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They Made A Toy of That? Misguided Action Figures

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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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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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