Friday, August 26, 2016

A Whole Lotta Doh In a Galaxy Far, Far Away:
Star Wars and Play-Doh

Ron writes:

Has there ever been a more unjustly popular toy than Play-Doh? The product has one thing going for it: it's non-toxic. Meaning that, like boogers or Tylenol, a kid has to eat a lot of it before he dies.

But in virtually every other way Play-Doh is a lousy substitute for clay or plasticine. I mean, it was invented as an agent for cleaning wallpaper. Does home improvement sound fun to you? What's next, Play-Caulk?

General Mills acquired Rainbow Crafts, the perpetrator of Play-Doh, in 1965, and in the early '70s the product became associated with GM's Kenner subsidiary. This was apparently a big deal for the folks at Kenner, as they immediately started referring to themselves as "the Play-Doh people."

How the Spirograph and Girder and Panel product lines felt about this is unclear, but it's a good bet neither was happy about being passed over in favor of colored wallpaper putty.

Nevertheless, come 1972 there was the irritating Play-Doh mascot shamelessly consorting with Kenner's Gooney Bird on the cover of the company's Toy Fair catalog.

Is it me or does the Gooney Bird look a little conflicted in this picture? Maybe he's wondering what the kid with the Afro is doing back there...

Regardless, it was around this time that the Gooney Bird stopped regularly appearing in Kenner's advertising materials. He was right to look conflicted.

It didn't take Kenner long to associate their new acquisition with popular licenses. This Flintstones-themed Play-Doh set was advertised in the company's 1973 Toy Fair catalog. It allowed kids to make Play-Doh into king-sized Flintstones vitamins.

Hey, they're non-toxic!

Kenner's big pre-Star Wars licenses, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, also received some Play-Doh love. These products debuted less than a year prior to the release of Star Wars.

But few properties are capable of competing with the licensing powerhouse that is the George Orwell estate. 

That Snowball figure has the look of a pig who's bent on leading the revolution!

The first Star Wars-themed Play-Doh product was called the Star Wars Action Set. Its box is unusual among Kenner's early Star Wars offerings in that it deviates from the line's signature black-and-silver design scheme. Its look was visually simpatico with the Play-Doh line rather than the Star Wars one.

The set came with hinged molds that allowed kids to create doughy representations of four Star Wars characters, a plastic X-Wing Fighter, and a colorful playmat representing the Death Star. 

Since Play-Doh doesn't come in black, Darth Vader had to be molded in a disappointingly less-than-evil hue. 

If you think the Vader figures depicted on the box are grasping lightsabers, look closer. Those are actually blaster rifles that kids could make out of Play-Doh using one of the included molds, then smoosh onto the figures in strategic locations. 

The positioning of the blaster in this image makes Vader look a little salacious. Topps C-3PO has nothing on Doh Vader!

In my opinion, the coolest component of the set is the vinyl playmat. This unfolded prototype provides an unencumbered view of its super-colorful graphics. 

Note that the Stormtrooper's gun appears to be squishing out Play-Doh rather than firing energy bolts. The Dianoga is a nice touch.

1980 saw the debut of the second film in the Star Wars series and the addition of the Empire Strikes Back Action Set to the Play-Doh range. Now Vader could be molded in dark blue, which I suppose was fairly acceptable. 

Why Kenner didn't reuse the Vader mold from the earlier set is a mystery. The one included here is slightly different. Not sure if the R2-D2 mold is different or not. Not sure I care either.

The mold for Luke yields a figure that looks a bit like everyone's favorite space rent-a-cop (and unlikely fashion icon), Captain Panaka. 

There's a project for an industrious nerdlinger: Find one of these sets, and mold up an army of Play-Doh Panakas.

The set also included a plastic snowspeeder and a vinyl playmat. Above you see a prototype of the latter article. The longer you stare at it, the less you'll understand its spatial relationships.

In 1981 Kenner released its third Star Wars Play-Doh product, the Yoda Play Set. 

Perhaps someone within the company realized that using the word "action" in reference to these products was somewhat misleading. 

The original incarnation of the toy came packaged in a white box similar to that used for the ESB Action Set, but it was quickly replaced by the yellow version seen above. 

This particular yellow color became part of Play-Doh's branding, and it remained associated with Play-Doh products throughout the remainder of the vintage Star Wars years.

The white-box Yoda Play Set is probably the scarcest of the vintage Star Wars Play-Doh items, especially in sealed condition.

