Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This just in - our Polyvinyl News Chopper has just spotted some suspicious activity near the cemetery. Our investigative reporter "Big Jim" Jackson has reached the cemetery in mobile unit one and is about to give us an eyewitness report.

Polyvinyl News Chopper is touching down on the cemetery grounds now. They are reporting that film legend Christopher Lee, Captain Action's nemesis Dr. Evil, and an unidentified associate appear to be trick or treating. Preliminary reports also indicate that "Big Jim" Jackson attempted to interview the unknown man, but was abruptly cut off...or cut up.

It now appears that our audio feed from the Polyvinyl News Chopper has been terminated, but prior to losing sound, the three men could be heard mumbling something about "smelling feet" and getting "something good to eat."

We'll report back with more as events develop. In the meantime, Happy Halloween everybody!

Friday, October 20, 2006


It’s a real shame that the action figure licensing for two of the biggest franchises of the 60s, namely James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was given over to Gilbert. Although they produced some nice toys, their 1/6th scale action figures were horrible. The standard body was a blow molded affair with the only movement at the shoulders and hips where the arms and legs attached. Literally, these figures were like cheap baby dolls you would buy at the drug store.

The head sculpts were not much better. The James Bond figure had a head sculpt that looked like a very jowly Sean Connery. Even the Sean Connery of today is not as jowly as this funny looking figure. The likeness of David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin was not too bad, but he had a slightly childlike appearance. The Robert Vaughn/Napoleon Solo head sculpt was way off.

The only redeeming feature of these figures, along with all the other Gilbert action figures, was the accessory sets. The guns, scuba gear, etc., that were sold separately for these figures were nicely detailed. Gilbert put out a version of the Thrush rifle that was spot on. Still, really nice accessories for really junky figures seems like child abuse, to me.

These guys weren’t cheap either. In 1964, Sears offered an exclusive version of the James Bond figure in a basic suit, with a gun that went inside a small briefcase. And this bonanza could be had for only $6.99. $6.99!! This is 1964 money we’re talking about! You could feed a family of four for a week on $6.99 back then. For the same price, they offered an OddJob figure that was rigged to throw his bowler hat like he did in the movie. Problem was, the figure was permanently in a crouched position with his right arm cocked at a funny angle. If he wasn’t throwing the bowler, he simply looked like he had a back problem.

I never owned any of these figures as a kid, an
d I haven’t actively pursued collecting them as an adult, mainly because of the cost. For Christmas a few years back, my wonderful wife thoughtfully got me an Illya Kuryakin figure. I was thrilled, but I really wanted the head on a more useable body, so I decapitated a generic figure that I had purchased at a warehouse store (they came five to a box for $14.99). I then set about creating a gun that looked like the one they used on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I used left over bits from accessories I stockpiled from other action figure purchases. He turned out pretty good.

Later, I discovered that a man by the name of Dale Van Slyke makes and sells action figure heads made out of resin (he has a store on eBay called Diver4’s Treasure Chest). He makes heads of Illya Kuryakin, Napoleon Solo, Sean Connery as James Bond, and OddJob. I purchased a Napoleon Solo head, painted it, and
mounted the head on yet another decapitated action figure.

This picture shows my Man from U.N.C.L.E. figures: one with the Gilbert Illya Kuryakin head and one with Dale’s Napoleon Solo head:

I also have a picture of an Illya Kuryakin I made for a friend using Dale’s resin head:

Dale Van Slyke has an amazing collection of resin heads for 1/6th scale figures. The heads resemble a wide range of favorite actors like John Wayne, Tom Hanks, Steve McQueen, and Al Pacino, just to name a few. It’s well worth checking out his eBay store if you are into making custom action figures.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Buddy Charlie was Marx Toys’ strongest effort to compete directly with G.I. Joe, and I was not aware of the figure’s existence until just a few years ago. Unlike Stony Smith and the other Marx figures whose clothes were molded as part of the body sculpt, Buddy Charlie was a nude action figure with cloth uniforms. His body design and articulation were almost identical to the early G.I. Joes, except his hands were a definite improvement. While Joe’s hands were contorted in some arthritic tangle only good for holding a rifle, Buddy Charlie had hands that were formed in a semi-grip, so you could put just about any accessory into them and he would be able to hold it. The hands are very similar to the type that Captain Action would have a year or so later.

