Archive for toys

The Star Wars Holiday Special and its vintage merchandise

Posted in Boba Fett, cartoons, movies, nostalgia, pop culture, Star Wars, TV shows with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by Paxton

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A few years ago I wrote two articles for the Archie McPhee website Monkey Goggles. It was a fun site with quirky humor/pop culture articles and I was glad to contribute.  My buddy Shawn over at Branded in the 80s also wrote a few articles for the site.  Unfortunately, it seems Monkey Goggles has stopped updating so I thought I’d archive the articles I wrote here before they are swallowed by that unforgiving beast, The Internet.

Anyway, the first article I wrote was about discontinued soda. I published it last week.  The second article I wrote was about The Star Wars Holiday Special.  The Holiday Special aired for the first time on November 17, 1978, which makes it 33 years old today.  I thought reprinting the below article on the TV special’s 33rd birthday was appropriate.  And, stay tuned, the Nerd Lunch podcast is going to devote an entire episode to The Holiday Special.  That should be coming up in December.  I can hardly wait to record it.  Until then, enjoy this article.

And I may be biased, but I have to say, this is one of my very favorite articles I’ve ever written.

SW Holiday Special

The Star Wars Holiday Special is legendary amongst Star Wars fans. Created to bridge the gap between the first Star Wars movie in 1977 and its 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back, The Holiday Special only aired once in America and immediately rocketed to infamy by being so notoriously bad that it swings back over to good, ninja-kicks it in the groin, leaves good in a crumpled heap, and moves all the way back into shockingly horrible. To sit and watch the two hours of boring insanity contained within the Holiday Special is like an endurance trial for hardcore Star Wars fans. The awkwardly-inserted musical numbers and endlessly boring live-action scenes combine to create a perfect storm of awfulness.

Not surprisingly, George Lucas hates The Holiday Special. And by “hates it,” I mean that Lucas once said that if he had the time, he would find every copy of it in existence and smash it with a sledgehammer.  Lucasfilm doesn’t officially comment or discuss the special, as if by pretending it doesn’t exist will cause all of us to forget it ever happened. But we will always remember, George.

Holiday Special Press KitThe Holiday Special turned 31 years old last November, so I decided to celebrate the anniversary by taking at look at some of the rarest of “Star Wars” collectibles — those based on the Holiday Special. There was a big marketing push before the special aired back in 1978, but after it died its fiery, televised death, Lucasfilm pretty much cut it loose and left it to die like a gutted Tauntaun. As a result of this abandonment, the spectrum of Holiday Special collectibles is very small. Let’s take a look at some of the items one would look for if they wanted to collect merchandise pertaining to one of the most reviled television specials in history.

Like most films, the Holiday Special was preceded by a press kit (left). It’s a package of information that was sent out to newspapers and television stations to promote the airing of the upcoming special. The official Star Wars Holiday Special press kit contained a booklet, several black and white stills, production information and a mini-poster, all contained in a silver folder. Since press kits are meant for media only, complete sets of these can be very hard to find and only a few complete copies are known to exist.

Starlog 1979If you can actually sit through the Holiday Special and not doze off or throw your 12″ Boba Fett through the TV in utter rage, you’ll be treated to an appearance by Jefferson Starship for no other reason than “why the hell not?” The song the band performs, Light the Sky on Fire, was released as a 45″ single and the record sleeve mentions the song’s appearance on The Star Wars Holiday Special as if that somehow gives the even-then aging rockers street cred. The B-side? A song called Hyperdrive that wasn’t used in the special but probably could have been had the producers hated their audience just a little bit more. Diahann Carroll also performed in the Holiday Special, but smartly decided not to ever mention her connection to the show.

The January 1979 issue of Starlog (right) actually featured the Holiday Special on its cover, and inexplicably chose to use a picture of Bea Arthur and a bunch of cantina aliens on the cover instead of Han or Chewie or Luke or, God forbid, Chewie’s family. I mean, you are doing a cover story on the first new Star Wars in over a year and a half and you choose Bea Arthur? It’s like going with a story on a new “Godfather” movie and using Moe Green on the cover. Was Starlog trying to jinx everything? From now on, Starlog, I lay the blame for this entire Holiday Special fiasco at your doorstep.

