Sunday, December 29, 2019

'Chive Cast 103 - Rise of Skywalker Vintage Winners & Losers

What vintage Star Wars toys saw their stock rise thanks to The Rise of Skywalker? Which ones saw them fall? What do Skye and Steve think of the movie? Lots of passionate thoughts and insightful insights! Skye is at his most obnoxious while Steve basically persuades him to soften or change virtually EVERY one of his angry takes!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 13 - Early Yoda Toys (Plus Mandalorian Vintage Winners & Losers)

First Skye and Steve break down the Vintage "Winners and Losers" of The Mandalorian. You won't believe the #1 Loser! Then Ron joins to discuss the Yoda Drought of 1980 and early Yoda prototypes. Seriously awesome information!

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00:54 – Intro
02:50 – Fancy Steve Goes to the Movies
04:38 – Skye's Big Time 501st Buddy
08:15 – Mandalorian Thoughts  (We all win when Vintage toys smash!)
13:15 – Neal Scanlan is the Devil
14:46 – We need Rian and Filoni

- MANDALORIAN Winners and Losers -

16:30 – Number 5 Loser (Bib)
17:13 – Number 5 Winner (R5)
17:56 – Number 4 Loser (Power Droid)
18:35 – Number 4 Winner (Jawa and the Land of the Jawas)
19:34 – Number 3 Loser (Jabba's Goons) and Last Jedi Discussion
23:04 – Number 3 Winner (EV-9D9) and the Toy Box Discussion
24:42 – Number 2 Loser (Bossk)
26:38 – Number 1 Loser (???)
27:10 – Number 1 Winner (Ugnaught)
28:52 – Soundtrack Length Talk
31:05 – Baby Yoda Talk

- RON -

35:00 – Ron joins the show
38:58 – Yoda joins the action figure line! (31-back and 32-back Timeline)
43:01 – Jar Jar was the new Yoda
47:08 – Finding the Yoda Sculpt with Fluffy!
51:09 – Gimer Stick: A Star Wars Story
53:53 – The Yoda Puppet
1:07:19 – Internal Kenner Plan-o-gram Shot
1:10:13 – Porg vs. Baby Yoda, Skye vs. Mall
1:12:12 – Mervyn's Commercial
1:13:50 – Thanks Mortimer, and Goodbye!


Monday, December 16, 2019

Get a Holda Yoda: Baby Yoda & the Great Yoda Drought of '80

The Baby Yoda that's supposedly coming sometime next year.

 Ron writes:

 How hard are you crying right now because you can't buy Baby Yoda* toys?

 Admit it: you love Baby Yoda so much that you haven't even noticed that he's a rip-off of Gizmo from Gremlins.

Well, you've noticed; it's pretty hard not to notice. But you've made an agreement with the discriminating part of your conscience to accept it and move on.

It's similar to the agreement you and your conscience have worked out regarding the titular character of The Mandalorian. Both you and your conscience know that he's just the Diet Coke version of Boba Fett, but you're gonna ignore that and act like you're seeing something really novel. If this show was called Boba Fett, and featured Boba Fett, it'd be the same darn show, and you'd love it just as much as you love The Mandalorian. Perhaps you'd love it more, because you have Boba Fett Underoos.

Mind you, this is all just my personal opinion and not an attempt to critique your fandom. I, too, am keeping up with the show, but only because I like Apollo Creed.

Anyway, The Mandalorian has been streaming for several weeks, but there are no Baby Yoda toys. Apparently there won't be any Baby Yoda toys until May of next year, no matter how hard you cry.

The situation has been compared to the one that prevailed in the fall and winter of 1977, when there were no Star Wars toys available to the movie's rabid fanbase. As explained here, toy licensee Kenner had jumped onto the Star Wars bandwagon only a month or two prior to the movie's release. Since it takes about a year to bring plastic toys to market, consumers were forced to wait until spring of 1978 to buy plastic Star Wars toys.

