Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mickey Mask 1974

This is one of the gifts I opened for Christmas last year from my Mom and Dad. Sure, it might not look like much but it's something I hadn't seen in quite a long time. This is another item that I made with my Dad when I was a kid... a Second Grader, to be more specific. I can't remember the specifics, but this paper mache mask was done for a school project. My folks kept it all these years. It's in pretty bad shape, but still very cool to see again.

When I was a kid, I was always "in" to something. In other words, I tended to fixate on television and movie characters and, most often, the toys that went with them. Among my young childhood obsessions were Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Before I discovered things like Planet of the Apes and Evel Knievel, Mickey Mouse was a character favorite of mine in the very early 1970s. I watched cartoons, drew Disney pictures, and dreamed of one day visiting Disneyland and seeing all the colorful characters, in person.

So, when the opportunity came to make a mask for a school project, Mickey was at the top of my list. I remember layering goopy, gluey newspaper strips all over a blown-up balloon to make the basic headshape and ears. Once dried, it was painted and a bent metal measuring spoon, painted black, served as the nose. At some point, Mickey's nose must have disappeared as he was sans spoon when I opened the box my parents wrapped up for me.

This is my "Mickey Collection," at the time. The ridiculousness of this photo cracks me up. Didn't I have more pressing things to do than this?! Anyway, my kid brother, Mike, was kind enough to stand-in and help me display my Mickey bounty. I'm holding a Mickey ventriloquist dummy that I got for Christmas a year or two earlier. My brother is holding a Mickey Mouse bust bank and Mickey doll, of some kind. On the wall, is a Mickey corkboard for keeping track of all the pressing things a 7 year-old would need to keep organized. I'm wearing a home-made Mickey Mouse Club shirt (don't be jealous) and an official, stylin' Mickey Mouse ears hat. A mysterious arm holds the Mickey Mask that is the subject of this post.

I still have the same Mickey bank that was one of the toys in the picture above. These two decorated my room when I was about 4 or 5 years-old and have just kind of stayed with the family, all these years. I think I adopted them, officially, into my collection of toys just a few years ago. I came across them recently when looking through boxes of toys in a recent "toy purge" to thin out my collection.

Being a good Mickey in 1974... waving to the crowd.

Another shot of my brother, Mike, and I. This seems like a lifetime ago. These days, we're all starting to get up in years, but it's always neat to have an object like this mask as a tangible reminder of the simpler, care-free days of being a child.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hasbro 1970 Gi Joe Adventure Team Land Adventurer

This is Hasbro's 1970 Land Adventurer from the GiJoe Adventure Team line of action figures. As I've mentioned before, with public backlash against military toys in the late 60's and early 70's, Gi Joe needed to redefine himself as an "adventurer" rather than a soldier. With newly-flocked hair and beard (vs. the beardless painted hair previous versions of Joe), the Adventure Team was ready to take on Mother Nature instead of foreign soldiers. This change from soldier to adventurer proved to be quite a success and millions of these figures found their way into countless backyard adventures everywhere.

When I was about 5 or 6 years old in the very early 70's, it seemed that every kid had an Adventure Team GiJoe or two (and maybe even a few of the 60's military figures handed down from an older brother). Like the 60's GiJoe line before, when you got your hands on an Adventure Team (AT) Gi Joe, you weren't just introduced to a world of of action figures. No, you were inducted into a huge world of possibilities that included vehicles, playsets, and other uniforms and outfits. The amount of add-ons for Joe seemed endless and it was always a thrill to visit the toy store and drool over all the adventures your Joe (or Joes) could have if only Mom and Dad would pony up the dough for new Gi Joe stuff. Your Joe could capture a wild gorilla or white tiger, dig up an old mummy, or even recover a stolen idol (Yep, ol' Joe was doing it way before Indy). Most the time, the smaller accessory sets could be purchased with some saved allowance but the bigger sets usually ended up as Christmas or birthday presents.

Although, there were five or six different figures in the Adventure Team line-up. The Land Adventurer seemed to be the "go to" guy for most missions. His visage (dark hair and beard) graced most of the add-on adventure sets' packaging. He also seemed to be the most prevalent Joe amongst neighborhood kids, for whatever reason. Mabye it was his camo outfit that attracted so many kids.

The figure in the photos is a fairly recent addition to the Yesterville archives. He's the first version of the AT Land Adventurer with the "nose picker" (affectionately named for the extended index finger on the right hand) hard hands, pistol, and shoulder holster. Later versions of the Land Adventurer would feature "Kung Fu" grip hands and a scoped rifle. Although this original style of hands made it somewhat difficult to hold guns and accessories, they have held up much better over time than their Kung-Fu counterparts. The Kung Fu hands are made of a rubber material that has dried and broken (take note Hot Toys!) on many figures, while the original hands are made of a less flexible, sturdier plastic that has survived on most figures, just fine.

