8th March 2008

Mike Armes’ ’70s Christmas Spectacular! (Part 6)

This is the final installment of our ongoing series:

Mike Armes

If you want to catch up on prior posts before reading this installment, you can do so here:

Past Installments of “Mike Armes’ ’70s Christmas Spectular”

The year is now 1979, and “The Hulk” is the hottest property in licensing. Kids clamor to capture the excitement of TV’s “The Incredible Hulk” (starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno), while manufacturers scramble to fill the market demand.

In today’s marketplace, such a popular TV show would create a financial windfall for the master license-holder; In 1979, that would have been Mego. However, licensing was much different back then, and Mego struggled against the undefined ‘rules of the game.’ With a Hulk toy license from Marvel (for four years running, back in ‘79), Mego should have been free to print their own money!

However, the relatively new world of licensed merchandise was rife with malleable, unclear rules. Non-exclusive contracts allowed multiple manufacturers to cash in on toys that Mego, alone, should have been free to produce and capitalize on.

I discuss the resultant issues, several times, in World’s Greatest Toys! including this snippet from the Hulk chapter of the book (page 180, for those reading along), followed by a scan of the cited page-spread:

Originally, Mego did not heavily promote Hulk in any country. Aside from Heroes World, mail order companies generally passed on the figure. Only JC Penney sold Hulk in their 1975 Christmas catalog, dropping him the following year. For the next few years, Mego produced the figure with lukewarm results. Once the TV show aired, things improved. During this period, Mego sub-licensed the character to Palitoy, who issued Hulk in the UK.

In America, Hulk grew wildly popular, and retailers scrambled to offer Hulk merchandise. Sears introduced Hulk in their 1979 TOYS catalog, carrying him over to the 1979 Christmas catalog. By that time, Montgomery Ward added Hulk to their Christmas catalogs, and JC Penney reintroduced the character. The following year, public interest sufficiently diminished to the point that only the JC Penney and Sears TOYS catalogs offered Hulk. In 1979, upstart Tara Toys produced the “Hulk Hideaway” playset exclusively for Sears, and Empire Toys produced the Hulk Van, both designed to fit Mego’s 8” Hulk. While Hulk was sporadically offered through mail order companies, no mailer boxed Hulk figures have surfaced.

Want to read more? Buy Mego 8″ Super-Heroes: World’s Greatest Toys! Just $32.97 (save 34%)

World's Greatest Toys!

The overwhelming success of ABC’s CBS’ “The Hulk” TV show is evidenced by a full page in the 1979 Sears Christmas catalog, which features a variety of Hulk merchandise. The centrepiece of the catalog page is the “Hulk Hideaway” playset, manufactured by Tara Toys. Also prominently displayed is Empire Toys‘ “Hulk Van.” Both toys were produced primarily for interaction with Mego’s 8″ Hulk, and other 8″ WGSH figures.

Today, comparatively small companies like Tara and Empire would not be allowed to produce ancillary toys that intermingle with the master license-holders’ products.

Can you imagine some upknown company producing a “Wayne Foundation” playset or “Bat-Boat” vehicle for Hasbro’s Batman: The Animated Series line, back in the ’90s?!

No friggin’ way!

But that’s exactly what happened to Mego, in 1979:

Sears

(Above: Hulk merchandise dominated the 1979 Sears Christmas catalog, including toys produced by Empire (the Hulk Van), Tara Toys (the Hulk Hideway playset) and Mego (the figures for which the aforementioned toys were produced))

Ever the arbiter of hot toy trends, Mike Armes and his little brother must have been on top of Tara Toys’ hot Christmas item, which was a Sears catalog exclusive in 1979, right?

Yep, they sure were:

Mike Armes

Way to go, Mike! Your parents are just about the coolest parents in the world!

This concludes our time-machine romp through the heart-warming Christmas’ of the 1970s. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the Armes family for this joyous experience.

