Wednesday, January 30, 2008


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?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


In a previous post, I talked about a 1/6th scale all-terrain vehicle (ATV) that I bought as a post-Christmas clearance item at my local drugstore. I decided it might be fun to turn this ATV into a special vehicle for Captain Action. Here’s what has happened so far:

I went to my local hobby shop and picked out a color of spray paint which I thought matched the color of blue found on many Captain Action accessories. I then removed as many parts off the body of the ATV as I thought I could without damaging the vehicle. For the rest of the parts I didn’t want to paint, I masked them with masking tape and newspaper. I caught a break with the weather and was able to spray paint the body outdoors on a nice 60 degree day. However, because I had to mask significant sections of the ATV, there were several spots where the paint spray would not go.

I checked the paint manufacturer’s Web site and discovered that the color I chose only came in spray cans; I couldn’t get a bottle of the same color for touch up. After kicking myself for not checking this sooner, I decided to try a trick from my adolescence and spray the remaining paint into a clean glass bottle to condense the liquid into a form that I could brush on. Unfortunately, the trick was not as effective as it was 25 years ago as the paint in the bottle was runny and too thin to spread. I tried adding other paint to it and attempting a close match, but that proved futile.

Back at square one, I decided to buy a couple different bottles of blue paint and mix my own color. Then I brush painted the entire ATV. Although not as smooth and professional looking as spray, I think it turned out pretty good.

My next concern was finding a device to replace the swiveling machine gun that was originally mounted on the ATV. I thought the oversized assault weapon was way too aggressive looking for Captain Action, so I rummaged through my boxes of left over action figure accessories to find something more suitable. I found a rocket launcher that came with my 12” G.I. Joe Cobra Commander figure from a few years back. The device reminded me of the rocket launchers on Captain Action’s Silver Streak vehicle. I had to modify it to fit on the front of the ATV, however. It turned out that the butt of the launcher was a separate piece from the launcher itself, so I was able to carefully remove the butt without any damage to the launcher. I then cut off the mounting stalk from the original machine gun and affixed it to the back of the rocket launcher. Once I paint it, I will mount it on the ATV.

Next, I’m going to have to come up with some additional trim pieces and stickers to jazz up the look of the vehicle and make it scream, “CAPTAIN ACTION!” Stay tuned…

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Having a brother half a dozen years older than I created a bit of anxiety in the growing up department. From my earliest memories around age four up to age 13, I was always envious of what Craig could do or what he had that I didn’t. Perhaps that’s why I spend so much time as an adult reminiscing about my childhood; I didn’t really appreciate it when I was experiencing it. Instead, I kept yearning for that time when I would be Craig’s age and could do what Craig did or have what Craig had. I was forever projecting six years into the future. A perfect example of this age envy is in the area of electronics.

My brother was always a bit of a tinkerer (and still is, but the equipment has changed from transistors to microchips). So while I was asking for G.I. Joes and Big Wheels, he was asking for stereos and recording equipment. I remember his massive chrome and black reel-to-reel tape recorder, about half as tall as I was at the time. Something so huge that did so little would seem absurd today, but in the early 70s, this was what every swinging bachelor on TV had on his book shelves. It looked cool, but was really intimidating for a small kid.

That’s why Panasonic was the cool electronics company for anyone under the age of 12. During the early 70s, Panasonic (or National Panasonic) put out devices that were completely in line with the “mod” aesthetic. Instead of boxes made of chrome and black plastic and faux-wood, their products were molded out of brightly colored plastic in smooth, curvy shapes. They looked like toys, but still played music or recorded sounds like the more sophisticated devices did.

The first Panasonic product I remember coveting was those spherical transistor radios. They looked like one of those laser-spouting balls that Luke Skywalker trained with, but re-imagined by Walt Disney. My friend Linda had one, and we would loll away many a summer’s afternoon listening to the crackly AM signals floating out of the ball’s tiny mono speaker. The cool bonus to this radio was that it had a chain attached to it for easy portability. We didn’t use the chain to carry it around, though. We held the radio up by the chain and spun the little sphere around while songs were playing. The repetitive Doppler effect made every song sound like Tommy Roe singing “Crimson and Clover.”

