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‘Toys’ Category

  1. Pinball Art: 1961

    November 8, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The backglass art below is from pinball machines that began arriving in arcades, drugstores and bowling alleys in 1961. The three big pinball machine manufacturers at the time were Gottlieb, Williams, and Bally, all based in Chicago. The designers of these machines sought to incorporate a theme and unique rules of play that almost created a story when successfully integrated. It was up to the artists to illustrate that story as framing devices around the various bumpers, slots, and chutes of the playfield, as well as the backglass which not only served as a score card but also as the game’s initial enticement to those willing to sacrifice their loose change to engage with that “story”.

    The most prolific among the artists who illustrated backglass (the upright part that displays the score) and playfields (where the ball rolls) at the time were two Chicago artists Roy Parker (Egg Head, Flying Circus, Hi Dolly, Lancers) and George Molentin (Black Jack, Bo Bo, Darts, Highways, Hollywood, Music Man). Click images for a larger view.


  2. Frankenstein (Assembly Required)

    October 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Like  rival hobby company Revell, the mainstay of Aurora Plastics’ line of model kits in the Fifties was scale-model, unassembled replicas of military hardware, although Aurora’s were generally smaller and more affordable than Revell’s. Around 1955, Aurora expanded its line to include plastic figurines of medieval knights, clowns, and traditionally dressed people from around the world (“Guys and Gals of all Nations”).

    Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Universal Pictures realized there was still money to be made off of their old monster films from previous decades. Universal packaged films featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and other ghouls for broadcast over local TV channels. The local stations created assorted horror hosts to present these films. When the local stations began getting mail from their viewers they were surprised to find that a large percentage of those watching the old monster movies were teenaged or younger. The popularity of these films with children might be explained by the extinction of the horror comic book in 1954 when public opinion and the new Comics Code Authority deemed the horror genre to be inappropriate for children. Children with a taste for horror simply switched from reading comic books to watching “creature features” on their local television stations and maybe picking up a copy of  Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.  Knowing that their audience was largely made up of young people, the horror hosts softened the horror they presented with touches of humor and ridicule that made the genre seem less threatening to adults, while Famous Monsters gave a behind the scenes look that assured everyone that it was all just made up.

    Sometime in early 1961, it suddenly became acceptable to directly market monsters to children (TV stations and Famous Monsters could always argue that adults were the target audience). It started with bubblegum cards like Spook Stories and Horror Monsters, however toy manufacturers were still leary. A hobby company on the cusp of adult and childhood pastimes was an ideal path to full acceptance of monsters in the playroom.  Looking to expand its line of figurines beyond little Dutch boys and the Black Knight, Aurora bought the rights to manufacture models of all of the monsters who had appeared in Universal motion pictures.  The models created under this license would prove to be Aurora’s most successful line of plastic models ever.

    Aurora’s first Universal monster model was a 1/12 scale figure model of Frankenstein’s Monster in 1961. Selling for $1.00, the 7-inch tall figurine sold so well that Aurora had to temporarily suspend production of its other models to keep up with demand. Some buyers may have been disappointed when they opened the box to find the plain white pieces of plastic that needed to be carefully twisted apart before undergoing a process that involved several hours, various paints and brushes, and mind-altering glue fumes. Helping sales, no doubt, was the wonderful artwork on the box by James Bama who would do most of the  box top art for Aurora in the Sixties.

  3. Hay Low Girl? (More Monster Cards)

    September 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    When I posted last month about Leaf’s Spook Stories series of trading cards, I apparently only scratched the surface of a rather prolific and competitive industry that was exploiting a craze for monsters in 1961. Studios at the time were packaging up their old horror movies and syndicating them to TV stations as Creature Features. The local hosts presenting these films may have had more to do with the craze than the films themselves, but there was enough enthusiasm generated to make a profit selling nickel packs of monster cards. The ones below, made by Nu-Cards, didn’t even come with a stick of gum! Like the Spook Stories cards, these included “horrible” jokes on the back.