One of the coolest things to me, as a kid, about the AT GiJoes was their big, chained "AT" medallions around their necks. I loved the AT graphic symbol, for whatever reason, and almost viewed it to be like a superhero logo. This was a replacement accessory for the metal dog tags that came with the earlier 60's GiJoes. During a meeting at Hasbro during the development of the AT logo, one of the employees remarked at how much the AT symbol looked like a peace symbol (which was EVERYWHERE back then... t-shirts, posters, bumper stickers, etc.). The owner of Hasbro responded by saying, "Let's hope so!!" Hasbro was eager to leave the stigma of military toys behind and any similarity to the peace symbol certainly couldnt have hurt. At any rate, there's just something I really love about these huge, over-sized medallions that is just so indicative of the early 70's.

One of the things that many younger action figure collectors are surprised by when they first hold and pose a vintage 12" GiJoe is just how well-articulated and posable they really are. I'm always a little shocked by this since GiJoe was the very first boys' articulated action figure and the development guys at Hasbro really did their homework and came up with an amazing base body for their new toy. In my circle of (older) friends, it's been pretty much common-knowledge that action figures started on a high point and had begun to de-evolve (articulation-wise), in the late Seventies with the onset of small 5-point articulated figures. Many younger collectors grew up in the 80's and 90's when action figures were smaller, simpler, and much, much less articulated than their predecessors like GiJoes and Megos. As more and more companies have started putting more and more articulation into their smaller all-plastic figures, many believe this to be a new development in the world of action figures. That's my guess as to why the "disconnect" happens, anyway.

The Adventure Team Land Adventurer was many kids' very first action figure. He predates even the first Mego Superhero figures by several years and the smaller 3 3/4 Joes by over a decade. He truly is a prime example of a much simpler time in the world of action figures. I can hardly believe he's over 40 years old this year. Someone put a brake on these years... they are rolling by much too fast.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ideal Evel Knievel Silver Hi-Jumper

This is the Ideal Evel Knievel Silver Hi-Jumper cycle from 1977. This is one of the most rare Evel Knievel toys ever produced. In 1977, Knievel had a controversial parking lot altercation with a writer that slandered him in a "tell-all" book. The writer left the incident with two broken arms and Evel was left facing jail time. Rather than continue to produce toys that used the Knievel name, Ideal Toys chose to end their relationship with Evel rather than risk losing money on a toy line associated with the then-maligned Knievel name.

Consequently, some Knievel toys did not make it to production or were canceled not far into production. The Silver Hi-Jumper set was one that ended up having very low production numbers. Information online is sketchy but it seems that somewhere between 1000 and 1500 of these sets made it to toy shelves before the final curtain closed on Ideal's mighty and lucrative Evel Knievel toy line.

The full-set included the Silver Hi-Jumper cycle, Energizer (winder), a white-suited Evel Knievel figure with helmet, and a red ramp. If I'm not mistaken, this was the only vintage Knievel cycle set to come with a jumping ramp in the box. Other sets like the Scramble Van and the Stunt Stadium (both forthcoming in reviews) included ramps but not a cycle.

This particular Silver Hi-Jumper pictured was acquired by me about a year ago. It's missing some silver paint here and there but is in nice condition, otherwise. It runs and nothing is broken. A blue-suited Evel figure is standing in for the white one that would have originally come with this set.

The cycle itself is actually a repaint of a much more common Knievel toy cycle called the Trail Bike. The Trail Bike body was black plastic with chromed engine and tail pipes but the Silver Hi-Jumper is painted in reverse with an all-chrome finish and black engine and tail pipes. Although, the distinction between the two bikes is somewhat minimal, the rarity of the silver bike makes it one of the line's "holy grails."

I didn't have this cycle as a kid. In fact, I had never heard of it until more recently when researching the line of Evel Knievel toys. However, I came across this example for a screaming deal and had to pick it up. I was very glad to add it to the collection of Knievel toys I've gathered over the years.

This is the box that the Silver Hi-Jumper cycle set was sold in. I love these old illustrated, no-window toy boxes.

Every year, we make a few trips to Evel's hometown of Butte, Montana for some of my boys' soccer games. Last year, we stopped at Evel's grave to see his final resting place and pay our respects. Evel was one of my biggest heroes as a kid and it felt pretty neat to be able to walk right up and visit the grave of such a famous and iconic American.

The backside of Knievel's grave was inscribed many years ago. Evel intended that this stone be erected as a commemoration of his attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in 1974. When that didn't pan out, the stone was put into storage. Later in life, as Evel struggled with illness, he pulled the stone out of storage and had it transported to Butte to be used as his headstone.