Tag Archives: Kenner

Throwback Thursday: the Big Jim Sports Camper!

“Big Jim” was yet another toy franchise that was handed down to me from my older brother in the 1970’s to me a little kid in the early 1980’s.  Mattel carried the toy line from 1972 all the way through 1986 — but I didn’t know a single other kid who played with these in the latter decade.  We were all firmly entrenched in Kenner’s “Star Wars” and Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe,”  with their wider ranges of small-scale, mostly all-plastic action figures.  “Big Jim’s” more doll-like 10-inch figures and complex accessories made them seem more like the “Barbie Dolls” that my older sisters used to play with.  (And they were roughly the same scale.)

This camper, in fact, was actually just one of Mattel’s “Barbie” vehicles that was cast in different plastic and lined with different vinyl siding.  (As a child of the 80’s, I’m still befuddled at why so many 70’s playsets were made of vinyl.  Did some law mandate that every product made in the 70’s include vinyl?)

What’s interesting about “Big Jim” toys from a cultural context is that they were … like a slightly pacifist “G.I. Joe.”  (As I’ve mentioned here at the blog before, 1970’s G.I. Joe’s were a foot tall and far more doll-like than 80’s action figures.)  Big Jim and his cohorts (like “Big Josh,” “Big Jeff,” “Big Jack,” you get the idea) were a lot like G.I. Joes.  They were exclusively depicted in all sorts of manly adventures — camping, rafting, dirt-biking or weightlifting.  But they had a decidedly non-military character.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Indiana Jones action figures!!

I was thrilled when these Indiana Jones action figures arrived for me under the Christmas tree in 1983.  I loved “Raiders of the Lost Ark” more than I loved “Star Wars.”  I was truly surprised, too — I didn’t even know that they existed.

Why was that, I wonder?  Was Kenner just not advertising them much?  The company sure wasn’t shy about advertising its “Star Wars” figures.

That very last figure you see is the German mechanic that Indy fought at the desert base, when he and Marion were trying to hijack that plane.  (Dear God, was that one of the greatest movie scenes of all time.)  Anyway, the German mechanic toy had a spring-activated arm for clobbering action, and he came with a little plastic wrench.  Good times.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe” action figures (1982)!

I swear to you — one of the coolest parts of being a kid in the 1980’s was Hasbro’s “G. I. Joe.” I’m referring to the three-and-three-quarter-inch action figures that launched in 1982.  (The 80’s toys that most of us remember shared their name with other, mostly unrelated, Hasbro military toys of the 1960’s and 70’s.  Believe it or not, I’m actually old enough to remember the 70’s toys, as my older brother had a few — they were eight and half inches tall, and they looked more like conventional dolls.)

The expansive 1982 toy line was a successful marketing juggernaut.  If I had to guess, I’d say that Hasbro looked at Kenner’s astonishing surprise moneymaker with “Star Wars” figures four years earlier, and decided to exploit that business model with its own fictional universe.  Once the toy line got rolling, Hasbro developed the “G.I. Joe” cartoon that every 80’s kid remembers, as well as videogames and an ongoing comic book series.  (The comics were produced by Marvel.)

The TV show was … atrocious.  As awesome as the 80’s were, the decade had its artistically bankrupt pop-culture ventures, too.  And that cartoon was saccharine, mass produced entertainment at its lowest level.  (Please, Millennials, if you ever see clips of that show, do not judge the superlative toys by it.)

The videogame (or the one that I saw my friends playing as a kid, anyway) seemed decent enough for the time.  I only got a glimpse of the comic once.  (I was usually reading “Conan”, or “Sgt. Rock.”)  From what little I saw, that “G.I. Joe” comic was damned good.  There were two brothers on the next block who owned all manner “Joe” merchandise, and they showed me the one where Snake Eyes (the good ninja) and Storm Shadow (the evil ninja) teamed up, for some reason.  There was a two-page splash of them leaping across a room at some incongruously mutual enemy, and the artwork was pretty damned sweet.

The toys were downright wicked.  (That’s 80’s slang.)  They were the same size as Star Wars figures (as well as toys like the “Micronauts” and “Adventure People” before them), but they were far more articulated, and had more weapons and accessories.  The packaging each figure came with had a colorful “dossier” on the back, with all sorts of detailed information about the character’s background and military expertise (like espionage, martial arts, jungle warfare, desert warfare, etc.).  These were written by none other than the comic book industry’s own Larry Hama, who also created the comic book series.  Strangely, there was one Joe whose area of specialty was simply “infantry.”  (That would be “Footloose,” the fourth guy down in the photos below.)

I loved these toys.  They combined my childhood love of poseable “Star Wars” figures with my childhood love of war toys.  I had all the ones that you see below, and many, many more.  Good times.

 

 

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1985 GIJoe Footloose Complete

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1985 GIJoe Cobra Snow Serpent Complete

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Throwback Thursday: Mego Superman (1972 – 1979)

I actually had a couple of these eight-inch Mego Corporation Superman dolls when I was a very young child — along with more than one Mego Batman.  I’m guessing they were repeat gifts.  I sure loved them.

