yeah, I know, but it’s a Donald Bellisario production). Ducky is a rather uptight, bookish fellow who’s often dispensing advise and wisdom to his much younger co-workers. As with other roles, McCallum brings the character to life in a way that raises Ducky above what could be a caricature. He imbues the character with a certain charm and dignity that makes you really like him, even when he’s telling one of his rambling stories.

Anyway, in honor of the NCIS premiere and Mr. McCallum’s birthday, I present my custom action figure version of Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard. The head is a resin creation courtesy of Dale Van Slyke (visit his eBay store at Diver4’s Treasure Chest), attached to a generic action figure body. The doctor’s scrubs I purchased from Old Joe Infirmary. They have a terrific Web site where they sell individual pieces for custom action figure creations. Their address is (

I’ll get back to my usual childhood recollections tomorrow.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Even as a child, I was never athletically inclined. Always a few pounds overweight, lacking in stamina, and possessing the worst hand/eye coordination, I never could excel in any sport. Besides, I was so full of imagination, I much preferred fantasizing about amazing adventures with my action figures than confining myself to the rigid rules and procedures of a game. As a result, I developed a disinterest in sports and a dislike for those who excelled in sports, i.e., the jocks.

Big Jim was a jock. Unlike Action Jackson, who had outfit sets for any variety of activities from combat soldier to fire fighter, Big Jim’s whole milieu revolved around sports activities. He played soccer, football, baseball, and, of course, practiced karate. In fact, his gimmick was a push button in the middle of his back that lowered his right arm in a quick chopping motion. This was not a plus in my book. Just like the circle of bullet holes in Talking G.I. Joe’s chest, a collapsible back was not natural and kinda creepy.

But I digress.

During the summer of ’72, I was firmly in the Action Jackson camp. My friend Dave had a Big Jim, so we would play together, but the bulky, 9-inch Big Jim looked positively Hulk-like next to puny Action Jackson. Oh well, we had big imaginations. For my birthday that summer, a well-meaning but action figure-impaired relative bought me a Big Jim Rescue Rig. It was a cool piece of equipment, with the cherry picker on top, but it was way outsized for my Action Jackson, so I talked my mother into getting me Big Josh. He had a beard. Somehow, he seemed to me like a lumberjack rather than a jock like Big Jim. That was how I tentatively entered the world of Big Jim, but that was about it. In 1974, I asked for a Big Jim lunchbox to take to school only because it was one of the first all-plastic lunchboxes. Unfortunately, after carrying about three months worth of lunches, the plastic absorbed all the smells of the various inhabitants and turned into one God-awful stench. If you can imagine peanut butter, salami, tuna fish, and Fritos blended together, you get the idea. The all-plastic thermos was worse. Sure, it didn’t have a glass liner to break on you, but the plastic quickly smelled like sour milk. I threw it out before Thanksgiving and brown-bagged it the rest of the year.

I regained interest in Big Jim briefly around 1976 when they came out with the W.O.L.F. Pack. The team consisted of a much more macho looking Big Jim, a bald guy with a chrome hand called Dr. Steel, a lumberjack looking guy with a big whip called (imaginatively) The Whip, and a Native American stereotype called Warpath.

I think I fell for these guys mainly because of the box art, done by the comic book genius Jack Kirby. I was a sucker for his bold style, and bought some of these figures. Of course, by this time, I was approaching puberty and admitting to owning action figures was a bit like saying you wore dresses and danced to Captain and Tennille records in your room. Okay, that one time, but that’s all!

Big Jim fizzled out in America around this time anyway. I’ve since learned from the Internet that Big Jim continued on to great success in Europe. The costumes and accessories followed themes more closely related to espionage and science fiction rather than sports. If only he had started out that way in the states, I may have ditched Action Jackson a lot earlier.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


In the spring of 1972, G.I. Joe was the dominant action figure on the market (I’ll discuss some of the also-rans in later entries). Then these commercials started popping up on my local UHF station during their cartoons/Little Rascals/Three Stooges sessions between 3 and 5 p.m. They showed an animated figure morphing into a fireman, motorcyclist, and any number of exciting people. Then it would shift from animation to a real life action figure dressed up in any number of outfits. He wasn’t limited to adventure, rescue stuff either. He could be a football player or a cowboy or a karate expert. As the jingle promised, “Think of what you want to be, then call on me!” (For complete information on Action Jackson, check out

The new action figure was Action Jackson. Once again, I was mesmerized by these commercials. Action Jackson promised even more than the Adventure Team could. In fact, the FCC felt the commercials promised too much and almost sunk the toy before it got off the launching pad. It seems the animated segments at the beginning of each commercial were against the regulations of the day regarding commercials aimed at children. I don’t know why adults back then thought kids were so stupid that they couldn’t distinguish between animation and a real toy. I guess it was the same people that were afraid kids would staple other kids’ nostrils together just because the Three Stooges did it. Okay, there was that one time, but….