The Vader figure produced by this set's molds looks to be identical to the one included with the previous ESB set, and the X-Wing is the same as the one released with the SW set. Weirdly, the Luke mold from the SW set seems to have been reused here, meaning users were forced to tolerate the presence of the Tatooine Luke in the Dagobah environment. 

I love that the set allowed kids to make "levitation boxes." 

I also love the suggestion, provided by the above photo, that Yoda keeps a firearm handy at all times. Perhaps he's leery of home invasion?

When Return of the Jedi hit theaters Kenner was ready with this Jabba-themed set. It featured a greater number of figure molds, including one that produced a nifty version of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

Who do you reckon is more Doh-appropriate, frozen Han or Jabba the Hutt?

On the minus side, the molds were now one-sided rather than hinged. How do you imagine kids, with their disgustingly chubby fingers, managed to pry the figures from these molds? By ruining them, most likely.

Since Jabba was a big secret prior to the release of Jedi, Kenner's catalog photos omitted the Jabba figure, and an alternate image of the playset's box was utilized. The plastic skiff that came with the set is pretty cool.

1983 also saw the release of the Wicket the Ewok Playset. It put a sizeable dent in the demand for toy incarnations of Baga, the Ewoks' irrepressible llama thing.

Ironically, the molds in this cartoon-based set produced figures that were more detailed and voluminous than the rudimentary, suppository-like figures of earlier sets.

The set's plastic cart could be used to recreate various Baga-related adventures.

Note that the box depicted on this catalog page is different from the one released to stores.

For years collectors considered this Attack the Death Star Playset a quasi-rarity because its box bears Power of the Force branding. But it's actually among the easier Play-Doh sets to find in unused condition, perhaps because virtually no one bought it at retail.

Can you blame the shoppers of 1985 for failing to be inspired by this toy? In place of the figural molds of earlier sets Kenner provided molds for a quartet of tiny, impotent-looking vehicles. Oh, and there was one mold devoted to explosions. It yielded strange barnacle-like conglomerations more reminiscent of Play-Doody than Play-Doh.

The best part is the molded plastic component. It's a bland slab of nothing that Kenner attempted to pass off as a "launching pad." It looks more like the conveyor belt on which you place your Yoda grapes as you check out at the grocery store.

The fall from grace experienced by the Star Wars product line during the second half of the '80s is amply demonstrated by the manner in which the Attack the Death Star Playset was presented in Kenner's 1985 Toy Fair catalog. The product's photo spans two pages, making it hard to get a good look at the barnacles and the grocery shelf. Maybe that was intentional?

Kenner should have marketed this thing as the Star Wars Wallpaper Cleaning Playset. It would have sold better.

Monday, August 8, 2016

'Chive Cast 75 - Sunset on the Empire

Skye and Steve celebrate their diamond jubilee episode with Elling Haug and Tracey Hamilton who discuss Sensorscope R2-D2 and Removable Limbs C-3PO respectively. Plus, Chrisses Fawcett and Georgoulias report back to the states from Celebration Europe 3 and Skye reports from Yehuda's collection room. It is a big 75th 'Chive Cast that "Gargan Largans" its way through foreign variations, 48-Bs, has a knock-down-throw-down MarketWatch, a bunch of haikus, unloved Switcheroos, room sales, Peeping Tom droids, first shots, mock-ups, Diet Pepsi holders and two performances from Kenner Vintage Commercial Players. One last episode before the onslaught of Return of the Jedi characters start their reign on the Vintage Pod.


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Image Sources and Show Note Links:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Resculpt Redux

Ron writes:

Back here I wrote about repurposed action figure sculpts -- that is, sculpts for action figures in the vintage line that were reworked into sculpts for later figures. I also asked readers to speculate as to which figures might have been reworked.

The best suggestion came from our friend Bruce White: He believes that Princess Leia in her Bespin gown was created over the wax sculpt for the original Leia figure. I've long suspected the same, but Bruce's photos and observations are too good not to share.

As the above photo attests, the poses of the two figures are very similar. The similarity is most evident in the hands and arms.

In fact, the arms of the original and Bespin Leia figures are so similar that it's hard to believe they aren't related in some intimate way.

The similarity extends to the figures' shoulders. That long crease extending down from the top of Leia Bespin's left shoulder looks to be an amplification of a much subtler crease that is present on the corresponding area of the original figure.

Nerdlinger that you are, you've no doubt stared at the breasts of these figures on countless occasions, all the while wishing that AFA could grade your innermost fantasies, sealing them tightly in a box designed to keep out reality.