But I think there's a better analog to the Great Baby Yoda Drought of '19.

That would be the Great Adult Yoda Drought of '80.

That's right: in May of 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was released, there were no Yoda toys on store shelves. Hoping to keep the character secret, Lucasfilm imposed an embargo on the little guy, which prevented his use in publicity and merchandising.

If you're thinking, "Gee, I didn't know that," you're not giving yourself enough credit. Of course you knew that. The Yoda delay is the reason there are 31-back and 32-back blister cards.

The 31-back blister card.

The first ESB blister card featured 31 figures on its reverse, none of which were Yoda. This card debuted in the spring of 1980, just as Empire was hitting theaters.

From Kenner's perspective, this must have been something of a bummer. Yoda was surely the most marketable character in the movie!

Fortunately, the Yoda action figure was in the hopper; by late summer, it was in stores, ready to be purchased for Christmas. Of course, this necessitated a blister-card change, resulting in the 32-back blister card, which showed Yoda tucked -- somewhat amusingly -- into the available space in the upper left corner.

The 32-back blister card.

Kenner was certainly conscious of Yoda's appeal.

In this fall 1980 edition of a company newsletter, trumpeting the early success of their Empire line, Kenner gave pride of place to Yoda, at that time their newest action figure. The key portion reads:

The biggest item is probably the smallest toy ever to sweep the toy industry. It's barely two inches tall, but with the potential impact of a giant. We speak, of course, of the newest mini figure to add to your collection. He's Yoda, the 800 year old Jedi master to whom Luke goes to learn all the secrets of the Force. The 26 inch Muppet with the curious speech, the expressive eyes, and those incredible ears was an instant hero, and Kenner was right there to answer the demand for Yoda.

Geez, ease up on the coffee, Mortimer.

But you can sort of understand the excitement. Kenner was gonna sell the heck out of Yoda!

Because the Yoda action figure wasn't featured in Kenner's 1980 Toy Fair catalog, this sales sheet -- basically a one-page supplement to the catalog -- was issued to retailers to ensure their awareness of the impending release of Yoda.

In order to meet demand, cases of Yoda were available to interested retailers, each packed solid with 24 Yoda figures. It was a lucky kid who walked into his local department store and was greeted with a wall of freshly unpacked Yodas!

Likely intending to offset the figure's slight stature with added value, Kenner gave Yoda a softgoods robe and three accessories. At the time of its release, it was the most complex action figure in the line.

(By the way, the Yoda figure pictured in this sales sheet, as well as on the Kenner newsletter, is likely the hardcopy prototype seen here.)

This ad, from retailer Mervyn's, shows that the Yoda action figure was available by late July.

Kenner was fortunate to have begun work on the Yoda figure in 1979. Their early work paid off, allowing them to release the figure after the end of Lucasfilm's embargo but before the holiday shopping rush.

As were most of the figures in the vintage line, Yoda was sculpted in wax by Kenner's in-house craftsmen. Each part -- six in all -- was lovingly detailed over many hours of work to yield the now-familiar figure -- surely one of the best in the line.

Fortunately, the sculpt still exists. That's it on the left side of the above photo. I'm sorry the quality of the photo isn't better. It was taken some time ago. Thanks to an anonymous friend of mine for allowing me to use it.

Unfortunately, this photo, taken by collector Chris Georgoulias, isn't much better. It's interesting, though. It shows the figure in the state in which it was found in the possession of a former sculptor. He took pretty good care of it, separately wrapping each piece in plastic.

Okay, so Kenner succeeded in getting the Yoda action figure to market for the 1980 holiday season. What other Yoda-related products did they serve up to a Yoda-starved public?


Where Yoda toys were concerned, the action figure was the only game in town. Additional Yoda toys wouldn't hit until 1981.