Anyway, there was one aspect of the commercials that did mislead me, and that was with regard to Action Jackson’s size. Since the commercials featured few shots of the toy next to an average-sized boy, I assumed that Mr. Jackson was the same size as the other 1/6th scale figures that were on the market at the time. However, a trip to the local discount store revealed that he was only 8 inches tall. Not only that, his body and limbs were rather scrawny, and his face, which seemed rugged on screen, looked sallow and sickly. I was beginning to lose faith.

On the last day of second grade, my mom presented me with my own Action Jackson. We didn’t have graduation ceremonies for elementary school kids back then, but this toy was better than a fake diploma. Once I had ol’ Action in my chubby hands, I warmed up to him. In fact, I found his smaller size easier to handle than the bulky Joes, plus he had fewer points of articulation, so he didn’t become bent into weird positions during moments of action. Even his face grew on me.

Since Mego was about the cheapest toy company around at the time, poor Mr. Jackson came with nothing more than a blue jumpsuit and boots. I had to promptly nag my mother into buying me a couple of the numerous outfit sets available. I got the safari set (I was fond of the old Jungle Jim movies on t.v.) and the secret agent set (very similar to the G.I. Joe Mission to Spy Island set, but without the raft). I also finagled mom into getting me the strap-on helicopter. This was like James Bond’s jet pack in Thunderball, only it used a helicopter rotor rather than jets for lift. My memories of the summer of ’72 are completely wrapped around Action Jackson. I can remember playing safari in the tall grass of the backyard on hot afternoons, or secret agent while the Israeli Olympic team was taken hostage on t.v. I remember getting the Action Jackson amphi-cat for my birthday, right around the time that the Olympic Games resumed.

From what I’ve read, Action Jackson was not a huge seller for Mego, but from where I stood, he was the most remarkable toy since, well, G.I. Joe himself. For Christmas that year, I got more costumes and a black Action Jackson along with a blonde or red-headed one (not too sure about the hair color). Other figures were coming along, such as Big Jim and Mego’s super hero line, but I remained fairly loyal to Action Jackson.

Later on, I picked up Amigo, the figure offered as a Wards Exclusive. I was always a sucker for these “exclusives” offered by Wards and Sears in their Christmas catalogues. Usually, they were inferior, slapped-together pieces of junk just to be used as sales gimmicks. Amigo fit right into that category. Although the head and torso was roughly the same as a Jackson, his arms were bendy rubber and his legs were completely rigid. He also had two right feet! I think I threw him away after one of the rubber arms broke.

I said I was fairly loyal to Action Jackson from 1972 to 1974, but I wasn’t completely faithful. I still played with G.I. Joes, and I dabbled in the world of Big Jim. More on that next time…

Monday, September 11, 2006


I’ll never forget when Furry Joe entered my life. Although the exact date escapes me, I’m pretty sure it was a sunny Saturday morning in September of 1970. I was watching the usual cartoon fare (Scooby Doo or Aquaman or some such stuff), when a commercial came on for G.I. Joe. Only this was no G.I. Joe that I had ever seen before. He wasn’t all clean shaven with a smooth, short hairdo, looking like all the dads in my neighborhood. He had bristly real hair AND A BEARD. Whoa! He looked like those cool guys that hung out at the head shop my brother frequented for black light posters and incense. Instead of boring dog tags, he sported a big, round medallion around his neck with the letters “A” and “T” formed into something that looked vaguely like a peace sign. I soon learned that this stood for “Adventure Team” and this mod looking Joe was the Land Adventurer. You could tell he was the Land Adventurer because he was running through overgrown grass that resembled a jungle and fighting with a rubber gorilla.

I can’t truly express in words how much this new G.I. Joe image captured my imagination. As much as I loved the original G.I. Joe, there was something about the armed services that I knew I would never quite grasp. They had lots of rules and a hierarchy that I couldn’t fathom at six years old. And from the way my dad talked about his Army days, it didn’t seem like all that much fun. But now we had the “Adventure Team,” a vaguely defined organization made up of Land Adventurers, Sea Adventurers, and Air Adventurers. They could go anywhere and do anything. They didn’t fight in wars; they flew to the tops of burning buildings to save people, searched for sunken treasure, and battled wild animals in far off jungles. He could do anything and be anyone I wanted him to be. I had to possess this new G.I. Joe.

That afternoon, my friends and I played with our old G.I. Joes while breathlessly talking about this new G. I. Joe we saw on t.v. We were all determined to pester the hell out of our parents so that we would have Furry Joes on Christmas Day. Not all my friends were lucky. One friend, Dave, got a Land Adventurer, but I got the Big Kahuna: Talking Adventure Team Commander. I didn’t even know he existed, but my parents had found him. Although I was put off by the circle of bullet holes in his chest, I was more than compensated by the utterances that emitted from the holes when I pulled the string in the back of his neck. Statements like, “Geronimo!” and “I’ve got a tough assignment for you!” sent waves of excitement through my little body.