  4. So Close to Flying Cars I Can Taste it!

    August 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Introduced at the 1961 Detroit Motor Show as a concept car, the Ford Gyron was a futuristic two-wheeled gyrocar.  One wheel was at the front and the other at the rear like a motorcycle and the car was stabilized by gyroscopes. The two occupants of the vehicle were seated side by side and, when the vehicle was stationary, two small legs appeared from the sides to support it.

    Alex Tremulis was the designer and the gyroscopic systems were based on the theories of aviation pioneer Louis Brennan. Alex Tremulis started his career at Wright Patterson Air Force Base working on the concept of Military flying saucers. He then became the chief designer for the ill-fated Tucker automobile company before joining Ford. He was also involved with Tuscan gyroscopic motorcycles and the Gyronaught XU1 gyroscopic car.


    Here are some more futuristic cars from 50 years ago that Detroit never delivered on:

    Ford Thunderbird Custom Roadster Thunderflite


    Plymouth XNR Roadster Ghia


    Chevrolet Astro III


    Chrysler Turboflite



    Detroit, Michigan may have let us down, but at least Turin, Italy gave it a go with a production car called the Fiat 600 Y Aerodinamica (Pininfarina), 1961.


  5. Sid & Marty Krofft’s World of Topless Puppets

    August 10, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    “Think about it—a dirty puppet show. An evil puppet chains a lissome nude to a pillar and tickles her to death with a long pink feather. A vast bat helps tear the clothes off an undulating stripper, then flies away with her. A bawdy Balinese girl is seduced in a swimming pool. Bare-breasted beauties hang in bird cages over the audience, or parade around the stage, heaving, wiggling, sighing, shaking, and saucing the house!” – Time Magazine, 1962

    Les Poupées de Paris (The Dolls of Paris) was a musical puppet show created, produced and directed by Sid and Marty Krofft in 1961. Yes, the same Kroffts who would go on to make their mark on the history of saturday morning children’s television with shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost.

    In the late 1950s, The Brothers Krofft were a rather successful opening act for Las Vegas performers like Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr. Like most Vegas acts of the time, the Krofft puppet shows were tailored for an adult audience and many of their puppets were modeled after the showgirls and celebrities they shared stages with at the Flamingo and other casinos. By 1961, they were offered residency at a San Fernando dinner club called The Gilded Rafters. An entire theater there (called “The Krofft Theatre”) was dedicated to a musical puppet show inspired by Paris revues like those performed at the Lido and Folies Bergere. Before packing up their puppets and leaving for L.A., the Kroffts recorded hours of dialogue by their celebrity acquaintances in Las Vegas; Pearl Bailey, Milton Berle, Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Liberace, Jayne Mansfield, Tony Martin, Phil Silvers, Loretta Young and Mae West,  among others. It’s uncertain whether any of the actresses concerned knew that they were giving voice to naked puppet doppelgängers of themselves.

    According to a program from the show (with “Adults Only” printed on the cover), Les Poupées de Paris consisted of a prologue and seven acts:



    ACT I featured a full puppet orchestra and a line of can-can dancers. Each of the 17 dancer/puppets have their names and head shots listed in the program. Paulette and Marion are fresh-faced and eager looking.  Chantal and Toni have the weary appearance of showgirls who are no longer quite girls. And Patricia (shiver), creepy, bug-eyed Patricia looks for all the world like one of those evil ventriloquist dummies that crawl out of their steamer trunks in the middle of the night and strangle their owner’s girlfriend.

    ACT II was entitled Une d’Horreur (Night of Horror) and consisted of gags and musical numbers performed by a mad scientist, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and dancing skeletons.


    ACT III was a juggling act. ACT IV featured a puppet named Mr. Showmanship and some more showgirls:

    ACT V was the really juicy part of the show called L’Amour Exotique, full of satyrs and tree nymphs and featured two mostly naked lovers named Antoinette and Lamas.

    With ACT VI things get really racy. Not more risqué, but “race-y”. This is the “colored” segment of the show with dance and musical numbers entitled Une Visite a la Boite de Chocolats (“A Visit to the Chocolate Box”) and Le Caramels. The star of this segment is a Rue Pigalle prostitute known simply as “The Pick Up”.