Buddy Charlie came in four different versions representing each of the armed services (Soldier, Sailor, Pilot, and Marine). This was similar to the G.I. Joes of the day. Marx was uncharacteristically skimpy with the accessories for Buddy, but I think they were trying to make him as much like the Joe figures as possible. Accessory sets were sold separately, featuring the same accessories that came with Stony Smith.

When I discovered Buddy, what struck me first was the head sculpt. G.I. Joe had the ultimate in bland faces. From what I’ve read, that was done intentionally so that a wide range of boys could relate to him. Heck, they used the same head sculpt for both the Caucasian Joe and the African American Joe and it works perfectly, so neutral are the facial features. But that very blandness was always a turn off for me. Buddy Charlie had a distinct face. He looked mature and battle weary, but also decent and kind. He reminds me a bit of the late Darren McGavin in his younger days.

So scarce are these figures that I never thought I’d own one. Luckily, I managed to snag one on eBay as part of a Marx toy lot for a reasonable price. He came cheap because he was not 100% original. His arms had been replaced with new ones taken from a repro Captain Action. With his clothes on, you can’t tell the difference…from a distance.

Speaking of Buddy Charlie and Stony Smith, there are some Marx Toy enthusiasts who have been selling what I can only describe as build-it-yourself Stony Smith kits. Apparently, in the early 90s, Marx Toys was asked to make Stony Smith figures for a special order, but the deal fell through and the parts sat in a warehouse. I purchased one of these kits and had a great time trying to figure out how to build it. I dismantled a busted up Geronimo figure to use his hardware. The head and hands that were provided with the kit were not of Stony Smith, but of Buddy Charlie. They didn’t fit the design of the Stony body, so I swiped an old Sam Cobra head and set of hands and put them on the body. I then repainted the head so he looked a little different from Mr. Cobra. Here is the result:

By the way, if you want to learn more about Marx action figures, go to this site.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


In the 1970s, people were looking for the modern equivalent of the Old West Cowboy, someone who was strong-willed, courageous, independent, and played by his own rules. You could see it in the romantic representations of truckers in songs, movies, and television. You could see it in just about every good ol’ boy character Burt Reynolds ever played. And you could see it in the real life persona of Evel Knievel.

The Daredevil from Montana looked every bit like a modern day version of Roy Rogers, with the flashy red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit and motorcycle helmet replacing the white Stetson and ornately decorated cowboy shirt. His custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle was just as familiar as Trigger. The major difference was that, instead of proving his manhood by catching cattle rustlers on the plains, Evel Knievel jumped his bike over stuff – big stuff! And instead of singing ballads about the prairie, he lectured impressionable young kids about the evils of drugs in a plain speaking drawl that conveyed confidence with splashes of well-placed humility. In an era filled with public figures you loved to hate, Evel Knievel was one person who really embodied the image of a hero.

Each time the motorcycle wrangler launched his bike over a pile of cars or school buses or flat-paneled trucks, I watched at home with exhilaration whether he crashed or landed safely. Both outcomes brought about tremendous excitement. I couldn’t fathom at that age that he could ever really die. The hero never dies.

I gave this lengthy preamble only to give some sense of why the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle was the hot toy of the 1973 Christmas season. Every boy wanted one, and they were near impossible to find. Parents were literally beating each other up in stores, fighting over the remaining stunt cycles. My father scoured every toy store, discount store, and department store in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor, but could never land one by Christmas time. I was mightily disappointed. My Aunt Nora, who thought my parents would get me the stunt cycle, gave me the Evel Knievel Winnebago. With no Evel figure to drive the thing, it was a heartbreaking reminder of what was missing.