A few years later, Panasonic came out with portable cassette recorders that were shaped like small boxes with rounded corners. The day-glo colored plastic made the thing virtually indestructible, and the retractable handle and light-weight design was perfect for a kid to tote around. Best of all, it had a built-in microphone so you could record your friends and family without them knowing. As soon as I got my little recorder for my tenth birthday (which was bright red, not blue like the one pictured), I set about recording my friend’s candid conversations. This was shortly after Watergate, after all, and there was a certain air of espionage about the whole thing. I remember capturing one gem from my friend Kevin while we listened to my other friend Nick speak to his Greek family a few yards away.

“Ya’ know what?” Kevin declared. “I can’t understand one word of that Greek stuff. NOT ONE WORD!”

Really, Kevin? It’s like they have a different word for everything, huh?!!

Later on, I struck up a friendship with a school mate, Johnny, and we would hang out at his house after school. With my trusty recorder on hand, we would make up the audio equivalent of Mad Magazine movie and TV parodies. And as hard as it might be to imagine, we were actually less funny than Mad Magazine, although we thought we were hilarious.

The process went as follows: we would pick a movie or TV show to satirize, think of an opening gag, turn on the recorder, state the gag, turn off the recorder, think of the next gag, turn on the recorder, say the gag, turn off the recorder, and so on until we had the whole show. When it was played back, it sounded something like this:

(Click, scrape, crackle)

Johnny: "Hey Inspector Krojak, did you take a bath this morning?"

Me: Why? (snicker) Is there one missing? (chuckle)

(Crackle, scrape, click, pause, click, scrape, crackle)

Johnny: That killer was a dead shot. How did he miss you? (giggle)

Me: I looked down to pick up a penny (chortle) and the glare from my head blinded him. (snort)

(Crackle, scratch, clunk, click)

This went on for about 10 minutes when we finally ran out of hilarious quips. We thought we were so funny, we boldly played some of our sketches to our fifth grade teachers. Looking at their slack-jawed expressions, I soon understood the saying, “I guess you had to be there.”

Electronics continued to grow smaller and more sophisticated, but the concept of whimsical, fun design went out the window. Granted, a lot of what passed for cool in the 70s was pretty tacky, but we quickly shifted to the other side of the spectrum where only black or white boxes with lots of buttons could be seen as serious electronics. It wasn't until the late 90s and the introduction of the iMac that we would see the fun brought back to home gadgetry.

Friday, January 11, 2008


A couple days after Christmas, I went to my local drug store to pick up a prescription. As is my habit, I walked down the toy aisle on my way to the pharmacy counter. Whenever I'm in any store that sells toys, I have to take a gander to see if there's anything I might be able to use for my custom action figure projects. During the last couple of years, toy companies have backed away from the 1/6th scale action figure format, so I usually hold out little hope that I will ever find anything interesting, but I always figure it doesn't cost anything to look.

Given my general state of cynicism, I was surprised to find a shelf full of 1/6th scale action figures with accompanying vehicles. The line was called Rescue Team, and while they won't cause anyone from Hasbro or Mattel to lose any sleep, they were still pretty serviceable toys. Each action figure was driving either an ATV or a chunky military-type vehicle complete with rocket launchers. The military styling didn't interest me that much, but I thought they could easily be modified to look like excellent vehicles for Captain Action. Still, I wasn't too keen on spending the $20 price on the box for a low-end toy I only want to experiment on. Then I noticed a tag taped to the shelf:

"All toys in this aisle 75% off!"

Of course! The after-Christmas markdowns! For five bucks each, the vehicles were looking more appealing. I still hesitated, however. For one thing, I had come on foot, and lugging one of those huge boxes home would've been a chore. Also, my house was already cluttered with lots of toys. I shouldn't add to the pile. Sullenly, I left the toy aisle, picked up my prescription, and wandered home.

During the walk back, I kept thinking about how I could repaint the body "Captain Action Blue" and jazz it up with my custom-made stickers and leftover bits and pieces from model kits. I was getting that sensation I call "toy lust," something I thought I had lost when I reached puberty and found another kind of lust. So lost was I in my reverie, I had strayed from my usual route home and had to take a lengthy detour to right myself. This gave me time to rationalize. "I can drive back to the store in my car and buy one of those vehicles," I thought. "And besides, I already sold a bunch of collectibles on eBay, so I've made plenty of room for one more new toy!" By the time I reached my front door, I had made up my mind.