But while doing so, did you notice that the exact same crease traverses the cleavage area of both figures? If we're right about what happened here, the other creases adorning the torso of the original Leia figure were smoothed out during the sculpting of Leia Bespin, leaving that one horizontal boob valley as evidence of a potential common origin.

The details of the figures' waists are quite different; however, I think it's easy to see how a sculptor might have developed one from the other. Hints of the long creases that decorate the later figure are evident below the waist of the earlier one.

In examining photos of the original wax sculpt, which you can read about here, Bruce's sharp eyes noticed that the wax on the inner thigh of the Bespin figure is colored differently from the surrounding wax. Though it's hard to determine whether this apparent modification dates from the revising of the original Leia sculpt or a later revision, it's an interesting detail that speaks to the continual manner in which these pieces were resculpted.

Bruce even has a theory regarding the missing arms of the Leia Bespin sculpt: He thinks they may have been reworked into arms for Leia Boussh.

Sculpted garments aside, it's hard to deny the similarity.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Parade of Premiums: Star Wars in the Big Easy

Ron writes:

Our friend Yehuda Kleinman has more Mardis Gras collectibles that anyone I know. Since I am mostly ignorant of this stuff, I asked him to write an overview for the blog. I may not be able to tell a doubloon from a macaroon, but Yehuda certainly can, and here he is to tell you all about it.

Yehuda writes:

New Orleans, Louisiana never misses a chance to have a good time.

No matter what time of year or what occasion there is always an opportunity for a parade and a celebration. The frequent parades occur in honor of memorable occasions or holidays. The well-orchestrated parades, which are usually along specific routes, consist caravans of multiple floats and trucks, all of them heavily decorated in accordance with various themes.

The annual culmination of all celebration occurs at the Mardi Gras parades, which originate from the city's rich French heritage.

The parades are organized by well-established Krewes, each of which makes its own float, often based on a theme. Throughout the years themes have tended to reflect the social interests and personalities of the time.

Fortunately, New Orleans also understands that swag is a must at any celebration! And the swag often reflects those same themes!

Historically, the various Krewes have given out tokens to parade-goers. The Krewes create the tokens to celebrate the Mardis Gras parades and the post-parade private events held by the individual Krewes. 

The most well-known tokens thrown at New Orleans celebrations are strands of multicolored beads. They can be seen by the thousands lining the routes of the parades, trapped in the branches of the trees lining the paths which the parades follow.

Anyone who attends a parade can easily go home with as many strands of beads as he or she can carry. Some beads are even designed with a Star Wars bent.

R2-D2 beads dating from 2002

However, the more fortunate parade-goer will come home with the more impressive "doubloons" that are distributed at Mardi Gras. The doubloons are coins, typically of the same circumference as a Spanish doubloon. Their size is also reminiscent of the American silver dollar, poker chips, and vintage Kenner collector coins!

Krewe members throw the doubloons from the parade floats as well as hand them out as they walk among the parade goers.

The doubloons themselves are made out of varying types of metal and can be found in multiple colors and variations. The vast majority are struck from aluminum, many by Osborne Coinage, the outfit that, in 1985, struck approximately half of Kenner's Star Wars collector coins. The doubloons can also be found in a variety of colors, created by anodizing the aluminum. The most common color is silver, though may were anodized into purple, green, and gold variants -- the signature colors of Mardi Gras. Rarer are those doubloons anodized in red or blue. Some even feature multiple colors. Doubloons that are made out of metals of heavier gauge are known as "heavies." Still others are made of metals such as pewter, bronze, and even pure silver.

The design used for the doubloon typically also appears on a badge, which is the same size as the doubloon and has a small ring at the top, allowing the badge to be worn on a ribbon.

The aluminum doubloons are the type that are most often thrown from floats and given out at parades. The variants made from finer metals are usually given out at the balls and private Krewe celebrations that take place after the parade. The badges, like the doubloons made from metals other than aluminum, are not distributed to the public; they are internal items reserved for the individual Krewes.

When Star Wars took the world by storm in 1977, its impact was reflected on the Mardi Gras doubloons. Many were created bearing Star Wars imagery on their reserve sides.

The earliest Mardi Gras doubloons to show a Star Wars influence were handed out in 1979. (The lag time between the movie's release and the appearance of the images on the Mardi Gras doubloons is consistent with the amount of time required to design and produce the doubloons.)