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Nerd Lunch Episode 10: By the Power of Grayskull…

Posted in nostalgia, podcast, pop culture, TV shows with tags , , , , on November 8, 2011 by Paxton

Nerd Lunch Podcast

Episode 10 of the Nerd Lunch podcast is live, my friends. This week we not only celebrate our foray into double digits, we welcome our first returning guest. Shawn Robare from Branded in the 80s joins us again to wax nostalgic. And what are we waxing nostalgic about? This week we are talking about vintage He-Man toys.

We talk about our favorite figures, what we thought were some of the worst figures, the figures we owned and the figures we wish we had owned.  We talk about the effectiveness of “battle damaged” armor, the inexplicable origins of Zodac and learn one of us won a break dancing contest at a Showbiz Pizza (it ties in, sort of).  Hope you are ready for an 80s good time.

Download it from iTunes or listen to it on Feedburner.

Billy the Kid Week 2010: Billy the Kid in pop culture

Posted in Billy the Kid, comic books, magazine, pop culture, toys with tags , , , on August 5, 2010 by Paxton

Billy the Kid Week

Billy the Kid Week 2010 starts officially on Monday.  However, I thought I’d do a “soft opening” of the Kid Week today.

After seeing the Young Guns movies, especially the first one in 1988, I went on the hunt for a movie novelization and/or a souvenir magazine for either movie.  Back then, there was no Internet to search, I had to “pound the pavement” at all of my local malls and bookstores to find these items.  And I was never able to find anything.  Surprisingly, I now know, neither Young Guns movie had a novelization nor a movie souvenir book released.  And it crushed me.  I really wanted that novelization.

While I never found a souvenir mag or a novelization, there were plenty of Billy the Kid items I did find.  Some of them right away, some of them years later.  Here are some items I found throughout the years featuring Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid Adv Mag 21 Billy the Kid Adv Magazine 24 Billy the Kid Adv Mag 10

Billy the Kid Adventure Magazine – This magazine began in 1950 and was published by Toby Press. It lasted 29 issues and finally ended in 1955.  The magazine featured old and new Wild West stories including tales told from the point of view of a killer bear as well as Katie O’Donnell, the first female prospector. The magazine also contained artwork by the great Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson and Mad Magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman.

Charlton Billy the Kid 80 Charlton Billy the Kid 23 Charlton Billy the Kid 124
Charlton’s Billy the Kid – Published sporadically throughout the ’60s and ’70s, this comic book featured artwork by the great Cracked magazine artist John Severin. The book told fictional tales featuring a fictional version of Billy the Kid. The comic was twice put on a year long hiatus in the ’70s and finally canceled in 1983.

Kenner's The Real West figs Kenner Real West playsets(via Plaid Stallions)
Kenner’s The Real West – Kenner originally planned to release these figures as a tie-in to the 1979 film, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. The film was a prequel to the Redford/Newman classic from 1969 and it starred William Katt as Butch and Tom Berenger as Sundance.  Needless to say, the movie bombed and Kenner opened the line up to all mythical figures of the Old West and tried to re-brand it The Real West.  In the image on the left above, you can see the figures in the line which include Billy the Kid in the lower left corner.  Click the image to see it bigger over on Plaid Stallions.  The top five figures were all from the movie and released with the Butch and Sundance branding.  The bottom three figures (including Billy) were planned to be released as the second series with the new Real West branding, and were produced, but never actually released.  In the image on the right, you can see the Western Cafe playset.  Look familiar?  It was a redressed Star Wars Creature Cantina playset.

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Famous First Editions: A look at the origin of our most famous toys

Posted in Americana, nostalgia, pop culture with tags , , on June 4, 2010 by Paxton

There are so many toys that have become timeless. Toys your parents played with, toys you played with, toys your own kids will play with. As I’m soon to be a dad myself, I got to thinking about these toys that have become ubiquitous, that have spanned the generations to be enjoyed by different children in different eras.

Here are some of our most famous toys that have been around for decades and look to be around long after all of us are gone.

1st Matchbox car 1st matchbox car with box(Pics via
Matchbox die cast cars – Matchbox cars were started in 1953 by British toy company Lesney Products. Co-owner Jack Odell created the idea for the tiny cars because his daughter was only allowed to bring toys to school if they could fit in a matchbox. So he decided to scale down one of their larger toys, the red and green road roller, and that became the #1 1A Diesel Road Roller (pic above), the first Matchbox car ever. A dump truck and a cement mixer would complete the first 3 cars in what would come to be known as the original “75 series” of Matchbox cars. The website is a great resource for pics and information on vintage Matchbox products.

