Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Ten Favorite Childhood Christmas Gifts

With Christmas less than a week away, I've been reflecting on Christmases of the past and all the great gifts that I've received from my parents and family over the years. Everyone knows that a toy received on Christmas is more special than a toy you saved your allowance for or happened to talk your Mom into while on a shopping trip. There was a special "magic" associated with the things you unwrapped at Christmas. In honor of those Christmas mornings of the past, I've compiled a list of my 10 favorite Christmas presents I received while I was a kid.

1. Evel Knievel Sky Cycle

I received the Evel Knievel Sky Cycle the Christmas of 1974. Evel had just attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon the previous September. So, this was quite a timely toy. The Sky Cycle was my first Evel Knievel toy and I remember getting it that Christmas very clearly. We lived in a townhouse in Minnesota with a very short hallway. That didn't stop me from sending Evel back and forth across jumps in that short hallway for the better part of the day. Because Evel Knievel toys were a huge part of my childhood and this toy was my first one, it snags the number one spot on my list.

2. Crosman 760 BB Gun Air Rifle

My Dad surprised me with this BB gun the Christmas of 1977. In a very "A Christmas Story moment" my Dad pulled this out from it's hiding place after I had opened all my other gifts and was feeling a bit disappointed that the BB gun I had been hoping for was nowhere to be found. My parents had made it pretty clear that I would, most likely, NOT be receiving a BB gun. Incidentally, I was shopping with my family a couple of weeks ago and was in a sporting goods store. Surprisingly, Crosman still makes this same model of air gun (some 30 or so years later) and there was an entire display of them on an endcap. It warms my heart to know that in this ever-changing world, some things stay the same.

3. Evel Knievel Dragster

I received this the Christmas of 1975. I have good memories of playing with this in our unfinished basement all day (couldn't play with it outside...SNOW). It didn't have the speed and jumping ability of the Stunt Cycle but it did do "wheelies" and deploy a red, white, and blue parachute.

The only photo of my stereo I could find. Dig the woodgrain. You can also see the wires running up to the speakers and just a hint of a Kenner tie-fighter on the top shelf.

left to right: Yours Truly (Look, I match my cake!), Brian McGill, Tom Fuchs, and my younger brother Mike.

4. Soundesign Stereo (Record player and Radio)

This was a BIG deal on Christmas Day, 1978. We didn't have mp3 players, boom boxes, or even Walkmans (if you don't know what a Walkman is... I pity you) back then. There really wasn't any way for a kid to enjoy music in private without the whole family listening in. I had to play most of my records (big plastic cds...for you youngsters) on my Mom and Dad's record player in the living room. So, this gift meant FREEDOM! I was suddenly free to play whatever I wanted when I wanted...IN MY ROOM (Gasp!). This was such a big deal to me that I requested a "stereo cake" on my next birthday. I think my Mom did a great job.

5. Maskatron

Six Million Dollar Man toys were always a Christmas staple for me in the mid-70s. I think I received this guy for Christmas 1976. Now, Steve would have an enemy...that could look like Steve! This toy was great fun.

6. Evel Knievel Super Jet Cycle

I think I received this Christmas 1976, also. I seemed to receive an Evel Knievel toy each Christmas for several years in a row in the mid-Seventies. Great memories of this one. The jet pods would send out sparks as the toy tore across the floor.

7. Sesame Street Cookie Monster puppet

This photo is probably from Christmas 1971. I had just received a cookie monster puppet that I had been hoping to get for quite some time. Back then, Cookie Monster was the "bad boy" on Sesame Street. He was dangerous. Sure, Oscar talked a lot of smack but we all knew who was in charge when it came to fuzzy monsters. I played with this puppet for years and years. I also had a Bert and Ernie, as well.

8. Bouncy Horse

I don't know what these are officially called but I received it on Christmas 1969 (I think). I played with this thing for years and years, too. This is currently sitting in my parents' garage and has even been ridden by my kids when they were little. It still works perfectly. I have such great memories of throwing on my Lone Ranger mask and galloping across the plains in pursuit of train robbers.

9. Talking Adventure Team Gi Joe Commander

I'm a bit unsure about what year I got this guy. I was only about 5 or 6 years old. I DO remember spending Christmas with my cousins (far away from home) that year. I remember playing with this Gi Joe while at my cousins' house. However, I don't recall playing with him ever again. I have no memories of this toy after that Christmas. I wonder if it became broken, somehow, and had to be returned. Strange. At any rate, I loved it while I had it and have very distinct memories of opening him and playing with the talking feature.

(the figure pictured is a replica...but a good one, right down to the box)

10. Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Mission Vehicle

I still have this toy stashed away, somewhere. This toy was a lot of fun and had quite a few play features. I loved the winch it could lower from the side. There wasn't anything remotely like this in the TV show but I didn't care. It was just cool that Steve finally had a "ride" that wasn't a rocket/operating table. You KNOW you are heading for trouble when your space ship transforms into a bionic operating table. The makers of this transport must have deemed it "safe" since it didn't fold out to to fix Steve immediately after a crash.

My first Christmas. Yes, that Santa is terrified.

A few years later, Santa gets "payback."
Guess who's terrified now?