Aside from the very recent doubloons issued by garrisons of the 501st Legion, the most recent doubloon bearing Star Wars imagery dates to 2002.

The Star Wars imagery that appears on the reverse of the doubloon can constitute either a part of the design or the entire design. The designs reflecting current social themes often show a mix of characters from many entertainment genres on the same doubloon, making for interesting and eclectic images. In fact, one of the 1979 doubloons features both a representation of Mickey Mouse and an X-Wing fighter, likely the first time that Disney and Star Wars were seen together on the same product!

If that's not enough to discombobulate your licensing sensors, many doubloons commit the sin of mixing Star Wars and Star Trek imagery; some even pull in imagery from properties whose titles don't include the word "star," like the Transformers.

The doubloon designs vary from cartoonish mashups to very detailed and accurate portraits.

Below is a list of all of the Star Wars-themed Mardis Gras doubloons which I have confirmed or believe to exist. If anyone knows of any others, please feel free to mention them in the comments.


? - likely exists, but unconfirmed
a - aluminum uncolored
b - aluminum blue anodized
g - aluminum gold anodized
gr - aluminum green anodized
p - aluminum purple anodized
s - aluminum red anodized
os - aluminum with an antique oxidized silver finish
H - heavy (thick coin)
B - bronze
D - dual colored
M- multicolored
BA - badge
S - .999 silver


Year:          1979
Krewe:       Bards of Bohemia
Slogan:      "Conquerors All"
Star Wars:  Vader, full body, on left of side 1
Variations:  a, g, p, D, B, S

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1979
Krewe:      Mystic Stripers Society
Slogan:      Thursday Night at the Movies
Star Wars:  X-Wing featured along with King Kong, Mickey Mouse, etc. on side 1
Variations:  a, g(?), os(?), B(?), S(?)

Side 1 (Left) / Side 2 (Right)

Year:         1981
Krewe:      Truck No. 3
Slogan:      "Confused Couples Carnival Club"
Star Wars:  Satirical take on R2-D2 on side 1
Variations:  a, g, gr, p, B(?), M(?), S(?)

 Side 1:

Side 2:

Year:           1981
Krewe:       Janus
Slogan:       "In the Seventies"
Star Wars:  R2-D2 featured with and Richard Nixon and others on side 1
Variations:  g, b, BA, B(?), H(?), M(?), os(?), S(?)

 Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1982
Krewe:       Le Krewe Mystique de la Capitale
Slogan:       N/A
Star Wars:  X-Wing fighter and Death Star on side 1
Variations:  a, g, gr, p, r, S, H(?)

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:           1983
Krewe:        Janus
Slogan:       "35th Anniversary"
Star Wars:  R2-D2 featured on right of side 1
Variations:  g, gr, os, BA, B, S(?)

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1983
Krewe:       Krewe of Carroliton
Slogan:      "Cinema Classics"
Star Wars:  Star Wars mentioned on film strips along with other notable films on side 1
Variations:  a, g, gr, B, M, BA, Hg, Hb

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1986
Krewe:       Krewe of Houmas
Slogan:      "Space Fantasies"
Star Wars:  Yoda and R2-D2 featured with the Starship Enterprise on side 1
Variations:  g, gr, p, M, B(?), S(?)

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:         1986
Krewe:      The Krewe of Little Rascals
Slogan:      "Little Rascals Salute Space Adventures"
Star Wars:  R2-D2 on left beside Han Solo-like figure on side 1
Variations:  a, g, gr, p

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1986
Krewe:       Krewe of Mid-City New Orleans
Slogan:      "Space Fantasies"
Star Wars:  Yoda is featured beside Optimus Prime and the Starship Enterprise on side 1
Variations:  a, g, gr, p, os, B, M, S

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:          1992
Krewe:       Nereids
Slogan:       Nereids Cinema Classics
Star Wars:  Darth Vader with Rocky, Batman symbol, etc. on side 1
Variations:  g, gr, p, H(?)

Side 1:
Side 1 (Left) / Side 2  (Right)

Year:          2002
Krewe:       Krewe of Aladdin
Slogan:      "Movies of the 20th Century"
Star Wars:  R2-D2 featured along with Lawrence of Arabia, Moses, etc. on side 1
Variations:  a, g, Hg with M reverse

Side 1:
Side 2:

Year:         2015-2016
Krewe:      501st Bast Alpha Garrison
Slogan:      N/A
Star Wars:  Stormtrooper riding alligator on side 1
Variations: 2015 - a, 2016 - a

Side 1:
Side 2: