7 Highly Questionable Toy Commercials from the 1970s

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The 1970s was a seminal decade for the advertising industry. Televisions were in 69 million homes in the United States, with some viewers watching for up to six hours a day. Even better: Research showed that kids under eight years of age were believed to be unable to distinguish between a TV commercial and a regular program. That meant commercials appealing to young consumers—and their cash-wielding parents—held high potential to make a real impact on toy sales.

As toy companies looked for that one big hit that could help subsidize all of the misses, they tried shilling everything from dolls that grew breasts to plastic cows that could be “milked.” Take a look at some of the more puzzling ads to run on TV tubes in the '70s.

1. THE MANIACAL LAUGHING DOLL (1971)

It’s hard to imagine that the director of this spot for Baby Laugh a Lot had any intention beyond scaring the souls out of children. As the Remco-produced doll sits and rocks on a chair, her ceaseless laughter demanding psychiatric evaluation, quick cuts reveal her giggles are becoming contagious—first in her human play pals, then in the voiceover narrator.

2. MILKY THE MARVELOUS MILKING COW (1977)

A jointly-produced oddity by Kenner and General Foods, Milky offered a replica cow-milking experience. After “drinking” some water, Milky’s rubber udders could be squeezed to produce a cloudy-looking liquid. (Kids dumped a discoloring tablet into Milky before operating.) As vile as the secretion looked, Kenner still blared warnings for kids “not to drink the pretend milk you get from Milky.” A look at their 1978 catalog reveals Milky was intended to be part of an entire line of barnyard toys, including Gobbles the Goat. He came with pieces of garbage.

3. THE DOLL THAT SIMULATES PUBERTY (1975)

Picking up Mattel’s Barbie spin-off doll Skipper at a toy store and examining her packaging didn’t really sell girls on her most distinctive feature. By tugging on her arm, kids could cause Skipper to grow in height and seemingly develop protruding breasts—an action that was easily demonstrated in TV spots. While ads avoided using the word “breasts”—Skipper instead became “curvy”—public reaction was negative to this sudden-onset simulation of puberty: When Skipper returned to shelves in 1979, her upper torso was fixed in place.

4. A DISTURBINGLY INTIMATE CARD GAME (1978)

Hoping to replicate the success of Twister, Hasbro introduced a game titled Great Moves in 1978. One player would wear a small whiteboard while someone else used a pen strapped to different parts of their body: The two would then attempt to draw a picture. Depending on where each wound up, the results could be something you’d see late at night on Cinemax.

5. ICE BIRD, THE TOY THAT DEMANDED CHILD LABOR (1974)

Many people have fond memories of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, a plastic device that shaved up ice cubes so kids could make frozen treats. Kenner’s Ice Bird followed the same premise, except it required a giant block of ice that users would have to laboriously scrape in order to get their precious shavings.

6. BALL BUSTER: THE HOME GAME (1975)

It’s hard to say whether or not the minds behind this Mego tabletop game knew of the idiom they were referencing or if it pre-dated the popular term for annoying someone. The former seems unlikely, as FCC regulations for networks in the '70s were far too stringent for such innuendo to get on air. Either way, the commercial spares no opportunity to explain how players can “bust each other’s balls.” Be sure to watch until the end.

7. THE ALIEN ACTION FIGURE (1979)

The parasitic, murderous alien designed by psychosexual artist H.R. Giger for 1979's R-rated film Alien would be a curious choice for a toymaker—unless that toymaker is Kenner, masterminds behind Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow. Kids could stalk other kids with the giant-sized figure, which mimicked a face-chomping motion when users squeezed the back of his phallic head. Despite these missteps, Kenner still had a very profitable decade: They were the licensee for Lucasfilm's Star Wars franchise.

11 Everyday Tasks That Are Tricky for Left Handers

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In Medieval times, left-handed people had more to worry about than smudging their own handwriting: Being a lefty was associated with demonic possession. While those with southpaw tendencies aren't likely to be labeled as the devil's puppet today, life for those in that 10 percent of the population can still be a struggle. In honor of International Left Handers Day, check out some common tasks that lefties rarely get right.

1. USING SCISSORS

Unless you special-order left-handed scissors, the act of cutting up paper can quickly become an exercise in frustration. Scissors typically have blades with distinct handles, including one for the thumb—a lefty’s thumb will usually get stuck in the finger hole because they’re holding it upside-down. Fortunately, most operating rooms are equipped with scissors for both hands.

