Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Sears Christmas Catalog 1969

The proper name for it was the Wish Book. But we weren't much on the proper over here when I was a kid. I’m sitting as I type this, in the same room…in the same spot where my sister and I would fight like cats and dogs over the catalog till my mama intervened. The most efficacious stun-gun in her arsenal from just before Thanksgiving till Christmas Eve was “Santa Claus is watching you.” That simple phrase would have us compliant in a nanosecond.
The Christmas catalog was our Google search. It was our Internet. It was the congregation of the bits and pieces that we’d seen on Saturday morning television ads and at Woolworths and Kress on Evans Street…an amalgamation of options. I suppose it was intended to facilitate trade-offs and focus so that young’uns could tell mama and daddy exactly what to round up for Santa to drop off at the house. That particular intent was lost on me but then again, Ritalin and Adderall weren’t standard pediatric unguents in a Florence, South Carolina of 1969. And when the big book would arrive in the mail, I was riveted. It would prime my imagination with options from alternating pages of grayscale newsprint and in-your-face color depictions of any and everything I knew I wanted. And it offered things that I’d never seen before but suddenly realized that I couldn’t live without.
The 1969 edition of the holy book of goods depicted things that I suppose I received over probably three or four Christmases. Seems like the  categories of toys I coveted had staying power and  most were generally focused on death and destruction or good over evil. The good over evil thang was huge come to think of it. 
GI Joe…far and away my favorite childhood toy. I still enjoy reading about the Hassenfelds up at Hasbro in Pawtucket Rhode Island rolling the dice on this one. Literally betting it all on this game-changer. “Boys won’t play with dolls…nor should they.”
Ok, it’s an “Action Figure.”  And my neighborhood buddies and I would dig trenches and set up battle scenes and then blow it all up with M-80’s. Yep, M-80’s and Cherry Bombs. There was nothing delicate and baby doll about how we rained chaos on GI Joe and his comrades.
But before I had a GI Joe, my mama unwittingly secured for me a soldier named “Stony”. Stony was a feeble attempt to compete with GI Joe and I’m pretty sure they launched in tandem. I don’t fault my mama for choosing Stony over Joe. She loved me—still does—and wouldn't intend to inflict undeserved emotional distress upon me. But it happened. I’ll leave the Stony v. Joe story for now. It deserves its own blog post. Seriously.
Before we leave GI Joe, take a gander at this high-tech 1960's teaser above.
wasn't much on science fiction and space fantasy but one year Moon McDare was a home run for me. There were several other companies that attempted to compete with Hasbro in the action figure category and McDare, I think, was made by Gilbert. Stony and the Johnny West series were courtesy, I think, of Marx.
I had a brief go with the Wild West stuff but abandoned it quickly for my stalwart GI Joe...stuff.
And of course "Geronimo started it"...
Major Matt Mason was pretty cool and I remember stringing up the jet ski like space scooters that Mason and his team rode…in my case…right here in Galaxy 69—my mother’s living room. “Billy Blastoff?” Please. Seems like he went on to make films—of a certain genre.
Here...get to know Major Matt Mason courtesy of YouTube.
Combat Gear. A couple of episodes of Rat Patrol or Combat was all the fodder we needed to roam the neighborhood in search of Nazis and (sorry…it was Florence-1969) and Japs. But since this was at the height of Vietnam, we soon ended up at Mangum’s Army-Navy Store on Dargan Street, procuring the genuine goods. Ten bucks and a station wagon ride courtesy of somebody’s mama would assure a head-to-toe authentic army gear kit-out at Mangum’s.
Bottom of the left page…the Johnny Seven. Folks, words cannot convey the excitement manifest in this one weapon. This one…do all…kill all…protect all device that would have rendered Rambo cowering behind Pudgy Burgess’s mama’s Vista Cruiser station wagon…begging for mercy. Eight dollars and forty-four cents is nothing to pay for that level of security. Shut up.
I mean really. What kid wouldn't want the Johnny Seven after seeing this top secret-classified television commercial update on the J-7 capabilities?
Battle Ground Europe and the Battle of Fort Apache. Not that you care, but these extruded plastic monochromatic “army men” were the death knell for hand painted lead soldiers. The reasoning (other than the fact that lead tends to lower the I.Q. of kids…an already pervasive problem in the South Carolina of my youth) was simple. A kid could get a hundred plastic ones in all guises/poses/iterations of action for what ten lead ones cost. And I had millions of the plastic ones. LFG and I still find one now and then when walking the grounds of my youth.
"Capacity crowd" my a_s. I only have one story to tell about a rip-off. Stony wasn’t a rip-off…just an innocent mistake by my mama. But the NFL Big Bowl Electric Football set was a flat out rip-off. No other way to put it. You set up your teams and hit the “go” button on this electrically mediated contest. The intent was, I reckon, for the vibrating surface of the field to send the players in their proper directions. It was a hoax folks. The players vibrated their way in every direction but where they were supposed to go. There was NO control over them and therefore NO fun associated with this game. I abandoned it within an hour. Funny, about six months later I saw my Aunt Tootie sitting on it and giggling.
The bikes. Spyder death traps and my buddies and I HAD to have them. And we did.
I’ll close this reminiscence with a page from the “these things will kill you” department. I’m not an NRA member and I realize that we no longer live in the world of my youth. But I think every little boy, and little girl for that matter, needs to at least once, shoot a tin can with a BB Gun.