After I drove back to the store, I grabbed one of the boxes from the back of the shelf without looking at which vehicle I had laid my hands on. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I had bought the ATV. Although the other vehicle had those cool rocket launchers, I thought the ATV was more suited to Captain Action and probably easier to customize. I think it was the best choice.

So now I'm embarking on a new project. Here are some shots of what it looked like in its original form. Stay tuned to see its transformation into the new Captain Action ATV!

Monday, January 07, 2008


Before I was in grade school, my mom and I spent a lot of time together during the day. With my father at work and my brother in school, she had to take me with her wherever she went, whether it was running errands, going shopping, or visiting with family and friends. One of my favorite day trips was visiting with my mom’s sister, whom we called Aunt Kay. In those days, my aunt and Uncle Al and cousins Albert and Amy lived in a row home in a residential neighborhood on the northern edge of Baltimore City. Although their house was slightly smaller than our own, they had a coveted “end-of-group” home, meaning that their house was on the end of the four or five houses that were connected together, giving them a much larger yard wrapping around three sides of the house. This afforded us kids a great, open area in which to play.

My cousin Albert was four years older than I, so he was usually at school unless it was summer time. My cousin Amy was three years younger than I, so we usually played together, although that was somewhat limited since she was a girl and barely able to walk or talk. This left me on my own most of the time, so I would bring my toys along to play boy stuff on my own, but I always coveted Albert’s toys. He had several of the old Aurora model kits, assembled and painted by him. Something I was not yet dexterous enough to do. My brother had models too, but his were almost exclusively cars, which didn’t interest me as much. Those Aurora dioramas, especially the horror characters, really fascinated me.

During the summer, my brother Craig would join us on these visits. Since he and Albert were closer in age, they would play together while I obligingly played with Amy, coloring in coloring books or playing with her toddler toys. There was only so much of this I could take, however, and one day, I finally worked up the nerve to ask Albert permission to play with his models. To my surprise, he said yes. I was so thrilled, although looking back, I’m not sure exactly what I did with polystyrene dioramas of Frankenstein and Dracula. All I can remember was that I loved playing with those things and looked forward to going to their house.

Of course, as with all good things, something has to happen to screw it up. While I was always pretty careful with toys and delicate things like models, I guess I got carried away one day and broke Albert’s Phantom of the Opera model. It was a complete accident, and I was truly sorry since I probably loved that model even more that he did. Nevertheless, his trust in me was broken. I tried one more time to get permission to play with his models, but he was adamant that I couldn’t touch his stuff anymore. I understood, but it made going to my aunt’s house a lot less interesting.

One afternoon when we were visiting, I guess Amy was taking a nap or something, because I followed my mom and aunt into the basement. My aunt was complaining about all the stuff that was accumulating down there. I was shocked when she matter-of-factly announced that my uncle had years of Playboy back-issues piled up, and even pointed them out to us. I guess she didn’t realize that I was old enough to know that Playboy was one of those “dirty magazines.” I was startled, but it made my Uncle Al seem a little cooler in my eyes.

While my aunt talked about other grown-up stuff, I zeroed in on the leftover toys piled around. Not particularly a toy, but one item that always fascinated me was a papier maché volcano stacked up in a corner. Meticulously detailed, I couldn’t figure out why on earth someone would have a scale model volcano in their basement. I never asked. My guess, in hindsight, was that it was probably an old science project of my uncle’s and it was so nice, he couldn’t bear to part with it.

Another item that elicited far greater excitement was this curious little action figure. He was about five inches tall, and at least two inches of that was taken up by his head. A giant, blocky sort of head far out of proportion with his dainty body. He was molded out of solid plastic, and dressed like an Army soldier. He even wore a combat helmet and had tiny belts and weapons attached to him, molded out of tan vinyl. He reminded me of the old Stony Smith action figures, but seen through the reflection of a funhouse mirror.