Although I had the superior Joe, Dave had the coveted “Secret Mission to Spy Island” set, complete with the black outfit, inflatable raft, detonator, and cool looking grease gun. My parents eventually broke down and got me that set, but only after I had fantasized a million ways of stealing Dave’s beautiful set away from him. By the time I got my own, the excitement had died off.

The following Christmas, I got The Search for the Stolen Idol playset, complete with the big yellow helicopter, a rubber cobra, and golden idol. I also received some other costume sets. Furry Joe and the Adventure Team remained a favorite for several years, but there were new men of action waiting in the wings to dethrone my hero.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


As I mentioned in the previous entry, G.I. Joe and I were born in the same year. Consequently, I have no memory of Joe as the hot new toy. He just always seemed to be there. Even in my earliest memories I already owned two or three Joes with various costumes and accessories. Accessories such as canteens, hand grenades, ammo belts, and the like peppered our basement floor. I recall the clunky, wooden footlocker with the diagram stuck inside to show which compartment each accessory was supposed to go into. Of course, I never bothered with that, choosing instead to simply cram the stuff in and force the metal latch shut before my mother screamed for the third time to come to dinner.

I had the basic Army outfit with requisite Colt .45 and M-1 rifle, along with the dress Marine uniform with that funny white rifle. Specialty outfits like the scuba suit, deep sea diving suit, and the Air Force flight suit came along later. There was even a German G.I. Joe with a German uniform. My friends and I tortured that doll mercilessly, punching holes in its chest and smacking it across the room like we were trying to force him to tell us the latest Nazi plans.

That was a strange phenomenon right there. Watching World War II movies and t.v. shows like The Rat Patrol and Combat, I think we kids had a sense that war was this great adventure which all young men would experience like a rite of passage. In my early brain, I thought that there was always a war going on so that young men could go fight in it. My dad was in the Army while there was a war in some place called Korea, and there was this Viet Nam war on the television every night. There had to be wars so the armed services could stay employed. I had no sense of danger, since only the bad guys died, and the U.S. was always the good guys. Such was the naiveté of youth.

No wonder parents groups were pushing the toy companies to get war toys off the market. Although the creation of G.I. Joe was motivated primarily by the success of Barbie, I see G.I. Joe as an interim step toward de-militarizing boys' toys. My brother played with toy guns and rifles, some of which fired real ammo in the form of plastic or rubber bullets. There was no doubt that these toys were making the connection that shooting other humans could be a form of recreation. G.I. Joe took the concept to a slightly more abstract level: action figures killing other action figures. Kids were no longer aiming weapons at each other; one kid’s G.I. Joe aimed a rifle or pistol at another kid’s G.I. Joe. Still, as resistance to the Viet Nam War increased and Americans saw Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated in their living rooms, war toys were no longer desirable. Hasbro saw the writing on the wall and drastically changed G.I. Joe’s image. This revamp of the G.I. Joe image gave me my first brush with being bowled over by a media blitz for next hot toy.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I was born in 1964, the same year that the original G.I. Joe action figure appeared in toy stores. I take that as a sign. I was definitely part of the action figure generation. While my older, baby-boomer brother was playing with an arsenal of exotic weaponry (Secret Sam, Johnny Seven, Monkey Division, etc.), early Gen-Xers like myself were exposed to the kinder, gentler world of playing with dolls…er, action figures.

I was obsessed with action figures as a child. I tried to own every action figure on the market, but my parents would only indulge my passion so far. All things considered, I think I did pretty well, and I have fond memories of every figure I owned. That’s the reason for creating this blog.

Numerous sites exist which chronicle the history of action figures during the 60s and 70s, and I will reference these sites whenever appropriate. However, I wanted to share my recollections and perceptions of the action figures from my childhood and how these memories shaped my later life. I also want to delve into the art of customizing action figures to create one-of-a-kind figures the toy makers didn’t think of or never got around to making. I am, by no means, a great artist and have to use every ounce of skill and imagination I possess to construct even the most rudimentary of custom figure, but I’ve accumulated quite a bit of knowledge over the past several years and hope to pass along a few tips that others may find useful. By sharing my experiences with customizing action figures, I hope that others might say, “Heck, if this bozo can do it, maybe I can too.”

For example, here is a picture of a current work in progress: The Justice Society of America. Later, I'll provide more specifics about how I created these figures and the new members to be added.

Having grown up with the original, 1/6th scale G.I. Joe, my natural preference is for action figures that stand about 11 ½ to 12 inches tall. Not only was that the standard size from my early youth, figures of this larger size allow for more detailed costumes and accessories. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some beautifully customized figures using the eight-inch Mego figures (check out
The Mego Museum), but my stubby fingers aren’t dexterous enough to work in that scale. (Actually, I did one, but that will come in a later post.)

At any rate, I’m getting ahead of myself. I think it’s best to start at the beginning and discuss the action figures that influenced my early sense of fun and excitement. I’ll begin the next entry in this blog series with the granddaddy of all action figures, G. I. Joe.