Marx Toys ((C) G.F. Ridenour, all rights reserved)
Louis Marx & Co. had been in the toy figure making business for 15 years,
cranking out MILLIONS of small scale plastic figures & play sets based on
popular themes such as western cowboys & Indians and the cavalry's Fort
Apache, Robin Hood, and World War Two. They knew enough to spot the "next
big thing" when word of competitor Hasbro's 12" articulating soldier figure
leaked out. In the same product year of 1964, Marx organized its development
forces and drafted its own military action figure "STONY SMITH PARATROOPER"
into the figure war.
Instead of G. I. Joe's nude mannequin figure with removable cloth uniforms, Marx relied on their state-of-the-art use of plastic injection molding to manufacture a highly detailed scale replica of an American combat paratrooper, circa 1942, with his fatigues molded to the body and issued with over 70 pieces of scaled-down authentic personal military gear. This product would most likely have hit store shelves in late 1964, as the figure shown in the Marx trade catalog released early that year showed an obvious prototype mock-up that looked very little like the finished product. One flaw on the final 1964 release- Stony's legs didn't move!
The objective seems to have been to undercut Hasbro's price and steal some of their market potential, and it probably worked to a certain degree. However, most of us will readily look back and think "Stony who?" This Marx soldier didn't even come close to achieving the 1960's icon status that Hasbro's G. I. Joe did (although some "Joe" connoisseurs are said to prefer the exacting scale and detailing of the many Marx weapons & gear pieces to those provided by Hasbro).
The competitive Marx company must have acknowledged this fact early on, and decided that if they were going to really be able to compete with Hasbro in the action figure market they would have to take a different approach. With the 1950's popularity of TV westerns carrying over into the 1960's, and continuing success of shows like "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza," Marx keyed in on a pop-culture theme that had been going strong for decades. As soon as Stony had left the Marx 'barracks,' the "Heroes of the West" were being readied for debut. A 12" cowboy action figure named JOHNNY WEST along with counterpart Indian CHIEF CHEROKEE were given 1965 marketing priority and appeared prominently on the cover of the Marx promotional catalog for that year. They were joined by THUNDERBOLT, the western range horse that both could ride. Surely, this meant that the figures' legs would have to move, and both cowboy and Indian were issued with FULL eleven-point articulation.
Stony Smith was also upgraded this year to include movable hip & knee joints, but one oddity remained: shown for the first time in the 1965 Marx catalog (but probably available to retailers for the 1964 Christmas season) was a 12" DANIEL BOONE figure using the NON-articulating leg engineering. This figure was an obvious, but unofficial, tie-in to the "Daniel Boone" TV series starring Fess Parker. Daniel, like Davy Crockett a decade before "was a big man" in the ratings, and evidently a very popular toy issue for Marx considering the number present in today's market. But, there's no indication that they ever produced this figure with moving legs. (?)
Having gained the foothold as industry provider of western genre action figures (while Hasbro dominated the military figure market), Marx began immediately expanding the line. 1966 brought Johnny's cowgirl partner JANE WEST to the scene, and another horse named FLAME (molded in an 'action' running pose, but still non-articulated).
The company also brazenly imitated Hasbro with the release of the ALL AMERICAN FIGHTER, a.k.a. BUDDY CHARLIE, a modern military figure that was presented in a uniform typical for each branch of the service; Army combat soldier in olive drab fatigues, Navy sailor in blues, Air Force airman in orange coveralls, and Marine in camo fatigues. This was essentially a knockof f of the GI Joe body style clothed in uniforms made for Marx in Hong Kong, with the one improvement being pliable, life-like 'grasping' hands (cast in vinyl) that Marx had used since first deploying Stony. Again, no dent in Joe's helmet, as far as sales were concerned.
1966 also saw the release of a pair of Secret Agent action figures: MIKE HAZARD DOUBLE AGENT, and the only officially licensed media character MGM's GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.. Mike has molded body of dark blue civilian dress clothes, but was augmented with a beige fabric trench coat (HK mfd.) tailored with numerous secret pockets. This double agent, with his permanently molded-on smug grin, has an arsenal worthy of the best of spies: exploding attache' case, working rocket launcher, tear gas pen, radio with concealed machine gun, along with enough other weapons and disguises (60 pieces in all!) to get him out of ANY jam. And consider this to show what a difference 30 years make- Mike was issued with a pack of cigarettes & a lighter.
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