Oh, and one other thing as I sit here in the neighborhood of my youth. There are still tons of kids living on the adjacent streets and the one I grew up on. By seven a.m. on Christmas morning and for the ensuing week off from school, the kids of my youth were swarming the streets and lawns, reveling in the excitement of Christmas toys, bikes and games. In today's online, electronic gadget and gamer world, the same streets are abandoned.

Onward…at home in Florence. Writhing in pain and awaiting the verdict on having the root canal done here or when I get back to Virginia on Friday. No better place to be when in pain than at home with your mama.

ADG the Second and Lady LFG the Only. 


Belle (from Life of a...) said...

Feel better...tooth pain is no joke. I remember the Wish Book well. Would look at it for hours, along with the Sam Soloman catalog. Remember that one?

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

How funny. Some things never change.

I don't suppose you kept any of those items in the original packaging...? ;-)

I had similar interests about a decade later. And then as I got older, my focus settled on acquiring life-size action figures of a decidedly female, flesh-and-blood nature.

Paul in NoVA said...

Now this is a Christmas post! JC Penney was the local department store in my neck of the woods in Central Florida, so our version came from them. Same process though, but being the youngest of five, just about every other page was folded over for my Mom to see.

I don't think I was ever as deeply disappointed in a toy, children's or adult, as I was in Electric Football. We must've tried dozens of times, hoping desperately that the damn running back would run forward instead of turning in a circle then running backward to the sideline. He did have good hands though. Never fumbled that little foam football.

The Leopard said...

Thank you again for taking me on another wonderful trip down memory lane, the Wish Book (all twenty pounds of it)was far more magical than the internet will ever be.If I knew then what I know now, well you know the rest.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. This is almost as good as a time machine. My first G.I. Joe was given to me on Christmas 1969, the transition point when he went from fighting man to action/adventure figure, probably representing anti-war sentiment in the country at the time.

Major Matt Mason was a very under-appreciated figure at the time as well. Remember getting that Moon Station from a garage sale. Didn't know that Capt. Lazer grew up on Mars.

Kionon said...

I inherited my uncle's 1964 GI Joe. It was in fairly bad shape, and I am sure I did it no favors in the 80s and 90s.

When I was in college, I took it to a doll doctor and had it repaired. I then tracked down a complete midshipman uniform for it (I was a midshipman at the time). It is in perfect condition, and even has an original 1960s era foot locker with it now.

I plan to hand it down to my own children and impress upon them that it has been through nearly forty years, most of them rough and tumble, and it is still in better condition than the majority of crap that can be bought these days.

Anonymous said...

Almost every time he preaches around Christmas, a guy about our age tells the story of getting the "Secret Sam" spy briefcase, complete with camera and pistol one year. He doesn't do much background fact checking, so his memory has changed the name to James Bond 007, which is what it really was meant to be, anyway, well, to everybody except the owners of the 007 copyright... Anyhow, his Christmas story includes the girl down the street grabbing it and smashing it against something- a telephone pole or a fire hydrant, I think, and its spy days coming to a halt. But he always gets a laugh about the part where little boys never suspected anyone would wonder why they were carrying briefcases in the first place.

Ahhh yout...

J Bodine, Double Nought Spy

PS, we can thank Sam Solomon for being able to shop on Sundays in SC.

Dustin B. said...

Awestruck at this post. Your generation's toys were...awesome. I would have had so much fun with these. I was born 13 years after this catalogue was published, and things were toned down a bit by the time I came around.
My son is 21 months old, and everything he opened last weekend was computerized, battery operated, and headache inducing.

Mink80 said...

WHAT a trip down memory lane.  Was 11 years old at Christmas 1969, and I remember virtually ALL of this stuff.  I still have some beat up Major Matt Mason figures, as well as the MMM space station in the original (but pretty beat up) box.  Also have the GI Joe space capsule.  My sainted mother wants them OUT of her basement....
Never did get the Spyder bike...had the "English Racer" that was the fad prior to the Spyder...
As to the "Stoney vs. GI Joe" story...I am looking forward to that one.  I still inflict my mother with my pain over being forced to wear knock-off Jack Purcells from JC Penny.  I can remember her saying "I REFUSE to pay $9.99 for a pair of TENNIS SHOES!!!!"
Toothaches suck.  Hope you feel better soon....

NCJack said...

From a decade earlier, I recall the Sears (and Monkey Ward)catalogs carried the real thing, firearms wise, and I reallllly wanted an old British Enfield .303. Those outfits are another world to kids these days: "You mean you could get a REAL tractor/rifle/house?"

Also recall a long pre-root canal weekend in agony, bless you, Bubba

Anonymous said...

As a kid growing up in Melbourne in the early 60s my favourite TV show was the Rifleman with Chuck Connors. Can you imagine the elation of an 8yo boy when he hears that Lucas McCain's rifle will be in the toy shops soon? I bet you can. Can you also imagine my disgust when the toy winchester was produced in white plastic?!! We never had the range of goodies you kids had in the States. Lucky you.
Ian from Downunder

ADG said...

Belle…Thanks. I’ve had jaw surgery, impacted wisdom teeth, a broken leg, a kidney stone, various almost full amputations of fingers and parts of summertime childhood bare feet. But I’ve NEVER felt pain quite like this. Sam Solomon…I FORGOT all about Sam Solomon. I remember going there one Sunday with my parents and feeling it scandalous to do so…on Sunday.

LagunaFogey...My randy parents decided to have another boy, ten years my younger. Therefore, as you can imagine, he freakin’ destroyed all of my sh_t. So no—I got nothing.

And finally, regarding the life-size female action figures…90% of all my troubles in life have been due to the pursuit of such. And it’s all my fault that the trouble ensued. But alas, I’ve learned my lesson. Therefore, I’m taking this week off from chasing ‘em.

The Leopard...yes. I do.

AnonymousAnti-War…yep…that’s Eggzackly what killed GI Joe. That and the American Civil Liberties Union. And probably Gomer Pyle. And of course Captain Lazer grew up on Mars.

Kionon...Great story!

AnonymousJBodineBeltlineNoughtSpook…I had the briefcase thang and for some reason decided it was an “indoor” prop. And I never liked playing indoors if it was nice outside.

Dustin B....Congrats on your son. 21 months is a fun age but they will wear your butt out by the end of the day…no?

Mink80...If you don’t want the GI Joe space capsule, put it on ebay…some 50 year old nut will buy it! The Stony story is a tough one.

NCJack...yep. I remember when Kmart here in Florence actually carried a full complement of (cheap) firearms. My first shotgun came from there. A .410 “Flight King” . My Purdy came later. The pre-root canal weekend is one for the record books. I’m calling “emergency dentists” (my Country Club ass dentist doesn’t do after hours) on Christmas eve and almost went to the ER. Humbling.

Ian from Down There...Oh man! I, even in the midst of a pain med stupor, laughed out loud when I read your comment! What kind of absurd joke was that? First, Lucas McCain could kick Clint Eastwood’s ass. And the idea that McCain’s famous rifle would be rendered in “ivory” is a gut buster.

Golf Tango Hotel said...

Great post. I had 3 G.I. joes and a lot of the ancillary stuff. Its a shame how much Joe has changed over the years. My mother was a producer for Mattel Toys in the 60's (the Chatty Cathy doll was hers) and so I had all the Major Matt Mason stuff, which was made by Mattel.....loved it all. Again thanks for the great post. Good luck with the tooth...not much worse in life than tooth pain.

longwing said...

This reminds me, I think I was permanently scarred by the fact that everyone else on my block had a schwinn bike and I had a sears. I've been trying to catch up on cool ever since. And I'm not getting any closer.

ADG said...

GolfTango...Chatty Cathy...not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

LongThang...I'm with you 100%. NEVER had a Schwinn. I had a Huffy to start and the rest of them came from Sears. Same thing with the Honda Mini Trail 50 that the wealthier kids had while my mini bike came from Roses Dime store.

Ok, that's it for me. I'm relaxing with a jar of morphine.

Bob said...

ADG, I am so glad your returned to blogland this year. The Sears 1969 Christmas catalog appealed to my younger brothers, even the older one living in Old Town, so I can't relate too well to all the merchandise, including all the plastic army men I stepped and tripped on...damn it. At the time I was wishin' & hopin' for a 280SL from Santa. Best wishes to you and LFG for a joyous and prosperous New Year!

yoga teacher said...

Every girl SHOULD learn to shoot a BB gun, because it might come in handy when she grows up. I've won several bets because some silly (grown-up) boys didn't think a girl could hit a can with a bullet. Remember, this is Texas. And I also am NOT an NRA member.

Hope you don't need one, but, if you do, no yoga right after a root canal. I've tried it, and it definitely is not a good idea.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Knocked it outa the park on this post...I was obsessed with GI Joe..and hated when they went away from combat to lame adventure stuff...and a room on our 3rd floor was an entire space-scape for months with Major Matt mason....until we played with 'em so much the wire started popping out of the rubber at the joints.
I still have most of the GI Joe stuff....my son palyed with it and it is now stored away safely.

Pat's Addition said...

Video ads are too funny! "Rifleman" is still playing BTW. Check the TV schedule.