I received the Fisher Price “Adventure People” Wilderness Patrol set as a present from Santa when I was four years old.
The set was my first encounter what would eventually be labeled as “action figures,” a semi-articulated middle ground between static plastic army men and the larger Mego dolls. They were sturdy as hell, especially in comparison to the flood of similar toys that followed. Several of our figures survived close encounters with the landlord’s lawnmower and the vehicles have retained their functionality — if not their complete paint jobs — over four decades of enthusiastic play.
I took an immediate shine to the bearded woodsman figure in the set. I named him Russell after my dad, who was both amused and flattered by his eldest’s act of hero worship.
Russell stood at the pinnacle of my action figure hierarchy for years. Han Solo deferred to his rugged masculinity and Baron Karza trembled when he heard his approach. Countless Cylons and Stormtroopers fell to his unparalleled marksmanship. When some fiendish deathtrap in a bookshelf-turned-space-station threatened Russell’s life, poor Commodore Decker would take the acid bath in order to spare him from destruction.
When Russell wasn’t exploring alien worlds in a boat-turned-starship, he would kick back with his buddies and drink beer in the dining area of a Tonka Winnebago. He was truly a man’s man, reflecting the starry eyed virtues an impressionable son sees within his larger-than-life father.
Of all the perils Russell faced in his career, the one that finally did him in was the front tire of a 1975 Thunderbird driven — ironically enough — by my old man. It wasn’t intentional, just the consequence of a child’s carelessness about leaving his toys in the driveway. Russell was tough, but he could not withstand the weight the two-and-a-half ton domestic juggernaut that cleanly snapped his arms and legs from his torso.
My dad did his best to repair the damage with some rubberbands and superglue, but the procedure robbed my cherished hero of what limited articulation he had. There would be no more pointing a blaster at the Bad Guys or plunking down for a cold one on the bench seat of his RV. The magic was gone.
His “most favorite” status passed onto various other figures in the years following. That assortment of aliens, race car drivers, bounty hunters, and elite military men were pretty cool, I suppose, but none of them could ever hold a candle to Russell in his prime.