It was 52 years ago when two highly important items came into this world: Me and GI Joe.
All right, sure, maybe I’m not as important or interesting as GI Joe, but I wanted to let you know that Joe and I have been around for pretty much the same amount of time. (He predates me by about nine months. Hang on. Perhaps my parents were celebrating the release of this awesome new toy. Ew. I don’t want to think about it.)
It was in February 1964 when Hasbro released GI Joe. It was intended as a doll that boys would play with, but they didn’t call it a doll. Oh, no. Boys don’t play with dolls. Hasbro called it “America’s moveable fighting man.” And they released four versions: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Marine, and Action Pilot. Using “action” in their titles led to the coining of the term “action figure.”
The original Joes had hard hands and painted hair. Later would come the lifelike hair and beards, talking Joes, and that ever-popular Kung-Fu Grip. I prefer the hard hands and painted hair ones, myself. There also soon came an African-American version and then versions of the enemies of WWII – German and Japanese versions. And much later came female versions.
Because the human body cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, Hasbro came up with the scar on the cheek as a way to protect their product from cheap knock-off toy makers. Another trademark in the early years was the unintentional, incorrect placement of the right thumbnail on the underside of the thumb. It was a goof that Hasbro turned into something useful.
As the Vietnam War dragged on and became more and more unpopular, Hasbro rebranded GI Joe as an adventurer rather than a soldier. He was part of an Adventure Team. There were land, sea and air adventurers. And astronauts!
From the beginning there were whole lines of accessories and vehicles that could be purchased separately. There were also playsets big enough for Joe and his team. I recall a friend having one of those. I was quite envious.
Well, I got older. And, wouldn’t you know it, a whole bunch of new kids cropped up. And, in 1982, Hasbro launched a new kind of GI Joe toy line. These Joes were miniature. The original Joes towered over these usurpers! A proper GI Joe is 12″ tall, not those less than four inch tall pathetic little hunks of multi-colored plastic.
And there were so many of them. Dozens and dozens! I remember a little comic book shop that I frequented was about half comic books and half those little monstrosities. They had the accessories and the playsets, but they also had comic books and TV cartoons and posters and all manner of ancillary items for purchase. They were taking over the world!
I guess I was just too old to appreciate the new style of one of my favorite toys.
Oh, well, to each their own.
There is a tradition in my household. Each year when it comes time for putting up the Christmas tree, the first ornament placed on the tree is my 1999 35th Anniversary Hallmark GI Joe ornament. And that ornament is about the same size as those miniature GI Joes.
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