I had a few hours to spare yesterday. While I considered writing up something on the fly to celebrate that rare occurrence, my pre-post research led me down a rabbit hole which burned away an entire afternoon.
The time-wasters in question were scanned copies of the 1966 Sears and J.C. Penny holiday catalogs. My original intent was to find supporting documentation for a thing I was going to do about housewares and consumer capitalism, but things got messy in a way that required me to rethink my entire approach. (This lack of Procrustean rigidity is why I will never be allowed to sip from the sweet clickbait revenue stream.)
Instead, I contented myself with poring over a thousand-page testament to the material culture of a heavily mythologized era. The “London Look” was in that year, with mass market stabs at “Carnaby Street” fashion attempting to dispel the last vestiges of drab, buttoned-down sobriety. Color TV sets were the new standard in home luxury, while 8-track cassette decks offered a (quite overstated) glimpse into the future of home audio. Everything was cleaner, sleeker, and more colorful as befitting an age of front-facing futurism untainted by the pan-spectrum cultural crisis to come.
1966 was also the year when TV-fueled “Batmania” broke wide, and the both catalogs contained ample evidence of its merchandised popcult footprint.
There were costumes, of course, ranging from the sedately functional…
…to the hyper-accessorized stuff of childhood dreams (and more than a few nightmares, I’d wager).
A number of Batman-themed playsets also made it to the shelves in time for the holiday…
…and play-related destruction shortly thereafter.
In case the text is too difficult to read, the villains featured in the Justice League playset included Joker, Brain Storm, Thunderbolt, Kaltor (a minor Aquaman frenemy), Key Man, and “Mouseman.”
Though I was born about a decade too early to encounter this stuff on store shelves, I’m amazed that I never came across any of these sets at the flea markets, church sales, or curbside garbage troves I frequented during my youth. They were exactly the type of thing Lil Bro and I would’ve kept an eye out for as kids, but none of it filtered down into our grimy hands.
Maybe the production runs were too small to ensure any generational spillover. Maybe the quality of the product was so shoddy that none of it survived into the mid-Seventies. Or maybe we were too caught up in the action figure buzz that we tended to overlook such primitive diversions. (Whatever the case was, I can guarantee you my sibling is going to hit up eBay as soon as he reads this post.)
Another item of Bat-merch we never spotted in the wild was the “giant size” Batman doll…
…and honestly, I’m kinda glad about that. The dolls were an odds-on favorite for the the most inexplicably nightmarish artifact of the Batman ’66 fad, but were beaten out by unexpected (and unwanted and unholy and unnerving) contender from the distaff side of the vintage toy aisle….
I supposed it could viewed as the birth of “two things” culture. And proof that it should’ve been strangled in its crib.