Throwback Thursday: “Wizards and Warriors” (1983)!

I suppose that “Wizards and Warriors” was what passed for “Game of Thrones” in 1983.  Except it was cheesy as hell (which of course meant that I loved it as a fourth grader), and it didn’t last longer than eight episodes.

It was CBS’ mid-season replacement for my beloved “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (the Bruce Boxleitner retro adventure series that I’ve written about here previously), which was cancelled due to low ratings.  “Wizards and Warriors” ran in its 8 PM time slot, and then itself was cancelled due to low ratings, so it never saw a second season.  (I believe both shows were competing with NBC’s ratings juggernaut, “The A-Team,” which every kid in the world loved except me.  I was weird.)

“Wizards and Warriors” was really just an obvious effort to capitalize on the popularity of the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing game.  The show was campy stuff.  The pilot episode, which you can watch in its entirety over at dailymotion, was entitled “The Unicorn of Death.”  It dealt with a time-bomb hidden inside a princess’ birthday present, which strikes me as a pretty surprising plot for a sword-and-sorcery program.

It had a cast that went on to better things, though.  One was Julia Duffy, of “Newheart” (1982-1990) fame.  Another was “Grease” (1978) veteran Jeff Conaway, who most 80’s kids will remember from “Taxi” (1978-1983).  The dastardly villain of “Wizards and Warriors” was played by the terrific character actor Duncan Regehr, a “that guy” actor who popped up in a lot of genre roles in the 80’s and 90’s.  Here’s the thing about Regehr — I want him to be a real-life bad guy.  He’s got an absolutely sly, suave, villainous face and manner — and his name just sounds like a villain’s name.  If he’d left acting to commit a series of high-profile crimes in the real world, that would be wickedly, awesomely meta.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Olympic Prizes or Cash!

Here’s another ad that was a permanent fixture of comic books in the 1980’s.  I myself was never interested in joining the advertised “Olympic Sales Club;” nor did I want to “GO, GO, GO WITH CAPTAIN “O”!” [sic].

I found this ad pretty patronizing, with its generic champion hugging his demographically diverse charges in the upper left-hand corner.  What kind of superhero was “Captain O” supposed to be, anyway?  Was he the protector of the company?  The guardian of the kids who went door to door selling its wares? The hero of … salespeople generally?  To me, this was really just an example of adults pandering to kids as though they were idiots.

But ads like this fueled a lot of conversation among grade-school boys.  It really made it seem like you could earn some cool prizes for selling only a moderate amount of greeting cards or stationary.  (The radio-controlled cars and planes were what all the boys eyed most eagerly.)

And 80’s kids often prided ourselves on our sales skills.  Most of us had sold things door-to-door for school-related fundraisers — it was just a very common practice at the time, even if it seems needlessly dangerous to me as an adult.  When I was in second and third grade at Catholic school, we annually sold candy bars door-to-door.  If memory serves, we weren’t even required to do that for any particular fundraising purpose, like a school trip or a sports team.  I think it we were just turning a profit for the school, in addition to what our parents were paying them in tuition.

I also remember seeing ads in my older comics that recruited kids to sell “Grit,” which was some sort of periodical that was oddly billed as a “family newspaper.”  But I think that was primarily a 1970’s thing, and was just before my time.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Snaps!!

Does anyone else remember these from the 1980’s?  They went by a number of different names and brands — “Snaps,” “Snappers,” “Pop-Its” and “Bang-Snaps,” to name a few.  They were basically little tissue-paper tadpoles full of the same stuff that was in caps for your cap-gun.  (It was actually a trace amount of the impressive-sounding “silver fulminate high explosive.”  I remember reading that off the box as a kid and being very, very happy with it.)

They were perfectly harmless, though.  The Wikipedia entry for “Bang-snaps” has a rather admirable breakdown of their innocuous physics.

I and the other kids on my street loved them.  We considered them fireworks, albeit very tiny ones.  But they were legal in New York.  (Genuine fireworks were not.)  You could buy them at the drug store.  It was like some glorious oversight in the world of adults that unwittingly allowed us fun that we shouldn’t be having.

Come to think of it … I’m willing to bet that a lot of kids these days don’t even know what a cap-gun is.  Those were on their way out by the 80’s — I only remember having them as a tot at the tail end of the 1970’s.

 

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Throwback Thursday: the Joy Buzzer!

As novelty items go, The “Joy Buzzer” was the opposite of the infamous “X-Ray Specs” or “Sea Monkeys” or how-to books on hypnotism.  It was a durable, well designed toy that actually worked as advertised.

There was no electricity in it; you weren’t actually shocking people.  There was just a simple wind-up mechanism that made it buzz violently in your victim’s handshake.

I was almost always the dork in the family who excitedly ordered weird things out of The Johnson Smith Company catalog, but I seem to remember one of my older siblings sending away for this one.  It was a fun gag.

It’s an old gag too.  This thing has been around since 1928, and was modeled on an even older product called “The Zapper.”  Because humor is timeless.

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Johnson Smith Company Catalog!

Ah, The Johnson Smith Company Catalog — the Holy Bible for little boy pranksters, magicians, spies, collectors and monster lovers everywhere.  The goofy novelties I’ve written about here at the blog could all be found among its fabled pages — even if they frequently lay outside the limits of what my boyhood allowance could buy.  (Note the “Greedy Fingers Bank” top left in the third picture below, for example.  This is the same wind-up toy that was occasionally advertised as the “Novelty Coffin Bank.”)

As the pages below show, you could buy anything from “X-Rays Specs” to smoke grenades to itching powder to Halloween masks to “Whoopee Cushions” to “Joy Buzzers.”   There were dozens of dubious “how-to” books as well, for would-be practitioners of such arcane pursuits as Kung-Fu or hypnosis.  And there were some risque items aimed clearly at adults — primarily decals and clothing.  (Does anyone under 40 remember “iron-ons” for t-shirts?  That was actually more of a 1970’s thing than a 1980’s thing.)  The Halloween masks, especially, were the stuff of legend among me and my friends.  But the “deluxe” masks cost $25, if memory serves, which was well outside my grade-school price range.

Goddam, but this catalog stimulated a kid’s imagination.  When it arrived in my mailbox, it seemed like a magical, exotic tome from some parallel universe where everything was made up exclusively of monsters and ninjas and gadgets.  Adding to its mystique was the fact that I never actually sent away for it — I wound up on the company’s mailing list around 1979 after buying something from the back of a comic book.  I forget what that fateful inaugural purchase was.  It might have been the “Sea Monkeys” that I wrote about two weeks ago, but I have a feeling it might have been stamps.  (I fetishized stamp collecting for a lengthy period of my early childhood, and was elated by those 500-stamps-for-$5-type offers that you sometimes found in comics.)

The scans below were downloaded from Pinterest; it looks like the first two are from the 70’s and the third one is from the 80’s.  But they’re both representative of any catalog that I received from 1979 through the early part of the next decade.  The small pages were crowded with random ads, mostly in little black-and-white boxes.  The pictures of the products were frequently just drawings, and often did not convey the real value of what you were buying.  (Remember, this was a vendor that sold “X Ray Specs.”)

The Johnson Smith Company is still around, too.  (They’ve been a thing since 1914 … I have no idea how the modern Internet marketplace either helps or hurts a company like this.)  But you can find them online right here.  I just ordered a catalog.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm!

I indeed had this exact ant farm from Uncle Milton’s Toys in the early 1980’s; it was one of those things that Santa brought that my mother wasn’t altogether thrilled about.  There were all sorts of admonitions Christmas morning about how I had to be extremely careful not to let the ants escape into our house.

I definitely remember the ants being smaller than those pictured below.  They were little black beads that you had to squint to see — they seemed like baby versions of the larger subspecies skittering around everywhere outside.  (Rural New York has some huge-ass ants, let me tell you.  Part of the inviolable Kid Code was that you promptly stomped the big red ones, because those evil things could bite — even if it occurs to me now that none of us knew a single kid who’d been bitten.)

Nor did the ants in my ant farm build the kind of elaborate tunnel systems that you usually see pictured for ant farms.  Mine were relatively unambitious.

I remember being told by my siblings that I had to handle the habitat very carefully, because if the tunnels collapsed, the ants would have heart attacks and die.  I remember being blackly fascinated by that as a little boy — insects dying from frustration, like ruined architects.  It seemed so bizarrely tragic.  I have no idea if it was true or not.  Maybe my mom just told my brother and sisters to say that so I would be extra careful not to break the thing, and inadvertently launch the Great Ant Jailbreak of 1981.

My ants eventually died anyway, curling up into static little black balls that looked like mouse droppings.  I wasn’t too affected by it.  You kinda don’t get attached to ants.  I was far more saddened, for example, when the family dog tore through the Habitrail like goddam Mecha-Godzilla and ate Henry the Hamster.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

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