    ACT VII stars a topless Mae West and a reprise of some of the puppets who appeared earlier in the show.





     Les Poupées de Paris was such a success, it became a major attraction at the 1962  Seattle World’s Fair , and again at the New York World’s Fair in 1965. The touring production cost $200,000 to produce and the sets (which included a revolving theatre, elevators, an ice-skating rink and waterfall) took three months to install.  The Reverend Billy Graham attended a World’s Fair performance of the show and immediately denounced it, complaining that ”the women don’t wear bras!”  He failed to mention that the “women” were puppets. The Reverend’s backhanded endorsement and the write-up in Time Magazine guaranteed that the show would garner record crowds.  Marty Krofft concluded every interview with the instruction; “Be sure to mention it’s dirty.”

    This might be a good place to note that the program credits Tony Urbano as puppet designer. You might not be surprised to learn that Urbano was lead designer for Parker and Stone’s film Team America which (in my limited judgement)  features the best marionette sex ever put on film. I can only make this claim because,  although Les Poupées de Paris  traveled around the country for ten years and was seen by almost 10 million people, no film or video of a complete performance has been discovered.  How sad!



  6. Flying Saucers: The Forgotten Ride

    August 3, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961 a new ride was introduced in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. For five years, the bumper-car/hovercraft ride called Flying Saucers was a favorite of park goers and a general pain in the ass for Disneyland staff.

    When a space-hogging boat ride called Phantom Boats was replaced by the Submarine Lagoon in 1960, it was decided that a new passenger steered aquatic ride was necessary, albeit one that took up far less space. The first thought was a ride already employed in other theme parks called a “duck bump”.  These motorized inner-tube shaped boats were equipped with small motors and a rudder that allowed the rider to tool around a small pond and bump into other riders. This ride had the advantage of being confined to a small, compact pond as opposed to the rambling mini-river needed for Phantom Boats, however  imagineers (that’s “designer” in Disneyese) were hard pressed to come up with a way to shoehorn the ride into the futuristic theme of Tomorrowland. The round boats (and the water in the pond) were discarded in favor of similarly shaped hovercraft which would be called flying saucers.

    Original designs called for a gasoline powered, one-man hovercraft that was already being built by a German company, but the razor-sharp, high-speed fan blades were determined to be too risky for use by the general public. The final design took its inspiration from the popular air hockey tables found in nearly every arcade in America in 1961. The motive power would be provided not by motors in each of the individual saucers but by streams of pressurized air from the floor. Each saucer would now have no more than two moving parts: The safety belt clasp and the rider himself. Steering and acceleration could be controlled by the rider simply by shifting his weight. Lean to one side and a wider gap was created on the opposing side, thus releasing more of the air coming from the floor. Whichever direction the rider leaned was the direction the saucer would move.

    As soon as this concept was accepted by imagineers they realized that there wasn’t a blower in the world large enough to power a surface as large as that planned for the Flying Saucers ride, especially if the air cushion had to support 500 pound loaded saucers. The solution was to engineer special valves that would only release air when a saucer was directly above the airhole. These valves were startlingly simple affairs controlled by nothing more than springs. The spring was just strong enough to push a disk up against the bottom of the floor at normal atmospheric pressure and (mostly) seal the hole. When a saucer passed over a hole, it increased the downward pressure just enough to  push the disk down and release air around the edge of the disk. The finished ride had a circular floor measuring 100 feet in diameter.  The floor was bisected by a catwalk that not only provided two separate bumping areas but also served as one side of a “corral” which was formed for loading and unloading. The other sides of the corrals were swinging booms that separated the saucers into two groups per side. There were 64 saucers altogether separated into four groups of 16. Confused? Check out this nifty diagram from FilmFax Magazine (Dec. 2005).

    Flying Saucers opened on August 6, 1961 with appropriate fanfare provided by an astronaut, a spacegirl, and the (at that time) planetary-named Pluto. The price of a ride was one “E” coupon, the most expensive of ride tickets (50 cents). This put Flying Saucers’ prestige on par with rides like the Matterhorn and Submarines.  The ride was a huge hit, in part, because it was the only ride besides Autopia that let the rider steer.

