I recently came into the possession (via my thrift store-hopping brother) of a Fisher Price Adventure People helicopter with a mismatched fireman figure at the controls. Putting aside for a moment the nostalgic suckerpunch that comes from handling a forgotten childhood toy, I was amazed at how sturdy the orange and yellow monstrosity was constructed. It was clear from the nicks and paint scrapes that it had been well played with, but it still managed to survive the passing of three decades with all its components intact and, in the case of the trigger-operated prop blades, fully functional.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised, though. While Kenner’s Star Wars line was the gold standard for playground envy and overall coolness for kids of my generation, Fisher Price’s foray into the early action figure era was marked by a chunky durability that far surpassed the daintier offerings of its competitors. Rare was the Darth Vader who retained his head after a Christmas morning in the grubby mitts of a five year old (and rarer still was the Micronaut capable of surviving five minutes outside its blister card), but FP’s non-violent, big-chinned macho 1970s Adventure People could take a direct strike from a lawnmower and emerge none the worse for the wear.
The first action figure I remember owning was the Adventure Person parachutist (who looked like Karl Malden in a crash helmet) on the far right of the above ad photo. He was eventually joined by a polyglot cast of a dozen 3 3/4″ heroes assembled from various toy lines. Together they would pile into the FP exploration boat that served as their spaceship and embark on adventures inspired by whatever cartoon, comic book, or Creature Double Feature offerings the Brothers Weiss had recently experienced.
One of our favorite scenarios (cribbed from Journey to the Seventh Planet and 12 to the Moon) involved a harrowing visit to a massive space station situated in either our bunkbeds or one of the living room bookcases. There the hapless heroes would meet up with grisly, Roger Cormanesque demises in order of their popularity. The mustard-clad Commodore Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was always the first to fall before the gauntlet of acid baths, spinning blades, and man-eating blanket blobs.
Some dudes just can’t catch a break, either in Trek canon or the cruel imaginations of grade school boys.
Recommended listening: Fred Weinberg – A Child’s Life (from Electronic Toys Vol. 2, 2000)
You know what else played a huge part in the 1970s childhood experience? Moog music, which never sounded so unsettlingly sterile as when it was applied to the cause of jovial whimsy.