A SUNDAY MORNING SPECIAL!
It was 1964. GI Joe was the first action soldier to storm toy stores across the United States. It was an impressive campaign, where GI Joe, the defining 'Action Figure', was deployed by Hasbro to win the hearts and minds of kids across the country.
Joe was made of tough plastics which incorporated a radically new system of posable articulation. He wore a stamped dog tag and authentic uniforms representing the US military. His supply column of outfits would equip him for combat, on land, at sea, and in the air.
GI Joe's blitzkrieg on toy-store America triggered rival forces. Marx were seasoned veterans. They would counter-attack with point-man, Stony 'Stonewall' Smith. 'The Battling Soldier' was an 11.1/2 inch tall figure made from 'unbreakable' poly-plastic. Unfortunately, only Stony's wrists, elbows, shoulders and head were movable. His solid lower body had no articulation. This was a self-inflicted wound for Marx.
Stony could do little more than stand tall and fearlessly wait for the bullet which carried his name. A static Stony was no match for Hasbro's flexible fighting man. Marx launched a fresh attack with a battalion of improved Stony clones to boost morale and fill shelves. The new recruits had a slightly different style of uniform and new hip and knee articulation.
The new box stated, ''COMPLETELY MOVABLE - Move Him Into 1001 COMBAT POSITIONS!''. With leg articulation, Stony was free to jump behind the wheel of the new Marx Military Jeep in a bid to keep pace with GI Joe.
Stony's packaging changed throughout the course of his career. He fought under a variety of names including Stony 'Stonewall' Smith, The Paratrooper, Stony Sky Commando, and finally, Stony The Paratrooper. Each re-branding would see him deployed in a large colourful product box packed with changeable plastic equipment and weapons.
However, the final version of Stony The Paratrooper was released in a slimmer box, identical in dimension to GI Joes. Accessories were now boxed and sold separately as 'Stony Paratrooper Equipment'.
Stony was flagging. In a desperate bid to take the high ground Marx unleashed the elite 'Stony 4 Man Combat Team'. This magnificent set consisted of four Stony clones equipped to be dropped behind the lines.
Despite this brave action, Marx couldn't equal the movability and playability of GI Joe. GI Joe was firmly entrenched in the imagination of kids... and he refused to surrender his position. Stony had failed to secure his objective!
In 1966, Marx regrouped and deployed Stony's reinforcement, Buddy Charlie. 'Buddy Charlie' was the brand name Marx gave to their All American Fighter figures who were 'Made Expressly for Montgomery Ward'. The 'Montgomery Ward' text didn't appear on all Buddy Charlie boxes. Perhaps some were sold elsewhere? Buddy Charlie was a dangerously close clone to GI Joe.
He had an action figure body, represented all four branches of the services, and wore fatigues and dog tags just like Joe! Buddy's product box was also identical in size. Marx would however wisely halt at copying the trademark GI Joe battle scar to avoid stepping into a legal minefield. The advances which came with Buddy Charlie were too little too late.
Joe defeated Stony and Buddy at the Tannhäuser Gate... the Marx replicants had lost the war.
Boxed examples of Stony Smiths can be found. However, the Stony store display and the deluxe 'Stony 4 Man Combat Team' rarely reach the market. Boxed examples of Buddy Charlie are quite rare, particularly the store display set and the elusive Sailor and Airman.
When Buddy does muster for parade, he's usually wearing boots looted from one of the cheap plastic imitators from the '60s, such as 'Johnnie Goes To War'.
Original Buddy Charlie boots are very thin on the ground. Most become brittle and literally fell apart over time. Genuine Marx-branded Buddy Charlie Sailor and Airman hats are often missing in action, having been replaced with ersatz copies.
In the latter part of the 1960s, Marx ceased military operations. By now they'd trail blazed into the Wild West, pioneering a successful niche with their range of Cowboy and Indian figures. Stony's head-sculpt was used for Marx cowboy, Johnny West.
Hasbro's GI Joe flourished with changing times, constantly evolving into new incarnations as the years rolled into decades. This battle scarred soldier of fortune travelled the world under a variety of licensed nom de guerres.
He landed in 1960s Britain, took the Queen's Shilling and signed-up as 'Action Man'. Like a plastic Peter Pan, he put us under his spell and took many of us on tremendous adventures when we were kids.
Unlike GI Joe, Stony Smith and his brother in arms, Buddy Charlie, were unable to change their role and adapt to a changing world. They were made to be combat soldiers and nothing else... they couldn't move forward, or leave the past behind!
They're anachronisms, forever anchored to the 1960s as a fading memory of a favourite toy given by a mum or dad. Some people don't get it, but I guess for some of us, our toys and trinkets are physical reminders which link us with our past.
Unlike the parents, pets, people and places, we loved and lost along the way, our toys are still with us... unlike the changing landscape, they remain unchanged. They reinforce our fading 20th century memories and take us back to that precious and familiar time of a childhood which has long gone, but isn't entirely forgotten.
Old Soldiers Never Die... at least not the plastic ones we knew as kids.