Those boots you see were easily lost.  I still remember them floating around at the bottom of my childhood toybox.

What’s interesting is that these relatively crude toys were still being released even after the more modern action figures were hitting the scene.  (Kenner, for example, was releasing the first standard-size Star Wars figures in 1978.)

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: MPC’s “AT-AT” model kit!

Every kid in America in 1981 wanted that huge “AT-AT” imperial walker toy that Kenner produced for their “Star Wars” figures.  (And, hey, if you still want one — they’re fetching around $300 on eBay.)  Well, I didn’t get they AT-AT toy, but I did receive the below model kit from MPC, which was pretty damned cool.  Its legs and feet were movable; this made it a little more complicated to assemble, but more fun to play with.  It was detailed and looked good.  And it came with a pair of rebel cannon turrets and a pair of the snow speeders we saw in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Just about any photos you’ll find of this model online will be misleading — trust me, it was very small.  (The snow speeders, for example, were about the width of a quarter.)

Models were a much bigger thing in the 1980’s.  Most of them weren’t sci-fi models, like this one — there were far more real-world military tanks, ships, and aircraft, along with a lot of cars.  They simplified grade-school-age birthday parties — a model was always a decent gift to give, and there was always a row or two of them for sale at your local mom-and-pop drugstore.  (I can’t remember seeing any models for sale at a CVS or Rite-Aid.)  Most boys in my neighborhood had at least a couple, although only the older kids who were serious hobbyists would go so far as to paint them.  They were the toys you had to pay attention not to break.

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Throwback Thursday: Kenner’s Spirograph Set

I remember getting this spirograph set brand new for Christmas, sometime between … 1979 and 1981, I figure.  I am pretty sure this was it, too — I remember a bright red box, the red interior, and some sort of cheesy photo on the front.

I am entirely confused that the Internet tells me that Kenner manufactured this toy in 1967.

Either way, I had a hell of fun time with it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Kenner’s first “Star Wars” toys in 1978

[Blog posts that are posted just past midnight on Thursday shall still be considered “Throwback Thursday” posts.  Thanks, THE MANAGEMENT.]

This is me hopping on the “Star Wars” bandwagon.  “Star Wars: the Forces Awakens” is almost exactly a month away today, but, more to the point, Christmas is in another five weeks.  I will always associate all of my action figures and vehicles with Christmas, as that is when I got most of them.  Seeing that little original Luke Skywalker (with his retractable lightsaber) will forever make me think of Christmas when I was six.

I had nearly all of these first Star Wars figures, because my parents were especially damned cool about being generous to a fault every December 25th.  (The only exceptions were the Death Star Commander and the Stormtrooper, and it never bothered me once.)  The Jawa was the movie adversary that most fascinated me, and the Tusken Raider was the one that actually managed to scared me a little.  I got doubles of those action figures in later years, but that was cool — both the Jawas and Tusken Raiders acted in groups.  (The latter travel single file to hide their numbers, you see.)

My parents’ largesse was especially impressive in light of what I learned from Wikipedia tonight.  These toys apparently were sometimes difficult for Santa to find, as Kenner drastically underestimated the demand for them.  (The company was wise enough to purchase the license after the strangely faux-sounding “Mego Corporation” turned it down.  I can only imagine that somebody, somewhere regretted that decision.)  What’s funny is that when Star Wars was a new cultural event, local retailers weren’t always 100 percent clear on the mythology upon which these toys were based.  I stumbled across an image of 1978 newspaper ad the other day in which Darth Vader somewhat confusingly addresses the readers as “EARTHLINGS.”  (Sorry — it isn’t the ad pictured below.)

The Star Wars vehicles I received in 1978 varied in quality.  Take a look at the “escape pod” below, poorly representing the vehicle in which C-3PO and R2-D2 absconded with Leia’s distress message early in the 1977 movie.  It’s … no more impressive than a simple tupperware cup.  In fact, it would fail as a tupperware cup because it had a hole in it.

The Landspeeder was a quality toy.  One nifty feature was that its well hidden wheels and suspension allowed it to capably mimic the hovercraft action of the film’s vehicle.  That was neat.  I can definitely remember shooting that thing across the floor.

But crowning ALL of my Star Wars toys on Christmas, 1978, was Darth Vader’s Imperial Tie Fighter.

Look at that thing.  Even as an adult, I think that thing looks fun as hell to play with.  And, for a six-year-old boy, it was PURE. UNADULTERATED.  JOY.

That black Tie Fighter was incredibly fun on a number of levels.  It was detailed.  It just LOOKED like an evil spacecraft.  Darth Vader (or any action figure, really) could fit inside the cockpit.  (If memory serves, some of my play scenarios involved having Darth getting his ride stolen by that plucky Chewbacca.)  If it was hit by Rebel scum in their X-Wing Fighters, a lever somewhere on the toy made its wings pop off dramatically.  But best of all was another button that made it fire.  The sound it made was frikkin’ FANTASTIC, and that red light in front lit UP.  The fun was amped up even further when the lights went out — I can still remember that sound and that red light reflected off the coffee table and the wrapping paper scattered around my family’s living room.

Click to enlarge:

 

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