Tag Archives: toys

Throwback Thursday: 80’s Toys!!

I happened across this video last night from Youtube user RAVN52AOL, and just had to share it.  It’s six minutes long, and it’ll really take you back when your old favorite toy comes up in the montage.  I think it’s the Duran Duran song that really ties the whole thing together.  [UPDATE: I have just been indignantly informed by another 80’s kid that the song is by Simple Minds — not Duran Duran!!  Apologies!!]

Tonka Trucks — I haven’t heard those mentioned in a long time (although, admittedly, they were around for a looooong time before the 1980’s).  My best friend next door had a fleet of the big metal things; they were always scattered around the bulky square sandbox that his Dad built for him in his backyard.  That kid loved his Tonka trucks.

 

Throwback Thursday: Balsa Wood Gliders

This meme says the “THE 70’S,” but I encountered a little boy playing with something kind of like a balsa wood glider yesterday!  I told him how much I loved these when I was his age.

His was a bit fancier — it might have been made of thin plastic.  The gliders that I received from visiting aunts and grandparents were like the mostly unadorned balsa wood jobby that you see below.  It came in a long plastic sleeve like the one pictured, and you had to assemble it yourself.  (It wasn’t quite as high tech as the X-Box.)

Loop-de-loops were damn fun.  It was slightly less fun seeing it snap off a wing or fin after a nosedive.  Note to any well meaning aunts or uncles who might spy a balsa wood glider, if they’re still around:  buy a couple of them for that kid in your life — these things break easily.

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Weird 1970’s “Planet of the Apes” merchandise

I lived in a time when “Star Wars”movies didn’t exist.  Seriously, young people.  The first “Star Wars” arrived in theaters in 1977, and I arrived in this world just a few years earlier.  Furthermore, enjoying that first “Star Wars” movie was sort of a one-shot deal when I was a tot; unless your parents took you to the theater for additional viewings.  (VHS tapes were a few years down the line.)  And the sequels subsequently arrived two or three years apart.

What I am leading up to here is that there was an entirely different sci-fi movie universe already firmly entrenched in popular culture long before this world first glimpsed “a galaxy far, far away.”  That universe was the one we saw in the “Planet of the Apes” films.  There were five of them between 1968 and 1973.  (Pierre Boulle’s original novel was published in 1963.)  By the time I was a little boy, they were a fairly regular staple on broadcast television (y’know – signals sent to those huge, bulky boxes with movable antennae).

If you have any expertise in film history, or if you’re just an online flick nerd like me, then you know that George Lucas redefined the term “movie merchandising” with “Star Wars” toys, shortly after Steven Spielberg redefined the term “blockbuster” with 1975’s “Jaws.”  Nevertheless, neither man invented those things.  And the “Planet of the Apes” movie franchise is maybe the best proof of that.

The 1970’s were a weird time.  (I was born then, for example.)  If you google “1970’s Planet of the Apes merchandise,” you’ll see that the products it spawned were occasionally just weird.  There were jigsaw puzzles that were sold in … cans, for example.  I guess that’s understandable.  There were a sheer plethora of cheaply made plastic or rubber piggy banks.  (Do kids even have piggy banks these days?)  There were action figures, but they were eight inches tall, and the playsets were made of … cardboard and vinyl, instead of plastic.  And of course there were the predictable lunchboxes and ultra-cheap Halloween kiddie costumes.

All of this is a little strange, too, if you agree with me that “Planet of the Apes” was kinda not for young kids.  Think about it.  If you look past the high camp, the 70’s cheese, and your own nostalgia, it was dark stuff.  It was a story whose premise was sentient man’s extinction.  The first movie, early on, showed human beings getting the museum-display taxidermy treatment, after glimpses of genocide and slavery.  The second movie, in 1970, has its story helpfully resolved by a nuclear bomb that freakin’ kills everybody.   Today’s remakes (which I happen to like, by the way) didn’t go that far.  Anyway, if you’re curious about movie toys being inappropriately being marketed to young children, go ahead and read up on the toys licensed for 1979’s really violent, really Freudian “Alien.”  (Wow.)  Cracked.com has a terrific article about it.

But anyway … this meandering blog post is actually about one product in particular, so I’ll go ahead and promptly name it here, in the sixth paragraph — the plastic “Dr. Zaius” piggy bank.  It’s there, below, in the first photo.  It was maybe a foot and a half tall, if memory serves, and it was somewhat crudely fashioned out of very thick plastic.  I can find little information about it on the internet — beyond the fact that it is still purchased by collectors on sites like eBay and Etsy.  It appears to be one of four such toys produced — the others were made for the characters of Cornelius, Zira, and General Ursus.  (That’s Latin for “bear,” isn’t it?  I only know because I once saw a cheap paperback horror novel about a monster bear with that title.)  It also was manufactured in either the late 60’s or early 70’s.

Mine was unpainted — as were those in the other sparing images of this product I can find via Google image search.  (The second image shows, however, that painted versions were apparently sold at one point.)

Mine was also kind of defective in a big way — it had a slot at the top where coins were deposited, but there was no opening at the bottom to withdraw them when needed.  So a forward-thinking child could save his money, only to be confounded by the evil Dr. Zaius when his savings were needed. (It worked like banks during the Great Depression, in other words.)

