They Made A Toy of That? Misguided Action Figures

Back in the action figure heyday of the 1970s and 80s, Star Wars helped make the little 3 3/4" toys incredibly popular with kids. Just about every TV show and movie had its own line of action figures that could be sold at drug stores and toy stores all over the country. Some of these tie-in toys made perfect sense, like The A-Team, Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica, which had an element of adventure to their storylines. Why some other shows had toys was a bit of a head-scratcher.

Your Bartender, Isaac

There's no question The Love Boat was a popular show during its nine-season run. What is questionable, though, is the demand for an action figure based on "Your Bartender," Isaac.

In 1981, toymaker Mego produced a line of 3 3/4" figures that included the main characters: Captain Stubing, Vicki, Julie, Gopher, Isaac, and Doc Bricker. Mego had seen success with some of their other TV tie-in lines, like the 12" dolls based on Cher and Sonny Bono, but for some reason decided to go with smaller figures for the Love Boat line. Unfortunately, because this size was more popular for boys' action figures, The Love Boat toys were often placed in the same aisle with the likes of Superman, Batman, and Captain America, which meant the crew of the Pacific Princess had some serious competition.

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In an attempt to boost sales, a plastic cruiseship playset was produced, but even this didn't help. The Love Boat action figures were sunk after only one series.

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Klinger in Drag

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Mego wasn't the only one making odd TV tie-in toys. Tri-Star International released figures based on the hit series M*A*S*H. The show was aimed at adults, with some fairly risqué humor and mature themes for the time, so why anyone thought a line of 3 3/4" action figures and military vehicles would be popular with young kids is a bit of a mystery. However, the series is still quite memorable for one big reason—the Klinger figure came in both green Army fatigues and in an outfit with pink bloomers, ruffles, and a flower in his hair. The character on the show had stopped wearing women's clothing a few years before the figure was released. Apparently someone was just dying to see if they could get away with a cross-dressing action figure. It should come as no surprise that the "Klinger in drag" figure is by far the most popular from the series and goes for a pretty penny on eBay.

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The Cast of Dallas

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Luckily Mego learned from its Love Boat mishap and didn't move past the prototype phase for a 1981 series of 3" figures based on another staple show from the 80s, Dallas. The planned figures included Bobby, Jock, Sue Ellen, Pamela, Lucy, Miss Ellie, and, of course, J.R. The toys were featured in a catalog for retail buyers, but because so few were ordered, the toys were shelved before they even hit stores.

Faithfully Frightening Movie Tie-Ins

When it comes to movie tie-in action figures, it wasn't so much a matter of "Why would kids want to play with that?" as it was, "They let kids play with that!?" One of the first controversial movie tie-ins was an 18-inch action figure from toy company Kenner, based on the creature from the R-rated 1979 film Alien. The toy was exquisitely detailed and very faithful to the look of the alien from the film, including a clear head that exposed a glow-in-the-dark skull, spring-loaded arms to grab its victims, a bendable tail, and a trigger-action mouth that snapped open, allowing the alien's signature set of inner jaws to shoot out.

Aside from marketing a toy for kids based on a very violent film that had all kinds of sexual imagery, parents were upset about the toy itself. It was so faithful to the creature, that parents started calling Kenner's customer service line to report their kids were scared to death of the toy. Kenner cut its losses, stopped production, and told retailers to slash the prices on remaining stock to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

Today, the 18" Alien action figure is one of the most sought after toys on the collector's market. Most examples are missing some parts, most often the dome, sometimes the inner jaws, or a removable spike from its back. Even these incomplete figures sell for anywhere between $50 - $75. A figure without all these missing parts will run you a few hundred dollars. But find one in the box and you're looking at anywhere between $500 - $1,000.

Thanks to the disaster of the 18" alien, Kenner wisely scrapped plans for a line of 3 3/4" Alien action figures before they were released. However, a handful of prototype models of the creature and some of the crew of the Nostromo spaceship were made and have become legendary among the toy collecting community.

Cozy Up With Krueger

talking-freddy-kruegerWhile not technically an action figure, another R-rated film became the inspiration for another toy—the talking Freddy Krueger doll. Freddy, star of the infamous 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, was responsible for killing dozens of children in a small Ohio town. When he was released from prison on a technicality, the parents of the town trapped him in his boiler room hideout and set fire to the building. Now his burned visage haunts the dreams of the children of these vengeful parents, slicing up teens with his razor-finger glove. Who wouldn't you want to tuck their kid into bed at night with a plush version of Freddy?

"¨The doll, produced in 1989 by Matchbox, had a pull string on his back that made him screech such phrases as "Pleasant dreams!" and "Let's be friends!" Set to be released in time for Halloween, retailers received boycott threats from concerned parents following the lead of Reverend Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, a watchdog group well-known for boycotting TV shows it found offensive. Bowing to the pressure, Matchbox stopped production of the doll, though plenty were still sold before the ban went into effect.

And More!

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Freddy was just part of the kid-ification of many violent films from the 1980s. In the 80s and 90s, action figures aimed squarely at children were released based on such R-rated fare as Robocop, Rambo, The Toxic Avenger, The Terminator, Predator, Aliens, and later, Aliens vs. Predator.

rambo-toxic

Most of these figures were tie-ins for cartoon shows that toned down the violence from the original source material, or had simply become such a mainstay in our pop culture as to be deemed "safe" by parents.

comic-book-guySince the mid-90s, the action figure world has changed considerably. While there are still plenty of action figures aimed at kids, a large portion of the market has shifted focus to cater to adult collectors. The toys themselves have become more detailed, more expensive, and a lot less fun to play with, but look great sitting on a bookshelf or decorating your cubicle at work. Because the market is now targeting adult fans with more money to spend, just about any TV show, film, or video game could have its own line of action figures, no matter how violent or mature the original storyline might be. Now that it's become more common for anyone—big or small—to buy toys, very few action figures produced today could be considered controversial or misguided. Maybe someone should try selling Love Boat figures again...
* * * * *
Did you own any of these strange action figures as a kid? What were some of your favorite TV or movie tie-in toys? Tell us about them in the comments!

A special thanks to Justin from WeirdoToys.com for additional research material.

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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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