2. WRITING

A spiral notebook poses problems for a left-handed writer
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Because a lefty’s hand is running through everything being written, signatures, notes, and other scribblings often turn into a smeared mess. Writing in three-ringed binders or notebooks is even worse, since the spine makes it difficult to rest your hand against a smooth surface. The worst part? Gripping the pen cap with your left hand forces it to loosen up, making for a writing utensil that comes apart while you’re trying to use it.

3. HAVING DINNER COMPANY

If you know anyone who prefers to eat alone, ask about their dominant hand. It might be because using their left arm to dig into food means engaging in a constant battle for table real estate with a person on their left who is eating with their right arm. It also means their drinking glasses will be parked next to one another, with spillage always a looming threat.

4. WALKING

A man walks along a stretch of road
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Even sober, a lefty’s locomotion is affected. Why? Because when they cross paths with someone walking in the opposite direction, both tend to lean into their dominant side—putting them in front of each other yet again.

5. BANKING

To make sure their pens don’t wind up lost or stolen, most banks will tether them to a flimsy chain on the table. It’s non-invasive for right-handed people, but lefties are forced to try to sign checks with a chain constantly pulling against their hand movement.

6. PUTTING ON CLOTHES

A jeans zipper appears on the right side
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The fly on jeans, zippered coats, and other apparel usually opens on the right side, creating a barrier of entry for lefties. Buttons escalate the difficulty. Some women’s clothing reverses this, putting closures on the left. The tradition is thought to have started when servants would dress their charges in the Victorian era: Left-sided buttons would be to their right.

7. USING CELL PHONES

Although Apple is a prime culprit, many cell phones can be problematic for lefties. For one thing, cradling the device with your left hand can sometimes obscure the antenna, affecting reception. For another, control blocks can default to the right side in landscape mode, putting them out of reach.

8. MEASURING FOOD INGREDIENTS

A measuring cup that looks to be designed for right-handed use
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Glass or plastic measuring cups frequently print serving amounts to the left of the handle, meaning lefties who pour with their left and hold the cup with their right will either see nothing at all or the metric system side. 

9. HYDRATING AND DRIVING

Most lefties get used to shifting with their right hand, but it’s still awkward to try and fetch a (non-alcoholic) drink from the cup holder on the right side of the driver’s seat.

10. OPENING CANS

A can opener made for right-handed use
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Manual can openers favor right-handed operation, meaning lefties are forced to either obscure the knob with their left or move in the opposite direction. (Pull-tab cans have saved the sanity of many a lefty.) The same holds true for potato peelers, which are engineered for the right-handed majority. Fortunately, a few stores sell mirror-imaged kitchen tools.

11. PAINTING NAILS

Most day-to-day tasks can be modified or at least tolerated by lefties, but those who opt to paint their nails find that their left hand winds up a mess. The same is true for right-handed people, too—all the better to give them a taste of lefty life.

11 Sharp Facts About Annie Oakley

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Getty

You probably know that Annie Oakley was an outstanding sharpshooter who became famous while performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But if your knowledge of her life is limited to Annie Get Your Gun, we’ve got you covered. In honor of her birthday, here are 11 facts about Oakley, the Little Sure Shot of the Wild West.

1. SHE MADE HER FIRST SHOT AT 8 YEARS OLD.

Born on August 13, 1860 in a rural part of western Ohio, Phoebe Ann Moses grew up poor. Her father’s death in 1866 meant that she had to contribute to help her family survive, so she trapped small animals such as quail for food. At eight years old, she made her first shot when she killed a squirrel outside her house. “It was a wonderful shot, going right through the head from side to side. My mother was so frightened when she learned that I had taken down the loaded gun and shot it that I was forbidden to touch it again for eight months,” she later said.

2. SHE USED HER SHOOTING SKILLS TO PAY OFF HER MOM’S MORTGAGE.

Despite Oakley’s top-notch shooting skills, her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet. She sent Oakley to work for another family in exchange for her daughter getting an education. As a teenager, Oakley returned home (after working as a servant for an abusive family) and continued to hunt animals. She sold the meat to an Ohio grocery store, earning enough money to pay her mom’s $200 mortgage. She later wrote: "Oh, how my heart leaped with joy as I handed the money to mother and told her that I had saved enough to pay it off!"

3. SHE BEAT HER FUTURE HUSBAND IN A SHOOTING MATCH.

At 15 years old, Oakley participated in a shooting match on Thanksgiving with Frank Butler, an Irish-American professional marksman. The match, which happened in Cincinnati, was a doozy. To Butler’s surprise, the teenage girl outshot him by one clay pigeon, and he lost the $100 bet he had placed. Rather than feel embarrassed or emasculated by his loss, Butler was impressed and interested, and the two married the following year.