    Unfortunately, even with the simplicity of the valves and (unlike Autopia) no breakdowns of individual saucers, the ride had issues that gave maintenance crews endless headaches. Like a giant pipe organ the holes and saucers would often create a sort of  harmonic convergence which would make all of the holes open up with a load boom that shook windows all over the park. The blowers would then have to be shut off and planks of wood  laid over the open holes to rescue the stranded riders. Resetting the valves and restarting the blowers could take an hour. This occurrence happened, on average, once or twice a day!  On top of the maintenance issues, the ride, with its rapid opening and closing of valves and the hissing of escaping air, was by far the loudest ride ever installed at the park.

    When Tomorrowland prepared for a major redesign in 1966, Disney staff was unanimous in which ride they wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. When Flying Saucers was dismantled, it left a seven-foot deep basement where the blowers were housed. This basement was used for the Tomorrowland stage near the snack bar which would rise from the ground with the performers already on stage. Later, that location would be occupied by the 3D theater showing Michael Jackson’s Captain EO.

  7. Revell Sells Secrets to the Soviets…for $2.98

    July 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    revelluss george washingtonIn the summer of 1961 the New York Times ran a front page story entitled: ADMIRAL RICKOVER SAYS REDS LEARNED SECRETS FROM TOY SUB.  In that story the father of the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program claimed that the hobby company Revell’s model of the USS George Washington nuclear-powered Polaris missile submarine had given away classified information to the Soviet Union. “If I were a Russian,” declared Rickover, “I would be most grateful to the United States for its generosity in supplying such information for $2.98.”

    Under the helm of its president, Louis (“Lew”) H. Glaser, Revell’s PR department went into combat mode to not just defend its reputation as a patriotic American hobby company, but also to exploit Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover’s backhanded endorsement of their models’ authenticity (“Accurate to one thousandth of an inch” was Revell’s claim).  A photographer and writer from LIFE magazine were invited to the company’s headquarters so Glaser could counter that the charges were absurd and demonstrate that the details of the submarine were easily obtainable from unclassified trade and technical journals.  A photo taken of Glaser holding the submarine model was the 1960s equivalent of a  captain of industry flipping the bird to a military hero.

    Once the small feature appeared in the magazine, the Admiral refused to speak further of the incident. Revell on the other hand used the brouhaha to sell record numbers of the Polaris submarine kit.

  8. A Boy’s Best Friend is his Robot

    July 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I’ve only cried at the movies three times in my life. The first time was at the end of a Japanese film called Voyage Into Space when Johnny Socko’s giant robot sacrifices himself to save the world (“Come back, Giant Robot! Come back”). The next time was at the end of a Bruce Dern movie called Silent Running when the last surviving robot drone, Dewey, is left to tend Earth’s last  forest (in space!) while Joan Baez sings over the closing titles. And most recently, near the end of the animated feature, Iron Giant.  I can suck it up and keep my cheeks dry during any screening of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows but if Yeller was a stop-motion flying robot, or if  Old Dan and Little Ann were played by double-amputees in drone costumes, I’d be blubbering like an idiot.

    Maybe it was because I didn’t have a dog when I was a boy. But I did have toys. And, oh, what wonderful toys we children of the Sixties had.

    Robot Commando, made by Ideal, hit toystore shelves in 1961. It could move forward, turn right or left, shoot marbles from his swinging arms and a rocket from his hinged head…using voice commands! How cool is that for something made for children fifty years ago!


    The Great Garloo by Marx also came out in 1961. I’m not sure if it was technically a robot theme-wise but the fact that you could make it do your bidding gave it a robot vibe. The interesting thing about the commercial is the schizophrenic attempt to convince boys that Garloo is a violent city-wrecking monster and then go on to reassure parents that Garloo is no more than a benign servant.

    Here are examples of some other toy robots from 1961. Make sure you turn up your speakers!: