They tell me ‘tis the season of giving. I’ve never been able to prove this claim, but I can tell you, as someone who used to love the Christmas holiday, a much more honest phrase would be “’tis the season of getting awesome presents you already wanted or by some miracle are shocked someone knew to get you”. That’s a bit more wordy and selfish, so I can see why it doesn’t make it into the commercials. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like Christmas as an adult. It’s just that the thrill of it is gone. Especially since I found out a couple of years back that those letters I’d been sending to the North Pole were going unread. Seriously, I have to find this out NOW? So I thought, what better time and what better place to jump in the Way-Back Machine and review the coolest pressies that ever made it into my household, than December on Action Figure Insider?
Ours was not a religious household, though I do remember going to church on certain holidays. We were Italian-Irish Catholic, and I think it was a way of keeping up appearances with the older generations. And by our sheer heritage, well, we kind of HAD to hit the pews now and again. But what I’m getting at is, Christmas in our house was not about anything other than our Christmas tree, TV specials, school vacation and presents. I don’t recall if we ever did the ‘one on Christmas Eve, the rest in the morning’ thing, but I don’t think we did. It was all about the morning ritual, and I suppose by the time I was of the age that I began to really understand it (and can have recall now), I was the only ‘kid’ in the house. My brothers had learned the truth by that stage, but I was still buying into it and trying to sneak down the steps to see if anything had arrived while I’d pretended to be asleep.
The time I can recall the best, though I remember others before it, was the Christmas of 1977. Guess what the big film was that year? I remember heading down the steps twice in the night, with no real understanding of what time it was, to see nothing under the tree, all lit up in the darkness. I must have passed out eventually, then woke up again and crept down once more (and I swear this is as vivid in my head now as if it had just happened), and I caught a quick glimpse of an Aladdin’s Cave of goodies. Most excitingly, I saw two items that had the Star Wars logo on ‘em, and got all frantic and never got back to sleep. When I finally got everyone rousted to get downstairs in the morning, there was what to me was the SW Trifecta of 1977: the two Star Wars Marvel Super Size Specials, and the Kenner Early Bird Kit. I’d seen the commercials, and have a very, very vague recollection of pointing it out to my mother at the store, but to think that Santa had found out I wanted it too, well, that was extra special. My brother helped me open it up and filled out all the mail away info for me, and I’m happy to say I still have that opened envelope, stickers, photo cards and Star Wars Club membership card tucked safely away. The cardboard backing with the drawings of all the characters bit the dust long ago, because I took a scissors to it and cut them all out, so that when those first four figures showed up they’d have more people to talk to. A warm memory indeed, still makes me smile.
So beyond that one, details get a little less specific, but I dusted off the cobwebs and shone a light to come up with my master list of the Coolest Christmas Presents Ever Under the Tree, and here they are, in no particular order:
Kenner Star Wars Luke Skywalker 3 Position Laser Rifle- ever since I saw the movie and became obsessed with Han Solo, I wanted his laser pistol. This was not it. Try as she might, my mother could never quite get it right. This awesome rifle was the first attempt, but I loved it. Still have it, still works, and still reminds me of Christmas.
Mattel Electronic Battlestar Galactica 12” Cylon - This must have been 1978, right? I loved the show, and I loved this figure, though I felt even then that it was a bit of a rip off. It looked like a Cylon, but not quite, and I distinctly remember not caring about the companion 12” Human Warrior figure because he was some generic dude. I have no idea what happened to this toy. Mom, are you reading this? (I should add that this same year was Attempt #2 on her part to get me that Han Solo pistol. This time it was a strange toy gun marked ‘Laser Pistol’, which had a light up cone in the front that made three different sounds. I’d also like to add that I was a good kid and never, ever told her she got it wrong).
Mattel’s ‘Master Caster’- Anyone out there remember this bad boy? Man oh man, I lusted after this thing for months. It was basically a car factory, with an interesting method of manufacture. It came with sets of wheels (you know, like the ones in Hot Wheels cars, connected by a wire), car molds, stickers, some paint I think, and lots of sticks of wax. Yes, wax. You put the wax into a metal container, plugged the machine in, and the wax melted. You then poured the wax into the molds that you’d put two sets of wheels in, let the mold cool for a while, then popped the cars out and marked ‘em up with cool sticker details. They were wax, so it wasn’t like they were quite as durable as the real thing, but I was fascinated by this toy and the smell of that wax heating up. It’s a wonder I never became a car fetishist after that.
Mego’s Star Trek Enterprise Bridge Playset- Yes, there was a world before Star Wars. And it was ruled by Mego.
Kenner’s Star Wars Millenium Falcon Playset- THE Holy Grail. I got ships, playsets, action figures galore, the above-mentioned items and dozens of others from The Greatest Thing Ever Made in the Whole World When I Was Seven. But the Falcon was, to my eyes, the biggest toy ever made, and probably cost my family the grocery bill for that month. But I. Didn’t. Care. This was Solo’s ship, it made point five past lightspeed, and it came with a storage compartment, Luke’s training ball, and a sound effect that was similar to that of a car trying to start in the middle of winter. No longer would my Star Wars figures have to cram themselves into the X Wing, finally some leg room! Still have this one, too.
Kenner’s 12” Indiana Jones Action Figure- It wasn’t ALL about that galaxy far, far away. I’ve written on this site before about this toy and my hard campaigning for it in the fall that year, but it’s worth mentioning him again. Coolest toy of X Mas 1981.
Shaper Manufacturing’s Super Jock ‘Super Toe’- This was such a cool toy, the whole line, actually. One of the few toys I can think of besides bop bags that actively encourage kids to beat holy hell out of them. This one was a shaped like a football player, a kicker to be precise, and he came with a set of goalposts and a bunch of little plastic footballs. You placed the football in front of the figure’s right foot, rammed his head down onto his shoulders with your palm, and that ball was airborne. Getting it through the posts was hardly the point after a while, getting those balls into the next postal code was.
Hasbro’s 12” Bullet Man doll- Another minor obsession for a time, I don’t know who he was or where he’d come from, I just knew the commercial was flipping awesome and I needed this guy on my team. So I took pen to paper and wrote Mr. Claus pleading my case. I know this, because my mother saved my Christmas letter from that year. I asked for a ‘Constructon Creu’ and a ‘Bullett Man doll’, and then had the good sense to write my address as clearly as I could. In my P.S., I even apologized for my penmanship with a ‘sorry about the writing’. I figured that Santa might have appreciated a child that was aware of his own shortcomings and reward him justly for it. Well, I was right, and Bulletman was sliding down his accessory wire by that Christmas afternoon.
If I get hypnotized or shock treatment, I’m sure I can come up with more gold that was sprinkled throughout my childhood Christmases, but those are the gems that I recall with the most fondness. By the early 80’s, much as I still looked forward to the day, the fascination and awe had worn off, and it certainly became about much more than toys. There were video game systems, books, and well, cologne from Avon that became far more important in my life. I eventually came to my senses again in the early nineties, and even though I’m still hooked on Avon cologne, I try and reward myself with at least one toy that I lust after in the months before X Mas. I’m thinking it might be that TRON Legacy X Box Controller, but if anyone out there is feeling particularly generous this year, you know where to find me. (After all, it IS the season of giving, right? Don’t be so selfish, people!). Now, what about you folks? Can you top those goodies? What was under your tree/menorah/Festivus Pole that still fills you with that warm holiday glow?