Ironically, my Aunt Nora was the one who finally found the toy I longed for. On a balmy Saturday afternoon in March, she came to our house bearing that oblong box with the action painting of Evel flying straight at you on his tricked out Harley. Immediately, I ran in the backyard, set up the ramp on the back of the red-white-and-blue Winnebago, and forced Evel to jump that thing repeatedly. For the next year or so, I shot Evel and his Harley over just about every rock, ditch, and Tonka truck I could find.

As an action figure, Evel Knievel wasn’t much: a wire-framed, rubber figure about six inches tall like Major Matt Mason. The stunt cycle was the real attraction. The bike was so well balanced, once you wound up the rear wheel with the cranking device and set it loose, the bike would pop wheelies, flip, bounce, and always land on two wheels. I really have to hand it to the guys at Ideal for designing such an amazing vehicle. They came out with other vehicles for Evel to crash around in, but the stunt cycle was always the best in my opinion.

My mania over Evel Knievel came to an abrupt end on September 8, 1974, when he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon. Watching Evel strap himself into the makeshift, Popular Mechanics rocket he called a “skycycle,” he no longer appeared heroic, merely foolhardy. Anyone could’ve gotten into that thing provided he had a sufficiently strong death wish. I was actually relieved to see the parachute deploy prematurely as I had no confidence that the rickety projectile would provide a safe landing on the other side. I was glad that Evel survived the jump, but suddenly the emperor was decidedly naked.

Unaware of my disillusionment, my parents got me the toy version of the skycycle for Christmas. Since I also received a complete set of Mego’s Planet of the Apes figures that same Christmas, I found that the skycycle made a nifty spacecraft for the Charlton Heston figure (okay, Mego said it was a generic astronaut, but we knew better).

All these years later, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about. I mean, this guy jumped a bike over stuff and occasionally got smashed up in the process. But every once in awhile, I pop in my VHS tape of Viva Knievel and rediscover a little bit of that 70s vibe.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my wonderful marriage to my amazing wife, Kathy. In reference to meeting his wife Nancy, Ronald Reagan is quoted as saying, "She saved my soul." I know exactly how he felt. I was about as lost as a man could get when I met Kathy, and she reawakened in me the person that I had abandoned piece by piece over the years. She encouraged me to reconnect with my creative side, both in writing and through the crafty things I once loved, like model building.

Kathy also reignited my interest in action figures by giving me repro versions of Captain Action and Dr. Evil for my birthday in 1999. Ever since then, I've been collecting vintage figures as well as creating new custom figures. My interest in m
odel building came in handy as I learned to create tiny accessories on a 1/6th scale and painted heads to look like celebrities and super heroes. She even encouraged me to create this blog so I could share my experiences with the rest of the world.

I have to share one action figure project that was directly influenced by my wife. I had purchased a W.W. II Japanese soldier figure specifically to swipe his jodhpurs for a Doc Savage custom. Just fooling around, I took the Japanese figure and put on him black paints, white shirt and tie,and a white lab coat. I took a boning knife from my fisherman figure and put it in his hand. Then I proudly presented him to Kathy as Sushi Man. She replied, "Now all you have to do is make a sushi bar for him." I laughed and promptly forgot about the comment, but Kathy would periodically remind me of her statement. "When you gonna make that
sushi bar for Sushi Man?" she would ask. Ohmigod, she's serious.

The pressure increased when she purchased these Japanese snacks which included as prizes these 1/6th scale plates of sushi. I mean these were really detailed plates and sake carafes and sake cups and chopsticks. The pieces of sushi themselves were oversized, but nicely detailed, looking exactly like sushi you would eat in a restaurant. Now I really had to make that darned sushi bar.

I decided the sushi bar would be a present for Christmas 2005 and promptly started work that fall. I had to work on it at my brother's house to keep it out of sight. Fortunately, my brother Craig took an interest in my project and lent his wood working experience to my feeble design. While my concept was basic and not too structurally sound, Cra
ig set about to create a sushi bar comparable to a real life piece of furniture, only on 1/6th scale. He built a sturdy frame on which we attached the balsa wood panels and table top. He also decorated the sides with strips of rich looking wood and carved a fish for the front panel. As a finishing touch, Craig made a brass railing piece which divided the Sushi Man's workspace from the diners. I was left with the painting and varnishing. Thanks to Craig, the piece was far nicer than my wildest dreams.