4. DESPITE HER PROFESSION, SHE EMPHASIZED HER FEMININITY.


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At the end of the 19th century, shooting was a predominantly male activity, and Oakley certainly stood out. But rather than dress or behave like a man to fit in, she emphasized her femininity. She wore her own homemade costumes on stage, behaved modestly, and engaged in "proper" female activities such as embroidery in her spare time.

5. SHE WAS ONLY FIVE FEET TALL.

In addition to Oakley’s gender, her diminutive stature made her stand out in the world of sharpshooting. In 1884, the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull befriended Oakley when the two performers were traveling across the country. Acknowledging both her height and her shooting skill, Sitting Bull nicknamed Oakley Watanya Cicillia (English translation: Little Sure Shot). The American Indian warrior liked Oakley so much that he gave her his special moccasins to "adopt" her as his daughter.

6. SHE PERFORMED FOR KINGS AND QUEENS IN EUROPE.


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Although the concept of the Wild West is firmly rooted in Americana, Oakley showed off her shooting skills across Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. In 1887, she performed for Queen Victoria at the American Exposition in London, and the queen reportedly told Oakley that she was a "very clever little girl." In 1889, Oakley performed at the Paris Exposition and traveled to Italy and Spain. The press loved her, the king of Senegal wanted her to come help control the tiger population in his country, and Italy’s King Umberto I was a fan.

7. SHE OFFERED TO LEAD FEMALE SHOOTERS IN WORLD WAR I.

Wanting to use her shooting skills to serve her country, Oakley wrote a letter to President McKinley in 1898. She offered to provide 50 female sharpshooters (with their own arms and ammunition) to fight for the United States in the Spanish-American War, but she never got a response. Similarly, in 1917, she contacted the U.S. Secretary of War to offer her expertise to teach an army unit of women shooters to fight in World War I. She didn’t hear back, so she visited army camps, raised money for the Red Cross, and volunteered with military charities instead.

8. SHE SUED THE PRESS FOR PUBLICIZING HER (NONEXISTENT) DRUG ADDICTION.

In August 1903, two of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers in Chicago reported that Oakley was a cocaine addict who was arrested for stealing a black man’s pants. Other newspapers ran the story, and Oakley—who was neither a drug addict nor a thief—was horrified. "The terrible piece … nearly killed me … The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character," she said.

The woman who had been arrested in Chicago was a burlesque performer whose stage name was Any Oakley. Most newspapers published retractions, but Hearst didn’t. He (unsuccessfully) hired a private investigator to uncover anything sordid about Oakley. Oakley sued 55 newspapers for libel, ultimately winning or settling 54 of them by 1910. Despite winning money from Hearst and other newspapers, costly legal expenses meant that she ultimately lost money to clear her name.

9. THANKS TO THOMAS EDISON, SHE BECAME A FILM ACTRESS.

In 1888, Oakley acted in Deadwood Dick, a financially unsuccessful play. At the Paris Exposition the next year, though, she met Buffalo Bill Cody’s friend Thomas Edison. In 1894, Oakley visited Edison in New Jersey and showed off her shooting skills for the inventor’s Kinetoscope. The resulting film, called The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West, featured Oakley shooting a rifle to break glass balls. Although she didn’t continue acting in film, she did act in The Western Girl, a play in which she portrayed a sharpshooter, in 1902 and 1903.

10. TWO SERIOUS ACCIDENTS HALTED HER CAREER.


Annie Oakley in 1922

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In 1901, Oakley was injured in a train accident while traveling between North Carolina and Virginia for a performance. Although reports differ about the severity of her injuries, we do know that she took a year off from performing after the accident. Two decades later, Oakley was injured in a car accident in Florida. Her hip and ankle were fractured, and she wore a leg brace until 1926, when she passed away from pernicious anemia in Ohio at age 66. Frank Butler, her husband of 50 years, died 18 days later.

11. HER NAME BECAME AN IDIOMATIC EXPRESSION.

You know you’ve made it when your name becomes an idiom. Because of her shooting skills, the phrase "Annie Oakley" acquired a meaning of a free ticket to an event. Performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Oakley shot holes in tiny objects, making targets out of everything from playing cards to a dime to a cigar dangling out of her husband’s mouth. Because free admission tickets for theatrical shows had holes punched in them (so they wouldn’t be sold to someone else), these tickets came to be called "Annie Oakleys."

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