I hope you enjoyed this little trip through Christmas past.

I'd like to TAG a few fellow bloggers to see if they are willing to list their favorite Top Ten Childhood Christmas gifts.

Brian B at What My Dad Saw

Chunky B at Eclectorama

Bubbashelby at Toyriffic

If any other bloggers would like to do this, just add a link in the comments. Even if you don't have a blog, leave a list in the comments. I'd love to see them.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mego Planet of the Apes Zira

Just about every line in the 1970s that Mego produced had at least one female character in it. With the World's Greatest Super Heroes we had Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Supergirl, Invisible Woman, and Isis. With the Star Trek line we got Uhura. With the Dukes of Hazzard line we got Daisy Duke. With the Planet of the Apes line, we got Dr. Zira.

When I was a kid, it was practically unthinkable to buy or ask for a female action figure. In fact, it seemed like the term "action figure" didn't even apply when it was a female character. Heck, Zira could have come chewing a cigar and been armed with grenades and a bazooka and I still would have thought of her as a "doll." These days, I'm too old to care...and if there's a hole in my collection that needs a female character, I throw caution to the wind and go ahead and "order it up" online.

Zira was a scientist and fiancee to the chimpanzee, Cornelius. She was fairly certain there was more to humans than meets the eye...that they were more than just animals. When she met Astronaut Taylor, her suspicions were confirmed. You see, Taylor was the first talking human any ape had encountered. After realizing how special Taylor was, both Cornelius and Zira did what they could to help Taylor escape the ape community that was sure to dissect him once they realized his special vocal ability and intelligence.

Zira comes with two brown boots, a skirt, and a tunic with velcro closure (pretty hi-tech for the 70s). She didn't come with any accessories, unfortunately. However, there is some nice embossing work on her tunic's vinyl panel. I have no idea what it says, though. Perhaps, it says, "Zira: Woman Scientist." It always cracked me up that the original Mego TV commercial for the Apes figures called her this. It was almost like code to little boys that said, "Don't buy me."

These days, Zira has a place of honor in my Mego Apes collection as the lone female character. I would even display her, I'm man enough.

....which leads me to a question I have about displaying vintage toys:

Does anyone else have an aversion to displaying vintage toys because you are afraid that old emotions and associations with the toy will be replaced with new ones if you have it around day-to-day?

Maybe, it's just me. Am I crazy?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween 1978 Stormtrooper Helmet

With Halloween coming up, I thought I'd post something that's vintage but not really a toy.

Back in 1978, Star Wars was still a very new movie. For Halloween, I wanted to dress as a Stormtrooper. I dreamed of having one of the Don Post Stormtrooper masks that were always advertised in Starlog magazine. However, desiring one and convincing my parents that I needed one were entirely different issues.

Sympathetic to my cause, my Dad came up with the idea of building a stormtrooper mask from scratch. I was SURE it was going to turn out looking just like the helmets in the movie. When you are a kid, anything is possible.

So, out came the newspapers strips and flour glue. My Dad and I covered a balloon until we had a ball-like shell. Once that dried, we added more and more pieces and paper mache strips to build up the extremely accurate visage of the Stormtrooper you see before you. Once the shaped helmet had dried, a white coat of paint, green eye cellophane, and sharpies completed the transition from yesterday's news to today's Halloween costume mask. It was great fun and an enduring memory from childhood.

White poster board that was cut, rolled, and markered served as the white stormtrooper armor that completed the costume. Underneath the poster board armor were a black turtleneck and black pants (probably cords, given my Mom's proclivity for dressing me in cords on non-jean days...I can still hear them. Cords...both clothing and an aural experience.) I wish I had photos of the complete costume. I guess I'm just lucky that the mask itself has survived all these years since 1978.

Here's the interior. It includes an elastic head support, a nasal breathing hole that vents on the underside of the chin, and even my initials made with one of those clicky label makers. It was fun to catch up on the news inside the helmet between houses while Trick or Treating.

For those of you doubting the amazing screen accuracy of this helmet, I direct you to the undoctored and purely authentic screenshot from Star Wars below:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mego 8" Planet of the Apes Astronaut

Who looks nothing like Charlton Heston, dresses like the Maytag Man, and has mutton-chops that would make a Rhinestone Cowboy jealous?

This guy.

This is Mego's Planet of the Apes Astronaut.

He's kind of a generic, all-purpose astronaut for the simian Planet of the Apes figures to attack, torture, and maim. In the original Planet of the Apes film, three men survived from their ship's crash landing only to stumble upon a hostile ape civilization. The primary astronaut, Taylor, was played by Charlton Heston and was the obvious choice for a likeness when Mego produced their astronaut figure.

I'm not sure if Mego decided that kids wouldn't care if this figure didn't look anything like Heston...or if Heston refused to allow his likeness for the toy...or if Heston was asking for too much money to license his likeness. At any rate, this is what we got. He was just called "Astronaut" on his package and in the television commercials.