I think it's fair to speculate that Kenner was probably a little surprised by the popularity of Yoda. As I wrote a few weeks ago, The Empire Strikes Back was far from a guaranteed success. And within this still-speculative blockbuster, Yoda was just a single character. An unknown character, too -- a speculative character in a speculative blockbuster. Kenner had no way of knowing that Yoda would turn out to be, well, Yoda.

So in 1980 Kenner had to get to work. The mission: bring more Yoda stuff to market.

They succeeded: 1981 saw the release (or near-release) of several toys with a Yoda focus. I'm only going to deal with three of them here: the Yoda Hand Puppet, Yoda, the Jedi Master, and the notorious Talking Yoda.

Let's start with the Hand Puppet.

Judging by the number of Yoda Hand Puppets out there in loose collections, Kenner sold a lot of them. And it's easy to understand why: It was attractive, nicely sculpted, and large. In fact, it was so large that some collectors treat it as a de facto part of the large-size figure range.

Sculpting aside, the product's killer app was its flexibility. Because it was made of vinyl, a child could use his hand to bend it into a variety of poses. And by "variety" I mean exactly three poses -- the three you see highlighted in the above advertisement.

The toy has an interesting history. It appears to have started out as a product that combined a sewn cloth body with a vinyl head. A child whose hand was inserted into the body would be capable of manipulating the flexible vinyl mouth.

We know this because, around 20 years ago, the above prototype surfaced bearing a tag identifying it as a puppet.

The date on this quote sample is April of 1980.

Prior to that discovery, prototypes of this kind were thought to be early versions of the Talking Yoda toy, to be discussed a little later in this piece. It was quite a surprise when one turned up clearly labelled as a puppet.

Why the change to an all-vinyl Yoda Hand Puppet?

Short with his creation, circa 1981 (Used with the permission of Robert Short)

Evidence suggests that Kenner committed to the vinyl puppet, and abandoned the cloth version of the product, when Empire producer Gary Kurtz brought an all-latex prototype to the company. The prototype had been created by Lucasfilm employee Robert Short, who was at that time working on costumes and playing the part of C-3PO in television commercials.

The prototype as it appeared in 2014 (Used with the permission of Robert Short)

According to the details posted by Short on Facebook in 2014, he created the prototype "on a whim," Kurtz took note of it, and presented it to Kenner -- a very unusual series of events!

The puppet prototype as featured in an Australian advertisement.

Prior to Short's Facebook revelation, the prototype puppet was known only through a limited number of appearances in advertising materials. I would've bet good money that it had disintegrated or been thrown out years ago!

Yoda Hand Puppet at Toy Fair 1981.

When you think about it, Kenner's decision to abandon a multi-part product in favor of one that was comprised of an integrated sheath of vinyl made a lot of sense. Whereas the former necessitated a complicated production process, the latter could be pulled quickly out of molds such as the one seen here. Painting and hair rooting were the only secondary processes necessary to generate a finished product.

An unfinished example of the early puppet head.

And let's be honest: the cloth prototypes of the Puppet just plain looked weird. That head says "blowup doll" rather than "Jedi Master."

There's no mistaking the second Yoda figural product released in 1981 for anything but a Jedi Master -- it was even called Yoda, the Jedi Master.

For all intents and purposes it was a rip-off of the Magic 8-Ball toy, which had been providing children with bogus prophecies since 1950.

Believe it or not, Kenner's engineers reportedly had a huge amount of trouble getting the plastic die inside the product's liquid-filled cavity to function correctly. It was apparently a lot harder than you'd think to ensure that, when shaken, one of its sides would emerge flush against the clear plastic embedded in the toy's base.

Although the finished product boasted a very nice -- and very child-friendly -- sculpt, the early prototypes were rather crude. Above you see the product as it was featured in the 1981 catalog produced by the Australian Toltoys company. I know sculptors in kindergarten who would be ashamed of that.

At least one of these conceptual prototypes has surfaced over the years, though it wasn't painted.

Yoda, the Jedi Master featured in a November 1981 advertisement.

