17 Amazing Facts About He-Man (Powered by Grayskull)

DreamWorksTV
DreamWorksTV

In 1982, toy stores began to receive stock for a peculiar new line of action figures. With a hyper-muscular frame nearly as wide as he was tall and crouched in an attack stance, He-Man was a radical departure from the long and lean heroes of G.I. Joe or the puny dimensions of Luke Skywalker. Here was a burly swordsman whose story—defending Castle Grayskull from the demonic Skeletor—blended classic myth with spring-loaded punches that could knock other figures senseless.

He-Man made a respectable $38 million for Mattel in its first year. By 1984, it had earned over a billion. Though He-Mania was not engineered to last, it remains one of the biggest toy success stories of all time. If you’ve ever hoisted a sword (or a spatula) in the air and called upon the Power of Grayskull, you need to check out these 17 facts. Do it for Eternia.

1. He-Man Was a Result of Mattel Passing on Star Wars.

When George Lucas’ space opera went shopping for licensing partners, Mattel was one of several companies that passed on the rights to make action figures. The industry watched as Kenner turned Star Wars into a toy supernova, leaving Mattel to pick up the plastic pieces and eager to develop their own hit.

2. Mattel Had to Choose Between Three Very Different He-Men.

Mattel preliminary designer Roger Sweet and in-house illustrator Mark Taylor—who designed packaging for Barbie—both had ideas about a chiseled warrior who wielded swords in the Frank Frazetta mold. While Taylor’s sketches (some of which dated back to his childhood) were fantasy-based, Sweet envisioned a character who could be placed in any number of eras or genres. For a presentation to Mattel executives, Sweet applied clay muscles to an existing line of boy’s action figures. Each represented the character, which he named He-Man, in military, fantasy, and space settings. Despite the story possibilities of a time-traveling hero, Mattel's marketing research pointed to the guy with the pawn on his head. With Taylor’s sketches and ideas for supporting characters, a barbarian was born.   

3. He Was Originally a Viking.

The Power and the Honor Foundation

Based on sketches from Mark Taylor, sculptor Tony Guerrero initially fashioned He-Man as a stern-looking individual. But his scowling expression and horned helmet were deemed too menacing: he looked too angry to be played with. Before being softened up with a blonde haircut, the prototype was used in market research testing, and one kid was so enamored with the brute that he tried to stuff him in his winter coat. The would-be thief was caught, but not before Mattel realized they were on to something.

4. The Animated Series Was a Result of a Bad Meeting with Toys ‘R' Us.

Confident in their He-Man line-up, Mattel marketing director Mark Ellis showed their concept to buyers at Toys 'R’ Us. To help flesh out the back story and clarify who was good and bad, Mattel had commissioned a series of mini-comics to insert into product packaging. But TRU executives were not impressed, arguing that young children may not be willing or able to read. Improvising, Ellis said they had a one-hour cartoon special in the works. How hard could it be to get one made?

5. Everyone Turned Down the Cartoon.

After being rejected by Hanna-Barbera for the special, Mattel turned to a company that had produced an animated commercial for them: Filmation. The company behind Fat Albert was economical but savvy: After being turned down by CBS, NBC, and ABC for a Saturday morning slot, Filmation president Lou Scheimer suggested they produce a 65-episode first season they could syndicate for stations to run five days a week. The model was so successful that at the height of its popularity in 1984, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was seen by more than nine million viewers every afternoon.

6. Castle Grayskull Was Built by a Giant.

Mentioned in reference documents but never explained onscreen, He-Man’s palatial turf was built by Tytus, a giant who fought in a massive battle centuries before the events of the cartoon series. Mattel later issued an action figure of the character that stood 12 inches tall.

7. When One Station Stopped Airing It, Kids Rioted.

KTXS-TV found out the hard way what happens when you deprive He-Man fans of their fix: anarchy. The Abilene, Texas station took the series off-air in the fall of 1985 owing to cooling ratings. When fans complained, the channel resumed airing it and tried to appease viewers by arranging for an appearance by a Mattel-endorsed actor. After 8000 rowdy kids engulfed him, organizers had to cut the event short. “He-Man left early because we became very concerned about the safety of the children,” KTXS owner S.M. Moore told the Lethbridge Herald.