On Christmas Day, Kathy was totally blown away by the gift, much to my relief. We set the bar up in the living room with action figures and those amazing sushi accessories. For a while, we felt like kids again playing with dolls on Christmas morning. The photo below shows what the finished product looked like:

That experience is only one example of how Kathy has made the last eight years such a fun and wondrous ride. I hope the ride continues for many more years to come. I love you, sweetie!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I was never much of a sports fan, probably because my father was not into sports. Neither my brother nor I had any desire to participate in organized sports. I was especially unsuited for it: chubby, awkward, poor hand/eye coordination, etc. The only sport I ever held a life-long interest in was football. As a child growing up in Baltimore during the late 60s, Johnny Unitas was a god. My family worshipped Unitas and the Colts in front of the t.v. every Sunday afternoon. My mom could take on the histrionic behavior of a revival tent show regular, particularly when the Colts scored a touchdown. She’d leap off the couch, stomp, scream, and clap her hands like she had just seen Jesus. I was some times worried that she might throw herself out the living room window. Thus was the power of football in Baltimore back then. Those from outside the city can marvel at the amazing performance of the underdog Jets during the 1969 Super Bowl. Baltimore fans from that era only feel heartbreak.

I relate all this only to introduce the next action figure that loomed in my early life, Johnny Hero. This 13-inch entry into the action figure world was designed to capitalize on professional sports the same way G.I. Joe capitalized on the armed services and Captain Action capitalized on the super hero craze. Johnny himself was a bulky figure made of foam rubber molded onto a wire frame. He was dressed in a generic track uniform and his plastic head was shaped into a rather bland countenance, sort of like G.I. Joe meets the early Ken doll. His hands were giant, flat things with small points sticking out of them, designed to be inserted into the balls and bats sold separately. The accessories came as part of the outfit sets. Each set was a football or baseball uniform based on the 1965 or 1966 uniforms of Major League Baseball or the National/American Football Leagues.

As shown in this picture, I had a Baltimore Colts uniform to adorn my Johnny Hero. In fact, I had no knowledge that this was really a generic action figure with multiple uniforms available. I thought he was specifically made to be Johnny Unitas. Why not call him Johnny Hero, since Johnny Unitas was a hero and more to those of us in the town of crab cakes and National Bohemian beer. Johnny was another one of those figures I lugged around everywhere, and I do mean lugged since the guy weighed a ton to a three year old. I often took him into the bathtub with me; not a good idea for a toy made of foam rubber. He would lay on a towel for days drying out.

That’s what brought about the demise of my hero in blue and white. The foam rubber body eventually dry-rotted, turning my beloved Johnny U into something from George Romero’s nightmares. He eventually entered the action figure hall of fame in Trash Can, U.S.A.

A few years ago, I got the bug to create a new Johnny Unitas action figure for my collection. I managed to nab an old Johnny Hero Colts uniform on eBay. Of course, any authentic Johnny Hero figure would be rare and expensive, and most likely dry-rotted all to hell, so I purchased a figure from Cotswold Collectibles that kinda sorta looked like Johnny U, and also bought a figure that had flexible hands. I swapped the hands on the figures, put the Colts uniform on the figure, and stuck the football into the flexible right hand with a toothpick. My uniform didn’t come with shoulder pads, so I invented some makeshift pads with some strap-on armor pieces from a G.I. Joe ninja figure. As a final touch, I created some stick-on numbers so that the uniform would be emblazoned with the famous number 19. Here is a picture of the final results:

Although I am now a Ravens fan, I will always think of the Colts as Baltimore’s team. Robert “Darth” Irsay may have bought the franchise and smuggled it to Indianapolis during the dark of night, but the heart and soul of what the team once was still exists in all fans old enough to remember.