My general sense, based on familiarity with the collector market, is that the Yoda Hand Puppet sold well while Yoda, the Jedi Master did not. The former product is common while the latter is more scarce than you might think. Regardless, both were out of Kenner's product line come 1982.

That's a better run than the one enjoyed by the final product we'll be discussing. That product never made it into any Kenner product line.

I refer, of course, to Talking Yoda, one of the most famous of Kenner's unreleased Star Wars products.

This example lacks hair and has replica hands.

I think it's indisputable that, had it been released, Talking Yoda would have been the best Yoda toy available during the vintage years. It was large, it was cute, and it talked. The talking was accomplished with a traditional pull-string mechanism sewn into the toy's cloth body. It was designed to say eight phrases.

The pull-string Talking Yoda seems to have developed out of a concept that involved audio tapes and read-along stories. The idea was probably derived from Mego's 2-XL, then a popular product.

So why wasn't it made? We don't know for sure, but I think it's reasonable to assume that cost was a major factor in its cancellation. All things considered, the Yoda Hand Puppet and Yoda, the Jedi Master were fairly cheap to produce, and Talking Yoda wasn't. Ultimately, the better (but more expensive) toy was axed.

I had originally thought that Talking Yoda evolved into Yoda, the Jedi Master. After all, the latter toy sort of talks, though it does so via the die floating in its liquid innards rather than through speech.

You can almost understand how, through the quasi-Darwinian agency of cost-cutting, a pull-string talking doll might develop into a figure that provides mute fortunes.

But the above photo proved to me that all three of the 1981 Yoda toys were planned for a concurrent release. The photo clearly shows the Yoda Hand Puppet, Talking Yoda, and Yoda, the Jedi Master displayed within inches of each other on a plan-o-gram setup.

I don't think this shot, which shows some prototype displays as well as a never-released ESB version of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, derives from Toy Fair. It doesn't match known Toy Fair setups from 1981. Also, as far as I know, Talking Yoda wasn't shown at Toy Fair in 1981. It's more likely that it shows either a setup done internally within Kenner or some other industry show.

Well, I hope this article has eased your mind and convinced you that you aren't the first person to eagerly await the arrival of Yoda toys. Take deep breaths and focus. You have only a few months to wait for Baby Yoda. In the meantime, go play with a porg.

*As all real Star Wars fans know, the proper name is Baby Yoda, and anyone who calls it The Child is obviously far too willing to subscribe to fake news and conspiracy theories.

Monday, November 25, 2019

'Chive Cast 102 - Nien Nunb: Revenge of Old Flapjacks

Lando's halibut-faced co-pilot takes center stage in this month's show as Skye and Steve return to the silver mic once again. Broc Walker comes on to talk Nien Nunb hardcopies, Toltoys, Sweepstakes fever, proofs and Coca-Cola tumblers. This episode features the great 2010 Hardcopy Auction and outlines how a first shot went from Toy Shop to Broc. Plus an EPIC MarketWatch game that proves that James Brown is better than Prince on the next Vintage Pod.

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00:00 – Intro
02:29 – The Havens Interview fallout
07:09 – Skye and Steve's personal lives and the show
14:40 – Muppet, Language, Racist, Labia (Very Diverse Nien Nunb Thoughts)
30:07 – Skye-Ku
32:35 – Vintage Vocab: ROTJ 48 Backs
41:54 – Australian and Canadian Nien Nunb
46:36 – Kenner Commercial Break
50:42 – What if you wanted to collect ALL carded figures with Nien Nunb on it?
53:05 – Broc joins the Show
54:08 – Nugget from the Archive (2010 Hardcopy Auction Story)
1:00:30 – First Shot: From Toy Shop to Broc
1:03:54 – Revenge of the Jedi Mock-Up Proof Card
1:07:43 – The ROTJ Kenner Sweepstakes
1:19:41 – Unloved Item (Coca-Cola Tumbler)
1:23:05 – Super MarketWatch Game: Prince v. James Brown
1:35:58 – Baseball Talk
1:45:03 – Outro

Image Sources and Show Note Links:

Monday, November 18, 2019

This Time Kenner is Ready: Tracking Empire's Release Through Advertising

Ron writes:

 Below you see an advertisement, dated May 4, 1978, that announces the debut in stores of Kenner's Star Wars action figures and related toys. On that date, if you were a kid in the St. Louis area (the ad is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), you could run to Target and buy one of the first nine action figures -- if, that is, any remained in stock.

Why spring of 1978 rather than spring of 1977, when Star Wars premiered in theaters?

Well, as most nerdlingers know, fans of the first entry in the Star Wars franchise were forced to wait nearly a year, reckoned from the premiere of the film, to buy action figures toys based on the movie. It's not that Kenner was unprepared. The mid-sized Cincinnati company had only signed on as a licensee in spring of 1977, just prior to the film's release. Once Star Wars proved a massive hit, Kenner's nose was forced to the grindstone. The mission: get product onto store shelves as quickly as possible. Generally, it takes a year for a toy company to bring action figures to market. Kenner managed to shave more than a month off that schedule.

But the release of The Empire Strikes Back would have to be different. By then, May of 1980, Kenner would need to have a full range of new product on store shelves. A kid would need to be able to tromp out of his local movie theater, into the toy area of his favorite department store, and right up to the cash register, Empire Strikes Back product in hand.

 The big question: Would Empire deliver?

I'm sure Mattel was thrilled by the photo used to illustrate this piece.

According to this article, written by Clarence Petersen for the Chicago Tribune of May 4, 1980, retailers remained skeptical. So skeptical that an anonymous local toy buyer, surely a congenital grouch, is quoted as saying "We're not planning for a major push. Everyone is leery of space toys this year. Sales fell off in 1979, but no one knows what the new movie will do. The whole thing is up for grabs."

Sue Sandler, an editor at Toys, Hobbies, and Crafts, agreed, saying "There will be a lot of caution, at least until the movie comes out and they see how much money it's making in the first couple of weeks."

Kenner PR guy Dave DeMala was slightly more optimistic. "We've had a couple of people here see the movie," he said, "and they say it's absolutely spectacular."

Hey, Dave's a PR guy; he's paid to be optimistic.

But in the final words of his quote, I detect a hint of trepidation. "Goodness," he told Petersen, "I hope they're right."

Well, we should probably forgive Dave his doubts. At the time, no company had ever based a toy line on a film trilogy. Remember, prior to the Star Wars Trilogy, sequential storytelling in movies was just about unheard of. Would audiences follow a story across three films and six years? And would they continue to want licensed trinkets tied to those films?

In 1980, these were big questions.

But while we can forgive DeMala, others we cannot forgive. Among these is the unnamed Kenner spokesperson who referred to the upcoming Tauntaun toy as a kangaroo.

Kenner's biggest product roll-out of all time is at stake. There's a huge advertising budget. The whole company is striving to present the product in the best possible light. And this guy pitches the Tauntaun as "not a vehicle but, like, well, like a kangaroo." Nice.

As we all know, Dave's coworkers were right: Empire was spectacular. And when the movie finally hit theaters, accompanied in major markets by full-page newspaper ads like the one seen above (complete with space kangaroo), its box-office performance put the turbulent minds of toy buyers at ease. It was a hit rivaled in recent memory only by its predecessor.

Empire did so well in its early bookings that, by June 13, when Petersen's article was reprinted in Mississippi's Jackson Daily News, the skeptical comments had been edited out of it. So, for that matter, had the kangaroo.

The emphasis this time around was less on speculation regarding the movie's performance than on Kenner's ability to meet demand.

The gist of the piece can be boiled down to one line: "This time Kenner is ready."

Why, you ask, was Petersen's article re-run in Jackson, Mississippi, over a month after its debut in Chicago?

Well, the release of Empire was staggered. Although 70mm prints were released in key markets on May 21, 1980, many areas didn't get the movie until June 18. According to this helpful site, Empire didn't screen anywhere in Mississippi during the month of May. So the Jackson Daily News ran the story on June 13 in anticipation of the movie's local opening later that week.

Audiences in Memphis, Tennessee were luckier than those in Jackson, Mississippi: they got to see Empire right off the bat, and in nothing less than 70mm. This ad ran in the local Commercial Appeal on June 4, 1980, nearly two weeks after the movie opened at the Park Theater.

The ad combines a photographic image from Kenner's 1980 Toy Fair catalog with Kenner-supplied line art, a reproduction of Roger Kastel's art for the theatrical one-sheet poster, and some wonky hand-drawn imagery. It makes for a gloriously full-page impression.

In support of the movie (and in support of sales), the retailer responsible for the ad, Goldsmith's, offered a free record or coloring book to the first 100 shoppers who purchased an action figure. Not a bad deal! What's more, the department store ran a contest whose winners received four tickets to see Empire at the Park.

Chances are the folks who won those tickets had already seen the movie. But who's going to complain about seeing The Empire Strikes Back twice?

Audiences in the Los Angeles area had ample opportunity to see the movie on multiple occasions: Several theaters in Orange County had the movie as soon as it was available. The above ad, from the May Company, spotlights Kenner's toys and the bedding products produced by the Bibb company.

The sharp observer will noticed that May used a representation of MPC's model kit version of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter rather than Kenner's larger action figure toy. Oops.

Like Goldsmith's in Memphis, May offered free movie tickets to winners of a store-sponsored contest. They also offered something more special: personal appearances by Darth Vader and Boba Fett.

The latter is described as "wily," leading me to believe that more than a few kids walked into a May location demanding to be introduced to that fearsome intergalactic bounty hunter, Willy Boba Fett.

Hey, as names go, it's no stupider than Salacious B. Crumb.

Not to be outdone, the proprietors of Manhattan's Gimbels commanded their customers to "strike back with space-dream savings." Whatever those are.

Gotta love this young gangsta just flat-out mackin with his Star Wars comforter and large-size figures.

Interestingly, the ad, from the New York Times, dates from late June, when Empire had been in local theaters for about a month. Maybe special guests Darth Vader and Willy Boba Fett were delayed by their duties on the West Coast? The ad does say that they planned to travel to Gimbels through hyperspace...

Not to be outdone by their competitors in other parts of the country, Gimbels offered movie tickets to select customers. In this case, anyone who bought more than $5 worth of licensed merchandise received two passes for Empire.

In Milwaukee, the Boston Store followed Gimbels' lead by running its big Empire promotion about a month after the movie debuted locally at the Southtown Cinema (but just in time for the wider 35mm release).

Alas, Darth Vader and Willy Boba Fett didn't make it out to Wisconsin. I mean, would you?

This ad is similar to the others featured in this post in that it utilizes a reproduction of the Kastel one-sheet art and offers free movie tickets as a promotional tie-in. Also, it repeats the Goldsmith's offer of a free coloring book or record with the purchase of a toy.

It's cool to see the scarce retail version of the Action Display Stand featured so prominently.

But even cooler is the introductory text, which reads:
Once, a long time ago in a distant galaxy . . . the most popular entertainment idea in the history of man was born. It was a time of great war, great love, and great adventure. It was a time of STAR WARS.
Well, here we are nearly 40 years later and it's still a time of Star Wars.

When The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters next month, you probably won't be able to meet Darth Vader at your local department store, and you won't be able to see it in 70mm. Most of the old department stores have closed, and movies today are typically measured in pixels rather than millimeters. Shoot, you probably won't even be able to admire a full-page newspaper ad related to the movie, because who reads newspapers these days?

Happily, for those who are sentimental about such things, there are still toys -- for now, anyway.