I experienced that unique childhood thrill I can only describe as toy lust. Your pulse pounds, your heart races, your breathing becomes irregular, and your stomach flutters. That immediate, chemical rush anyone under the age of 11 experiences at the sight of a new toy that is exquisite and irresistible. I had to possess this odd little soldier man. Showing a sense of boldness I ordinarily did not possess, I asked my Aunt Kay if I could have the diminutive soldier.

“We’ll have to ask Albert, but I think it’ll be all right,” Aunt Kay told me.

I wasn’t as sure as she was. Albert never forgave me for the Phantom of the Opera incident. A sacred trust had been betrayed. I didn’t have much of a chance. We went outside where Albert was torturing my brother in some form or fashion. My cousin had a way of irritating my brother all day long until they would usually end up at each other’s throats. If I saw Albert and my brother fighting, I knew it was about time for us to go home. Anyway, Albert and Craig were engaged in some sort of argument when my aunt interrupted to ask about the soldier figure. Completely distracted, Albert shrugged it off with a, “Yeah, sure.” I was stunned and elated! Triumph was mine.

As soon as we got home, I showed the action figure off to all my friends. Just like me, they had never seen one like it before. I played with him for all of maybe…oh, a week or so, before the magic wore off. Thing was, he was too small and oddly shaped to be compatible with our other G.I. Joes and Marx action figures. He was a one-off novelty, destined for limited playability. Perhaps that’s why Albert parted with him so easily.

Decades later, I learned that the little fella’ was made by Remco in the mid-60s and was call L’il Soldier Joe. He was part of their line of “Big Head” dolls, which included versions of The Beatles and The Munsters. There was also a L’il Cowboy Pete, who had the same head as L’il Soldier Joe but had a cowboy body and appropriate acce
ssories. I also discovered on eBay that L’il Joe once came with an “Ack-Ack Jeep set.” I told my wife the story of L’il Joe and, being the wonderful spouse that she is, got me several L’il Joes for Christmas. Only one is totally healthy, while the others have sustained various injuries from past battles untold. I intend on rehabilitating these guys. It’s the least I can do for abandoning him so quickly when I was a callow lad.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Well, another holiday season has come and gone, and we’re now in 2008! When I was a kid, I would’ve expected everyone in 2008 to be riding around in jet cars and watching television on their phones (okay, I guess some of it came true). As I get older, I realize how quickly time passes and how things don’t change quite as rapidly as I expected them to when I was younger. In that respect, I’ve come to realize how inaccurate science fiction can be when predicting our future. Just before Christmas, I went to see “Blade Runner – The Final Cut” at our local historic, single-screen theatre. I hadn’t seen the movie since it was in theatres 25 years ago and while I still love the flick, I was struck with how off their vision of the future was, now that we are much closer to the movie’s setting of 2019. People zoom around in hover cars, but they still rely on pay phones rather than having mobile ones. Police carry laser weapons, but people also smoke cigarettes all over the place. Certain changes just can’t be foreseen.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this except to say that, the older I get, the more I think change is not only inevitable, it’s also capricious. We face so many changes that we never wanted, and we lament the disappearance of things we never wanted to see go away (like historic, single-screen theatres). Some new things do actually grow out of necessity and are welcome (I love the Internet and my iPod), but others happen out of neglect or indifference (I hate George W. Bush and Al-Qaeda). New stuff just keeps happening, while we get up every morning and brush our teeth and eat our breakfasts and carry on with the routines of the day. Life barely moves when you look at it on a day-to-day basis, but when you look back at the trail of time, my how everything has changed!

So now we embark on another year that will fly by too quickly, be filled with all kinds of highs and lows and problems and triumphs, and end with Christmas presents and champagne bottles popping, and we start all over again. All the while, we hope no one gets too ill or dies or has a natural disaster befall them. The goal is to get through the months as best you can and eke out a bit of happiness along the way. Ultimately, I think most of us just want to get through life relatively happy and healthy, and help our families to stay the same way. Meanwhile, we make efforts to provide for the greater good, the creation of a better society, but our arms are frequently too short and our vision too limited. Still, we do try.

So while we roll head long through another year, I’ll continue to babble on about the past – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ll show you my new action figure acquisitions and creations, and I’ll probably make up some more photo-plays with my menagerie of vinyl people. I hope you’ll keep visiting, and I hope you check out the other blogs and Web sites listed to the left. Have a great year!