He is made of completely recycled parts from Mego's Action Jackson line of figures. Action Jackson was a smaller copy of toy lines like Gi Joe and Action Man. Everything from the Astronaut's head and helmet down to his boots was recycled from the Action Jackson line. Even then, it was a bit disappointing that his helmet and suit looked nothing like the astronaut suits from the film. The least they could have done was give him a white suit.

However, there is something quaint and innocent about the fact that there once was a time when a toy company could get away with something like this. He was an astronaut and was stranded on the Planet of the Apes... this was enough for most kids and their imagination filled in the rest.

A complete Astronaut includes his silver helmet (with chin string and retractable goggles), blue jumpsuit (with GIANT zipper pull), white belt, and black boots.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wham-O Boris Badenov Bendy

This is a Boris Badenov bendy from WHAM-O in 1972. I love the name Wham-O. I wish I would have named one of my kids Wham-O, but alas, that ship has sailed.

Boris is from the Rocky and Bulwinkle cartoon. He and his wife Natasha were villains on the show. I haven't seen the show in so long, I can't really offer much more about his character. I believe both Boris and his wife spoke with Russian accents.

I do know that Rocky and Bulwinkle were created by Jay Ward (his name's right on Boris's back) along with a whole slew of other characters like Mr. Peabody, Sherman, Dudley Do Right, and Snidely Whiplash. Great, classic cartoons.

I had this bendie when I was in First Grade. There was just something so cool about how chunky the figure was...and I really dug the jet black rubber and white color scheme. I took him to school one day at Simmons Elementary in Aberdeen, South Dakota in 1973. The thing is, he disappeared at some point during the day and that was the last I saw of him. I guess that's what you get for taking a toy to school when you aren't supposed to. I think I only had Boris for a day or two.

So, if anyone knows someone that went to Simmons Elementary in 1973 that has a Boris bendie, tell 'em I'd like to have a little chat with them...Wham-O style.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kenner 12" Large Size See-Threepio (C3PO)

This is Kenner's 12" See-Threepio from 1978.

After Artoo, it seemed natural to cover Threepio in this next post.

There's not much to say about Threepio, the character, that hasn't been said a million times before. With that said, I will say this...he's shiny, he's whiny, and if he had spent any time on Dagobah he might have felt a bit briny (I'm here all week, folks). Bad rhymes aside, Threepio (along with Artoo) made for great comic relief in the Star Wars films. Unfortunately, I think that the widespread acceptance of these characters and their humor planted a seed or two in George Lucas's noggin' that eventually led to much more ham-fisted comedy in characters like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. The droids' humor was perfect...ewoks and Jar Jar, not so much.

Kenner didn't really go above and beyond the call when they made See- Threepio in his 12" size. For all intents and purposes, Threepio is just a larger version of his 3 3/4 counterpart. He sports all the same limited articulation (neck, shoulders, hips) and doesn't include any accessories or play features. Such limited articulation on a character that has built-in spots for extra articulation is a cheap cop-out and one of my pet-peeves (I've noticed some of the recent Buzz Lightyear figures have the same issue... There's an elbow joint sculpted right in that doesn't move!!!) What you see is what you get and it's fairly easy to track down a "complete" See-Threepio these days as he didn't have any extra pieces to lose. However, he does sport a very shiny, gold paint scheme. Pretty, ain't it?

As a kid, his limited play features were a huge disappointment. Sometimes, I think I was made to suffer. It's my lot in life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kenner 12" Scale Large Size Artoo Detoo (R2D2)

This is Kenner's 12" scale, large size Artoo Detoo (R2D2).

Artoo was quite a revolutionary character when he appeared in the first Star Wars film. He was shaped like a garbage can on legs and was not what we were used to as far as film robots go. Through the use of motors, puppetry, and sound design, he was brought to life as a character we all could love. I can't think of another instance in cinema before Star Wars where someone attempted to make a non-humanoid robot a sympathetic, fully-fleshed out character. We couldn't understand a "word" he said but we always knew how Artoo felt and what he was thinking. In my book, cinematically speaking, that's a huge achievement.

In 1978, Kenner released the lovable Artoo Detoo in the 12" scale to go along with their other 12" figures. I think they did a wonderful job of accurately representing how Artoo looked onscreen. Sure, he's not going to fool a studied prop-junkie but his proportions look about right and he's got oodles of detail and chrome paint.

It's a good thing Artoo is so good-looking because he can't do much else. His head turns and his legs swivel at the "shoulders" and the "ankles." He also has wheels to help him scoot along. No third leg on this guy, though.

The downside to vintage collectibles that are molded in white plastic (versus painted white), is that the white plastic almost always yellows over time. So, you can see that Artoo isn't completely white anymore but more of a cream color. Also, glue along joint lines tends to darken and show up on vintage white plastic (Vintage White Plastic would make a great band name, btw).

When you press a panel on the front of Artoo, a door opens in back to reveal the Death Star Plans that he's hiding from the Empire. There are two sets of plans inside Artoo that can be removed. Mine have fingerprints on them, and if I'm not mistaken, they look Bothan... go figure.

Artoo doesn't have much to get lost. He needs his two plans to be complete and that's about it... barring a missing leg or something.

His and hers?

This is a great piece and a collectible just can't get any more "Star Warsy" than a vintage Artoo Detoo giant action figure.