I rectified this when I was … a very frustrated eight-year-old, I think, on a summer morning when I really wanted change from that bank.  I took a large kitchen knife to that thick plastic on the bottom and just sort of murdered a jagged, elliptical hole into it to get my quarters.  I don’t remember how I got a hold of such a huge knife, as I had pretty attentive parents.  Neither do I remember why I needed the money so badly.  Was it the ice cream man?  A yard sale?  “Sgt. Rock” comic books?  Cocaine again?  (This was about 1980, after all.)

Anyway, I also remember other strange “Planet of the Apes” merchandise being around when I was a very little boy.  That horse you see was a toy my older brother had.  (And when he was absent, I raided his stuff in much the same manner that the Viet Cong raided American patrols — employing stealth to avoid retaliation by a larger, stronger force.)   The horse was made by Mego to accompany the 8-inch tall movie action figures (which were really more like “dolls” than the Star Wars figures that would hit the scene later).  The handheld device and wire you see represents cutting-edge toy technology for the 70’s.  You flicked a switch to activate the horse.  It didn’t exactly gallop; instead it sort of shuffled and buzzed forward on its stiff legs like a particularly unfortunate animal with both arthritis and epilepsy.

My sister told me that I had a “Planet of the Apes” playhouse that I refused to leave when I was very young.  I absolutely can’t remember that.  Is it the product in the fourth photo?  I hope not, because that is one cheap-ass product, not worth $14.99 in today’s dollars.  It also is just basically a plain cardboard box with an undecorated interior, which would mean that, as a child, I had the same mentality as a housecat.

Finally, pictured below is a novelization of one of the movie’s sequels, “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971).  I think I saw this among the disheveled paperback library that always occupied the back seat and back floor of my Dad’s car.  I saw Boulle’s source novel in that back seat once, with a weird minimalist art cover.  My Dad explained that it was “very different from the movie.”  Or I might have seen it on the floor of the closet I shared with my brother.  (That closet functioned according to trickle-down economics — the really cool stuff occasionally fell from his top shelf to the floor where I could grab it.)

I might still have that Dr. Zaius bank in the shed or in storage.  I should grab it and determine its value.  (Christ, I’m paying a lot of money for that storage unit.)  It would be nuts if that hole I cut made it less valuable as a collector’s item.

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Throwback Thursday: “Star Wars” Playsets

The Internet is utterly resplendent with Star Wars toys websites.  Good Lord.  If you are not part of that subculture, you’d be surprised at the research and exactitude displayed by these collectors in cataloging their wish lists.  These people track the obscure variations of 70’s and 80’s action figures with the same precision as a linguist researching ancient Etruscan dialects.  If you don’t believe me, just google “double-telescoping lightsaber.”

I have no comparable expertise.  But I can tell you what I loved as a boy.  These two playsets were my favorites, and both might strike someone as odd choices.

The first was the Jawas’ “Droid Factory.”  I call it an odd choice because I have never heard another child speak of it.  (And the kids absolutely did talk about their Star Wars toys if they were especially prized products.  If you received The “Millennium Falcon” or the “Slave-I” for Christmas, you proclaimed that news gleefully at the bus stop immediately after  vacation.)  I certainly never had heard of it or placed it on my list for Santa.

But the “Droid Factory” was fun as hell.  It combined the magic of the Star Wars universe with some of the creativity of Tinker Toys.  Look at the pieces below.  You could make R2-D2 (or his evil twin) or other droids, including a four-legged bot that could carry a Jawa.  You could kinda make something that looked like the Mars Rover.  That black thingamajiggy could give you a satellite or a radar droid.  And they all had their own specific placement in the factory, to nourish the obsessive compulsive disorder in all of us.

Some other kids somewhere must have liked it, however.  After the arrival of “Return of the Jedi” in 1983, the very same toy was released again — only this time it was colored gray, and was marketed as “The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon.”

My second favorite set was the far more recognizable “Jabba the Hutt Action Playset.”  That WAS a well known toy and I absolutely BEGGED for it when I was in the fourth grade.

It might seem like an odd choice, though, because … it was a pretty static toy.  Neither Jabba the Hutt or Salacious Crumb (yes, that actually was the smaller character’s name) actually moved around much in the movie, having been controlled only by contemporary animatronics or puppetry.  Their toys didn’t move much either — only Jabba’s arms could be manipulated, and those only a inch or so up and down.  There wasn’t much that you could do with them.

Jabba’s shallow plastic throne could be opened up to double as … the rancor pit, if memory serves.  And that didn’t make much sense, because that awful trapdoor in the movie was located in front of him.  He didn’t wiggle away his massive heft, invite the wayward to try his throne out, and then spring a booby trap on them, right?  Whatever.

But any 80’s kid who owned Jabba could tell you that the real fun was consigning all of your other action figures to be marshaled forth before Jabba, in his “court.”  There, they could be questioned, sentenced, whatever.  (The good guys always got away.)  It was so much fun that all sorts of waylaid action figures found themselves before Jabba — even those from other universes.  My “Raiders of the Lost Ark” action figures occasionally wound up in Jabba’s court, for example.  (For reasons I can’t remember, Indiana Jones and the “Arab Swordsman” formed a temporary alliance from time to time.)

These were fun toys.  If I ever have the wealth and time enough to pursue toy collecting, I’m going to find these again.

 

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