Sunday, November 01, 2015
Geek Memories: Toys of My Childhood!
I'm sure that in this series of "Geek Memories" articles, I'll be going over some ground that I've written about in the past, so I hope you'll bear with it.
As I'm sure is the case for many people my age, a lot of my childhood memories revolve around the toys that I had. Unlike most, however, we geeks tend to try to recapture some of those memories by collecting the things we had as kids, don't we? Whether it was a favorite action figure, or a plush toy, board game... whatever it is, we like being able to reacquire them as adults. Sometimes we'll share these toys and memories with our kids, other times we'll just put them on a shelf so we can see them every day. They usually bring a smile to our face when we see them, and at times, just knowing that they're in our homes can help make a day that's gone badly seem not quite so bad.
Probably the earliest toys I recall having that really made an impact on me were G.I. Joes. All the boys in my neighborhood had them, and sometimes we'd get together to play out various adventures. It wasn't too long after I started getting Joes that Hasbro came out with the Adventure Team concept, moving away from the military-based line. This changeover was due to negative feelings towards the military as a result of America's involvement in Vietnam, and the change worked well for Hasbro, extending the line's life for a few more years.
Around this same time, I remember Major Matt Mason... I don't believe I had any of these toys, but a cousin of mine did, and I loved playing with his toys when we'd go to visit him.
I loved the Adventure Team concept, although I wasn't able to get as many of the accessories as I would have liked. I did get the headquarters at one point, which was one of the typically-designed toys at the time... the walls were all cardboard sealed in plastic (I don't recall now if it was the plastic that was printed, or if the cardboard was printed with clear plastic over it), and it would fold up into a convenient storage size. I also had the Turbocopter, which was a backpack-mounted helicopter. When you pressed a button on the side, the blades would spin in place.
My brother had Mike Power, the Atomic Man (Hasbro's take on the Six Million Dollar Man) as well as Bulletman (not the Fawcett character), and would later get the Sea Wolf, a working "submarine" of sorts. The next door neighbor, on the other hand, seemed to always get all the Joe stuff he wanted!
I have distinct memories of going to yard sales and finding Joes cheap almost all the time... a quarter for a Joe wasn't unheard of!
My fondness for Joes paled a bit when Mego came out with their World's Greatest Superheroes line. I've written before, I think, about one Christmas when my brothers and I got Superman, Batman and Robin (both with removable masks), the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America and Tarzan. That was it for me... I wanted superhero toys!
I must've had some vague memories of Captain Action, although I never had any of those. Where those memories came into play was when I decided to make superhero costumes for my Joes, because I wasn't getting any more Megos (not sure why, especially as more characters came out I really wanted them). Initially, I was duplicating the Mego line with my Joes, starting with Captain Marvel (or Shazam!, as he was billed... although I do think I may have had him as a Mego at one time), then moving on to Iron Man and others. I do recall having some dissatisfaction with some of the modifications made to character costumes in Mego form, especially Captain America's lack of white sleeves, so I tried to make my own costumes more accurate.
I was into Roy Thomas' Invaders at this point, and remember making a Patriot costume for one of my Joes, and I'm sure I probably did a few other of the more obscure characters at one time or another. I definitely did some re-using of costume pieces for each succeeding character!
The Captain Marvel outfit was probably the one I had my Joes wear the most. I had a Kodak Instamatic Camera at the time, and I used to make my own "movies" with the camera, using the action figures. I'm sure my Captain Marvel story owed a lot to the Shazam! TV series Filmation was doing. I also recall doing a Six Million Dollar Man photo story, borrowing my brother's action figure.
Another toy line I loved as a kid was Mattel's Shogun Warriors, especially the original line of giant plastic figures. My brothers and I each got one at Christmas one year, and we'd have them fight each other using the various weapons. Since mine was the only one with the fist that would fire, I was the only one who could knock any of the other Shoguns over!
Let me backtrack a bit here... one of the regular stops my siblings and I would make when my mom went shopping was to Kmart, and of course, Kmart had all the cheaper rack toys, and we loved them! I had a number of toys made by AHI, such as the Batman paratrooper, the Batman stunt cycle, and a Star Trek phaser flashlight. We also got some of the "Famous Monsters" action figures (I had The Fly, my brothers had the Yeti and the Morlock... I can't explain why we never got the standard monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man). And I think I've told the story here before of getting one of the "movie viewers" that Chemtoy produced of Star Trek and not being able to make it work, although that was a Woolworth's purchase (at the time, there was a Woolworth's in downtown Tacoma, across the street from Sears... there was also a Kresge at the local mall, next to J.C. Penney's).
