We recently cut the cable again, and have been limited to over the air TV viewing. My favorite channels are the retro stations that show only classic stuff. I’ve been enjoying old Tonight Show reruns, and it brings back so many good memories watching Johnny Carson do his thing. As a challenge, I like to try and guess the airdate based on the guests appearing. Over the weekend, I watched an episode with Ann-Margret and Joan Rivers, originally aired on December 13, 1978. (I was off a few years on my guess.)
The most memorable part of this particular show wasn’t the monologue, or Joan Rivers’ crude humor, not even Johnny’s flirtatious interview with Ann-Margret. It was a short segment where Johnny read kids’ letters to Santa. These were actually written and sent to the Post Office by kids in 1978. Johnny pointed out funny things the kids wrote before ending the segment with a call for donations to needy children. It was so incredible to hearing what toys kids wanted back in 1978. I immediately started looking around on the web for information on these toys. It was a fun little research project, and I thought I’d share what I found here. If you are at all interested in vintage toys, or have nostalgia for the time, you should check out the links below. Hopefully at least some of these fantastic toys made it into the hands of those kids almost four decades ago…
Though Johnny didn’t say exactly which of the many Captain America toys was requested, odds are it was a Mego. These were the gold standard for dolls, I mean, action figures, back in the 70s. I don’t recall having Steve Rogers in Mego form, but I did have Spidey. I whirled the wall crawler around our house on a length of yarn, endangering many of my mom’s breakables.
This request was unusual, and the phrase refers to both a book and a movie based on it. I’m guessing the book was what this particular kiddo was wishing for. The movie (narrated by Rod Serling, no less!) is fully available on YouTube at the link above. I watched a half hour or so, and it brought back memories of reading every book on Ufology in the school and local library when I was young. I’m certain I would have gotten along well with the kid who requested this one.
I vaguely recall seeing ads for this toy in between the story pages of my aunt’s collection of comic books. A helicopter may seem like a strange choice of vehicle, since Spidey practically flies around on his webs anyway. I suppose a copter could be useful for oversea travel, or perhaps in the skyscraper-less suburbs. The copter is mentioned at the end of an old commercial for “Energized” Spider-Man, a toy that climbs up a string in realistic fashion. The clip is on Youtube and definitely worth a view.
Play-Doh is still, to this day, a toy aisle staple. Making things out of brightly colored modeling compound is lots of fun! And there’s nothing quite like the smell of a freshly opened can of Play-Doh, is there? I couldn’t recall offhand what a Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop was, but after watching the commercial (link above), I distinctly remembered it. I could spend a few hours shaving green Play-Doh off a plastic guy’s face, couldn’t you?
Unsurprisingly, Star Wars toys were big in 1978, and were mentioned in several of the kids’ wish lists. The most common request was for Star Wars action figures, and I am sure it was a rare tree, indeed, that was lacking a Star Wars figure that year. Two other, less well-known toys were also mentioned. One was the Star Wars Give-A-Show projector. Before the age of the VCR, this was the best way to see parts of your favorite movie in your own home. If you were on the go, the handheld Kenner Movie Viewer had a Star Wars cartridge available. I would have loved either, or both! (Please, please both.)
I don’t have a particular affinity for Hot Wheels or remote control cars today. But cars and toys based on them are very appealing to kids, especially when they are fast and/or sporty looking. I didn’t have the Sizzlers Nightmare Alley race car track, but my brother and I did race each other on a similar set. To be honest, I had more fun going so fast around corners that my car flew off the track.
The Micronauts! As as kid, I read the comic based on the toyline. I loved Acroyear! As an adult, I recognize that the Japanese toyline (Microman) gave birth to some of the best Transformers toys later on. I believe I had a few Micronauts toys as a kid, but sadly none remain in my collection. Taking a look at this Battle Cruiser, though, makes me want to get one, and fill it with all sorts of interchangeable cyborg goodness. And Acroyear would look cool on my robot shelf…
I was unfamiliar with this toy, but after learning about it I totally want one! It’s a futuristic target shooting set. A sweet white spacegun that would look right at home on Buck Rogers shoots a burst of light. The target has a rotating platform full of rockets on top of it. If you hit the target, a rocket shoots up into the air, and a new one rotates into place. I can only imagine how cool it would have been to shoot lasers at invading rockets in my own back yard. It really doesn’t get much better than that as a kid in the late 70s, does it?
