In December of 1977 Scholastic News Explorer featured R2-D2 on the cover of their holiday shopping issue.
Because, duh, everyone wanted Star Wars for the holidays in 1977.
The problem was that there wasn't a whole lot available.
|Would a Star Wars watch be an "in" item?|
The centerfold of the publication features a photo showing products like posters, t-shirts, and records. Beside these are three items that might be considered toys. These are the Escape from Death Star board game, a Dip Dots painting set, and a couple of puzzles. All of them were produced by Kenner, the Cincinnati-based company that had the license to produce Star Wars toys and games.
As everyone knows, by not producing toys for Christmas in 1977, Kenner totally dropped the ball, screwed the pooch, bent the wookiee, etc.
I debunked this idea back in this article. I think I did an okay job. Regardless, everyone still knows this totally wrong thing. People will probably know it forever. Kenner screwed up! At the very least they were guilty of "poor planning."
In reality, Kenner didn't become an official licensee until right before Star Wars hit theaters in May of 1977. Plastic toys take about a year to develop, produce, and deliver to store shelves. Therefore, action figures in the fall 1977 were not a viable option.
This situation was reported at the time. Here's the "Desert Sun" of December 19, 1977:
Kenner Products, Cincinnati-based and a division of the General Mills Fun Group, markets these goodies that proliferate under Christmas trees. A marketing coup, to be sure. But the same company says it will not have ready for Christmas another line of toys to which it has exclusive rights -- "Star Wars."
Licensing agreements were not completed until last April. Products won't be on store shelves until early next year, and disappointed shoppers hoping to pick up such figures as Leia Organa, Chewbaca, Artoo-Detoo and Luke Skywalker will have to settle for a certificate. A "Star Wars" Early Bird Certificate.
Released recently to some stores, it includes a full-color, stand-up backdrop showing the movie's characters, a membership card in the "Star Wars" club, "Star Wars" stickers and a certificate.
The latter, when mailed directly to Kenner, reserves the four "Star Wars" action figures.
"It takes a full year to make the authentic toy characters and spaceship, and we'd rather do it right and do it late." a company spokesman said, explaining the post-Christmas delay.
One of the hottest-selling toys this Christmas may not be a toy at all, but the promise of one. The Kenner Products division of General Mills Inc. has a winner with its Star Wars line of toys.
The only problem is that the company does not have a single Star Wars figurine on the market. Instead of Luke Skywalker and his light saber, Princess Leia Organa with a star puffs hairdo and removable cape, Chewbacca and his laser rifle and ammunition belt and the lovable R2-D2, Kenner is selling a certificate costing up to $15, guaranteeing delivery of all four before next spring. And the certificates are sold out.
As for the toys themselves, "We got the license last May and began production right away," a Kenner spokesman said, "but most toys take 12 to 15 months to develop."
Kenner's production-supply problem has bewildered shoppers. Not only do they not get a toy, but in many cases they cannot even get the certificates. In major centers like Chicago and New York, the certificates are sold out. And some stores, which question the use of certificates for toys, refused to carry them."We sell toys, not promises," said one New York toy store.
I need to pause here to express my admiration for New York's "toys not promises" guy, who is clearly immune to anything resembling holiday spirit.
You know what Christmas-hating fictional character he reminds me of?
No, not the Grinch.
|The Burgermeister Meisterburger|
Of course, the promise to which our New York Burgermeister referred was Kenner's famous Early Bird Certificate Package, a stopgap product released by Kenner for the 1977 holiday season. I'm not going to waste your time explaining what it was. Click the preceding link, or just reread the above newspaper extracts. Sheesh.
But some stores were just fine with the prospect of selling promises rather than toys. The above ad, from the Cincinnati-based Shillito's, spotlights the Early Bird Certificate as well as two other early Kenner products (more on those in a bit).
|Dip dots, man, dip dots. Dip dots, yo.|
- Early Bird Certificate Package
- Dip Dots
- 140-piece puzzles (x2)
- 500-piece puzzles (x2)
- Escape from Death Star Board Game
* * *
So those were the products. What about the marketing?
|A Children's Palace advertisement from November 1977|
If you're Kenner circa 1977, and you find yourself sitting on the biggest license in toy manufacturing history, you want to make damn sure people know that your products have arrived and are available for holiday purchasing.
The slogan Kenner chose for this purpose was simple: "Star Wars is Here."
This large sign, consisting of two separate panels, is part of a display that was issued bearing just that slogan.
For years collectors were uncertain of this sign's usage. It was thought to consist of four panels in total, the two seen above connected to two identical panels, which were capable of being folded into a four-sided cube shape.
A cube is a pretty odd format for a store display, though. Maybe it was the outer portion of a product dump?
- I'm wrong that it was issued in late 1977.
- The instructions were designed in expectation of 1978 releases.
- The instructions were redone in 1978 when new products were released. (I have no doubt that this display remained in use well into 1978.)
I feel confident identifying the latter as Kenner-branded Factors standees, as discussed here.
Because of the existence of items like the one you see here: a Factors commercial poster branded with a Kenner sticker -- the same sticker used on the standees.
So far only a couple of these Kenner-branded posters have surfaced, and it took me years to find one, but I'm pretty sure they represent the final component of the "promotional kit."
Whether the kit existed or was just a proposal is open to debate, but I think the existence of the items proposed for it is a good indication that it, or something like it, was in fact released.
An additional data point: A few years ago, the above box surfaced. It contained unused examples of the Kenner-branded C-3PO and R2-D2 standees. It's impossible to know what other items were originally in the box, but it's not out of the question that it contained all of the items shown in the art for the "in-store promotional kit."
As this photo demonstrates, the box is just large enough to accommodate a folded-down Star Wars is Here sign.
Again: read more about it here.
A different box containing Kenner-branded examples of all four Factors standees -- C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca -- is also known to exist. How it relates to the box you see above is at this point anyone's guess.
Here's another internal Kenner image showing what appear to be the Factors standees in front of a graphical backdrop. The interesting thing about the backdrop is that it combines elements of the Toy Galaxy and Star Wars is Here signs. It's almost as though this idea evolved into the two separate pieces of signage.
Here you see a shot of the interior of a store called Foley's. Although the photo dates to December of 1978, a full year after the period under discussion, you can see all of the display items proposed for the "in-store promotional kit," including a Factors poster that appears to be branded with a Kenner sticker in its lower right corner. As Star Wars product was consistently popular during this era, it wasn't uncommon for Kenner's displays to remain in use for a year or more following initial issue.
* * *
I started the previous portion of our discussion by talking up the "Star Wars is Here" slogan, but then we got a little sidetracked.
The slogan did appear on at least one other display item released late in 1977, a rare item related to the Early Bird Certificate.
Only a few examples of the Early Bird pole display are known to exist. The display bin designed to hold the actual Early Bird envelopes is much more familiar to collectors.
As the instructions demonstrate, it, like the Toy Galaxy pole display, was designed to fold around a cardboard tube.
Here's an unassembled view.
The New York Burgermeister quoted at the start of this article would probably pooh-pooh this display, as it advertises a mere promise rather than a purchasable toy, but I think we can all agree that it's a pretty attractive display.
And besides, what's wrong with promises?