8. Filmation Used Bodybuilders for Character References.

Models pose with Filmation employees. Image courtesy of Andy Mangels.

In order to animate He-Man’s impossibly-developed musculature, Filmation director Hal Sutherland scouted gyms and assembled a crew of bodybuilders so they could be filmed performing stunts as a reference. The photo above is most likely the only time you’ll see any version of the character sporting a mustache.   

9. The Slime Pit Really Upset Parents.

Despite never actually being seen in He-Man (though it did pop up in sister series She-Ra, Princess of Power), the Slime Pit was a popular toy torture chamber: unfortunate figures would get doused with some proprietary goop that was first marketed back in the 1970s. But as parents soon learned, the Slime packaged with the toy eventually ran out—and the only way to get more was to buy two more action figures. Consumers cried foul; retailers didn't help the situation, selling cans of free promotional Slime for $3 to $10 each.

10. There Was One Toy Filmation Refused to Animate.

Despite criticism that they were simply producing a half-hour toy commercial, Filmation retained the right to ignore suggestions from Mattel. When the toy company pitched Lou Scheimer on a prototype for an attack vehicle with a sphere that could pummel opponents, he flat-out refused. Filmation, he insisted, would never animate anything named the Ball Buster. Common sense prevailed and the toy was re-named the Bashasaurus.

11. There Was a Comic Strip.

Running from 1986 to 1991, a He-Man strip was syndicated so Mattel had a way of keeping the franchise visible after the cartoon (which ran for 130 episodes) wrapped production in 1985. Unfortunately, it only ran in 10 newspapers.

12. Dolph Lundgren Dubbed Himself.

The 1987 film Masters of the Universe was partially funded by Mattel after they realized they could co-finance a movie for only a portion of their advertising budget. Football star Howie Long was rumored to be in the running for the role, but producers ultimately went with a post-Rocky IV Dolph Lundgren. The actor was physically imposing, but his heavy Swedish accent made his lines hard to understand. Before he could be dubbed by another performer, Lundgren’s contract specified he could try re-recording up to three times. Eventually, his voice became intelligible—but it didn’t do the movie much good. With He-Man hysteria dying down, it made only $17 million in theaters.

13. Prince Adam Wasn’t Part of the Movie—or the Original Toys.

Though he existed in Mark Taylor's sketch art, He-Man’s royal alter ego wasn’t introduced into the canon until writer Michael Halperin brought the concept to the comics and cartoon story guide. (Instead of transforming into He-Man using his sword, he'd duck into a cave, Eternia's version of a phone booth.) Prior to that, the DC mini-comics portrayed the character as more of a tribal warrior without the need for a secret identity. He also failed to appear in the live-action film, though director Gary Goddard said a sequel might have introduced the prince.  

14. There Was Nearly a He-Ro, Son of He-Man Series.

See that radical dude surfing an alligator? That’s He-Ro, star of a proposed 1996 animated spin-off series. Prince Adam is a king and married to Teela; the couple adopts an orphan named Dare. After hoisting the Power Sword, the boy is transformed into a hero almost as buff as his dad. Though Mattel has updated the series twice, it never went forward with the He-Ro concept.        

15. There’s a Non-Profit Foundation to Preserve He-Man’s Legacy.

Toy packaging painting by artist Rudy Obrero. Image courtesy of The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Founded in 2010, the Power and the Honor Foundation is dedicated to preserving the work of artists who helped define the He-Man franchise. Original illustrations, toys, and documents from Mattel and Filmation are digitally scanned and stored for safekeeping. Want to make a donation? As a federally recognized charity, it would be tax-deductible.

16. In 1987, Sales Fell Off a Cliff ...

Theories abound as to why He-Man’s fortunes disintegrated, going from $350 million in 1985 to bottoming out by 1987. Competition from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and video games was heating up; Mattel had also flooded the market with second-tier character inventory that retailers couldn’t move fast enough.  

17. … But That Was After He Made Two Billion Dollars.

Roger Sweet once estimated that when sales of all He-Man products—toys, clothing, electric toothbrushes, sleeping bags—were tallied, the franchise brought in over $2 billion before the bubble burst. Not bad for a plastic guy who started out in a bad mood.    

Additional Sources: Mastering the Universe; The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; He-Man.org.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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