It’s time for another Pop Culture League challenge. Last week was a simple one, but this time the prompt took a little more thought. Everyone has Olympics on the brain (except me, I watched maybe half an hour here and there) and thus, the question is this: if ________ was an Olympic sport, I’d have a gold medal. What am I really, really good at? It’s tough to analyze yourself. I consider myself to be pretty good at lots of different things, but nothing sprang to mind as being world class, which an Olympic medal certainly would require. I’m a good Dungeon Master, but far from the best. I am a good problem solver, and creative, but not in comparison to the best and brightest of the world. I talked it over with my wife, and she said to quit overthinking it, and told me exactly what my greatest strength was.
I can remember useless trivia with the best of them. Without a doubt, if that was an Olympic sport, there would be multiple gold medals hanging on our fridge.
What sort of useless trivia? Well, I have an uncanny knack for remembering exact situations and moments based on things that seem totally random. For example, I remember exactly what flavor snowcone (blueberry cream) I was reading on a hot summer day when I accidentally spilled it on my aunt’s copy of X-Men #137. I can recall what issue of Batman I was reading when I took a trip with my grandparents to a a family cemetery on Memorial Day in 1989. (It was Detective Comics #601 with art by the amazing Norm Breyfogle). I remember exactly what my parents got me for my 15th birthday (a Sony Walkman, with cool earbuds in a wind-up case), because of the book I was reading at the time, Orson Scott Card’s novelization of the movie The Abyss.
There’s more to it than that, though. It goes beyond just personal memories. I am very good at remembering things I read, and since I read all the time when I was younger (not nearly as much as I’d like to these days, I’m afraid), my brain is full of both interesting, useful facts and also near-useless factoids. FASERIP, the mnemonic for remembering all of the different statistical categories in TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG is a good example. I remember that the special effects team in Return of the Jedi had trouble getting the AT-ST Scout Walker crushed by Ewok logs to look right, using several different types of metal before settling on nickel. Oh, and I know that the Hardy Boys always keep $50 stashed in the steering wheel of their car. So if you ever see them, and need a loan, don’t believe them if they say they’re broke.
Probably the best example, and the one that surely spawned my wife’s declaration of my perfect gold medal event, comes from when we were first dating. She understood my love for Star Wars, as evidenced by my mania for collecting Power of the Force figures as well as the lifesize Princess Leia standup in the apartment I shared with two other geeks. For my birthday, she got me Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, the classic original trilogy version. I was quite excited, and looked forward to the next game night when we could play. I got all my Star Wars fan friends together (the cross section of my friends and Star Wars fans is quite sizeable) and we played a game. My team went second. The other team answered about a dozen questions correctly before missing one, like “Who was the actor who played Lobot?” or some such.
Following this, my team went, and we actually managed to win the game without missing a question. One friend bellyached at one of our answers after the win. “How could you possibly know the number of the docking bay that the Millennium Falcon was pulled into?” Incensed at these accusations of cheating, I replied that I remembered it from playing the Star Wars Collectible Card Game, which featured Docking Bay 327 as a location. I don’t think I was the only one who began questioning my life decisions and priorities after that evening. I still have the game, though we haven’t played it since. It’s a great reminder of a fun memory, and I am so glad my wife decided to go ahead and marry me anyway, despite the Star Wars weirdness.
So there you go, the only Olympic event I could earn a gold medal in: knowledge of useless trivia.
Here are some other fun entries for this week’s Pop Culture League Challenge:
Jathniel is also a big fan of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I didn’t read this before I wrote mine, I promise! We’d get along well, I am sure.
Rediscover the 80s is a world class Contra player. As a fan of co-op and the NES, as well as the Konami code, I approve.
The Toy Box takes the gold medal for cataloging toys. My Transformers wish list spreadsheet might give him a run for his money.
The other awesome contributions to the challenge can be found at Cool and Collected.
In honor of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You!), here’s an excerpt from my first book, I Was Geeky When Geeky Wasn’t Cool. Like most kids from the 80s, I was a huge Star Wars fan, and as an adult, I am no less excited about stories from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
“Dozens, if not hundreds, of Star Wars figures hung neatly from their pegs, taking up the top half of nearly an entire aisle. Below them, iconic vehicles from that galaxy far, far away lined the shelving. I looked through each peg of figures, flipping frantically from front to back, as high as I could reach. Han Solo in his blue Hoth gear caught my eye, as did a Snowtrooper. In my mind’s eye, the two squared off in a laser blaster duel in the cold, desolate wastes of that icy planet. A Tauntaun toy was on the bottom shelf. I was particularly enamored by this toy, representing one of the strange, hairy lizard-creatures used as a mount on frozen Hoth. It even had a spring-loaded hatch that you could place your Luke Skywalker figure in, just like in The Empire Strikes back, minus the horrible smell and the grey guts. I was thrilled to see so much plastic Star Wars goodness all in one place.”
Interested in reading more? You can pick up a copy of your own here.