1968 Sweet 16 Hot Wheels 68 cougar
Hot Wheels die cast cars – As seen above, Lesney dominated the small die cast car market from the time they introduced Matchbox cars throughout the ’60s. Mattel decided to throw it’s hat in the ring to grab some of that die cast money with it’s Hot Wheels line in 1968. That series of cars in 1968 has come to be known as the “Sweet 16” (see pic on left via They were all released at roughly the same time, but the first numbered car was #6205a – The Custom Cougar (pic on right via Hot Wheels Wiki).

1st issue Barbie(via Dolls4Play)
Barbie – A Mattel executive’s wife noticed that all girls’ dolls looked like infants. There were no adult female dolls for kids to play with. When she brought this up to her husband he and the rest of Mattel were unenthusiastic about the idea. I mean, she was just a woman, what the hell did she know about dolls? Am I right? Anyway, on a trip to Europe the wife came across the German Bild Lili doll, which was an adult female doll based on a popular comic strip character. She bought three, brought them home to America and worked with Mattel engineer Jack Ryan to create the first Barbie doll which was named after her daughter, Barbara (see pic above). Barbie was introduced at the 1959 Toy Fair in New York.  Retailers were reluctant at first but within a year the dolls were selling out of stores across America.  Ken was introduced in 1961 (named after Barbara’s brother) and then Skipper in 1964 (no idea where that name came from).

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The 6 Rarest and Most Collectible Vintage Star Wars figures

Posted in movies, pop culture, Star Wars with tags , , , on February 19, 2010 by Paxton

Yesterday I discussed how Hasbro is resurrecting the Rocket Firing Boba Fett figure this year. That figure has become a “Holy Grail” for many Star Wars collectors. There are many different figures that have become popular and collectible for whatever reason in the vintage Kenner figure line.  Many become popular because of an error made in production, some become popular because they were released at the very end so only limited numbers exist today.

Let’s take a look at the six of the rarest and most collectible vintage Star Wars figures ever made.  All of the figures in this list were officially released to retail and aren’t prototypes or mockups.  They are actual figures.

Blue Snaggletooth Sears Cantina Adv Set
Blue Snaggletooth – Released in 1978 as part of the Sears exclusive Star Wars Cantina Adventure Set. Blue Snaggletooth was supposed to be half as tall and in a red-suit.  The mistake happened due to a miscommunication by Lucasfilm.  Essentially, Lucasfilm sent over a black and white headshot of the alien and Kenner “made up” the blue suit and his height because they had nothing to compare to. This was later corrected which only created demand for the incorrect tall, blue figure (as these things tend to do).  Blue Snaggletooth has become legendary in Star Wars collecting circles.  It’s not as rare as one might think, but they aren’t exactly plentiful and the popularity of this variation keeps the demand high.

Vinyl Cape Jawa Cloth Jawa
Vinyl-cape Jawa – Of the original 12 vintage Kenner Star Wars figures in 1978, the very last one issued to retail was the Jawa. He first appeared as you see him on the left, wearing a plastic (vinyl) cape. As the line of Star Wars figures proved to be hugely popular, Kenner switched the Jawa to a cloth cape (on right) because it made the figure look better.  By doing this, it created a situation in which the vinyl cape Jawa is now an extremely rare collectible.  This one is not as well known as the Blue Snaggletooth to people outside the Star Wars collecting community, but Star Wars collectors know the specifics of this VERY well.  Vinyl cape Jawa is one of the most faked vintage figures of all time due to it’s high price on the secondary market.  All you have to do is take a vintage Obi-Wan, remove the cloak, cut it to size then place it on a Jawa.  If you are good enough (and have zero scruples), you can affix the figure to a used Star Wars 12 back card and you have something that may get you thousands of dollars from a collector that doesn’t know any better.  However, someone willing to pay thousands for this figure variation WILL know better.

DT Luke DT Ben DT Darth Vader
Double Telescoping Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader – “Double telescoping” is a term used for the original mechanics of the lightsaber action feature on Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader.  If you look at the above pics, you can see the lightsaber opens up into two parts.  One part comes directly out of the hand and the second part comes out of the very tip.  This was done as a cheap way to give the lightsaber some length.  However, Kenner was not happy with this and changed the mechanics to a single piece of plastic.  Not many of these “double telescoping” figures actually made it to retail, which makes them doubly rare.

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