Now that I think of it, a lot of my toy memories really relate to just seeing the toys in the stores... it was always a big deal when the downtown Tacoma Sears (which doesn't exist any more) opened their toy department in November, closing it after Christmas, and seeing all the cool stuff they were selling then. Of course, there were always loads of toys at Kmart, Woolworth's, and Kresge, but my favorite place to look at toys was a store called Toys Galore, which was located in the Tacoma Mall.
This was a very small toy store, but it had an amazing selection. Especially interesting to me was what they had at the very back... ventriloquist dummies! I'd become a fan of ventriloquists due to seeing a number of them on TV, and I really wanted to try it out for myself. One year for Christmas, my parents got me a Danny O'Day dummy, which was a prized possession for some time. It came with a record that I listened to over and over, trying my best to learn how to do it (I was never all that great, but I had fun trying). I remember seeing Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and other dummies (for some reason, there was a W.C. Fields dummy there as well... I never quite understood that one), but Danny was the only one I had.
Over the years, Danny disappeared... I suspect he got damaged beyond my ability to repair, and later, as an adult, I searched for another one, but whenever I came across one at a yard sale or somewhere else, the ones I found were missing their clothes or were broken. About ten years ago, after I'd finally bought a Charlie McCarthy dummy on eBay, my mom came back from a trip to visit family in South Dakota and she presented me with a Danny O'Day that my aunt Georgia had accumulated as part of her doll collection, and it was passed on to me. Today, both dummies sit on top of my bookshelf.
Wow, this particular Geek Memory essay is bouncing around from place to place, but I think that's because at my age, sometimes it's difficult to put things in chronological order! Anyway, one other geeky toy from my childhood I wish I had today was the Aurora Batmobile slot car! One summer, we bought a slot car set at a yard sale, and had it set up in the basement of the house. This one had loop-the-loops, and we played with it nearly every day! I don't know if it was a birthday or Christmas present, but I got the Aurora Batmobile, and enjoyed racing it, but it was too darn heavy to manage the loop-the-loops without falling (I cringe today to think about the damage I had to have done to it). Why didn't we reconfigure the track so there were no loops? Because it was all mounted on a board... it at least used to be the case where track pieces had small holes in them so that you could use finishing nails to mount them, and we weren't going to pull them out.
I remember a neighbor kid had at least one Give-A-Show Projector, although he never really used it with the other kids in the neighborhood, but nobody had an Easy-Show. For the uninitiated, here's the difference: The Give-A-Show came with cardboard strips that had plastic slides mounted in them, seven slides per strip, that told a very simple story; the Easy-Show came with actual films on a loop from cartoon shows and some few live-action TV shows. Later, Kenner would use something similar for their Movie Viewer toys of the 1970s, which used cassettes that you could pop into a viewer to watch by yourself.
One toy I never got I really wanted was called Johnny Toymaker. This was a toy that was used to make other toys... mostly cars, but other things were possible. I loved the idea of building my own toys, but this was not to be.
I suppose the last category of toys from my childhood I have fond memories of are model kits. Now understand, I was never a great model builder, and I was a terrible model painter! But I did have my share of model kits. I'd imagine that my first models were of cars, even though I wasn't that big on cars (other than Hot Wheels, one of the ubiquitous toys all boys had as kids). This soon moved on to an interest in dinosaur models, especially when Aurora came out with their Prehistoric Scenes line, which I loved because 1) they were snap-together, and 2) they had dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, and cavemen! I was too young for their initial release of superhero models, but when they reissued some as part of the Comic Scenes series, I had the Hulk kit. I also remember getting a model of the PanAm Shuttle from 2001, but I'm pretty sure the models I had the most of were AMT's Star Trek series.
As an adult, I would of course revisit some of these toys... I had a pretty decent Mego collection going for a while there, for example, while other toys I collected as an adult were based on some of the same properties... but these days my collectibles are pretty scaled-down, but of course, thanks to the internet, I can find all sorts of photos of the stuff I had as a kid, or even the stuff I wanted (or would have wanted if I'd known about them).
I'd love to hear about your own childhood toys that you have fond memories of! You can leave your memories in comments, or perhaps you'd be interested in writing your own "Geek Memories" article that I can include in a future issue of Random Acts of Geekery!