Benjamin

Blog Credits and legal stuff: Images published by Benjamin Holcomb, Mike Armes, Mike Armes, Sr., Jeri Lyn Armes and TwoMorrows Publications. All rights reserved. Images may not be reprinted or published without prior written consent from the publishers.

posted in Acknowledgements, Book Status, Christmas Memories, Mego Memories, Mego Retailers, Mego World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Mike Armes, Sears, Vintage Toy Photos, World's Greatest Toys | 0 Comments

3rd March 2008

Mego Mailer Boxes: 1975 JC Penney Super-Gals

Among the different packaging styles Mego produced, I have a strange, particular fondness for the plain brown Mailer Boxes utilized by annual Christmas catalogs that retailers distributed throughout the 1970s.

Lacking graphics (beyond boring legal text and item numbers), these utilitarian boxes — designed for direct-to-consumer shipping — were typically discarded, rendering many of them rare and fascinating today. Mego’s factories wrapped each figure in a ‘wrinkly-crinkly’ plastic bag, and the bag is often more scarce than the shipping box itself.

I discuss these ephemeral, vintage collectibles in World’s Greatest Toys! Here’s a snippet from the book (page 52, for those reading along), followed by a scan of the cited page-spread:

In the years before online stores and shopping malls — before many stores maintained year-round toy aisles, even — mail order was a vital tool for manufacturers and retailers to reach consumers. Each year, stores like Sears and Montgomery Ward offered giant, product-filled Christmas catalogs, a source of tremendous joy for children of the 1970s; Kids spent countless hours poring through each catalog’s toy section, circling items on dog-eared pages and compiling a Wish List for Santa.

Mego did a lot of business with catalog-producing retailers, called “catalog houses” by Mego staff. The business was cutthroat, each seeking an exclusive Mego item, such as the Secret Identities and Isis, to differentiate them from the competition.

Linda McNett, administrative assistant to Mego vice president Neal Kublan, recalled the push-and-pull of negotiating catalog placement. “The catalog houses liked their special items, because they were more profitable than a non-special item,” she explained. “Mego could offer them a ‘different’ product with a different stock number, [allowing the retailer to] avoid the legal problems of offering special deals on the same item to select customers.”

Want to read more? Buy Mego 8″ Super-Heroes: World’s Greatest Toys! Just $32.97 (save 34%)

World's Greatest Toys!

While staple characters like Superman, Batman, Robin and Spider-Man benefited from consistent Christmas catalog inclusion (1973-1981), the four Super-Gals (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl and Catwoman) were less fortunate in garnering the massive exposure these Christmas catalogs provided.

For example, Supergirl was never once offered in any major U.S. retailer’s Christmas catalog! It’s unlikely Supergirl was offered in catalogs other than Heroes World and the “Captain Company” mail-order ads that appear within the pages of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and related magazines.

The other three Super-Gals fared nominally better. Wonder Woman was available through JC Penney (in 1974 and 1975), Aldens (in 1974) and Montgomery Ward (in 1975). Catwoman was available through JC Penney (in 1974 and 1975), Sears Canada (in 1974) and Montgomery Ward (in 1974). Batgirl was granted slightly more exposure than the others, as JC Penney offered the figure in 1974, 1975 and 1976, while Aldens also offered the figure in 1974 (incidentally, a prototype Batgirl figure is depicted in that particular catalog).

1975 was a banner year for Mego and the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. The line was at its peak in popularity, and retailers fell over themselves promoting the line.

JC Penney

(Above: 1975 JC Penney Mego Super-Heroes Christmas catalog page)

In this magic moment (1975), some retailers willingly promoted new, unproven Mego offerings such as the “Fist-Fighters” and two of the six “3rd Wave” Heroes (Hulk and Falcon). Even the Super-Gals got the attention they deserve. Well, most of ‘em, anyway:

JC Penney

(Above: detail of 1975 JC Penney Mego Super-Heroes Christmas catalog page)

The figures look so immaculate in catalogs! Every once in a while, these gems appear on the market, and a handful of collectors, like myself, beat each other up trying to acquire them… gems like the Super-Gals figures pictured below — all from the aforementioned 1975 JC Penney catalog — that were auctioned on eBay (Catwoman in 2005, Wonder Woman and Batgirl in 2006).

Super-Gals

Oh, I miss childhood!

I love this packaging style because it is tied to such vivid, happy memories of my youth. If you have any Mego Mailer Boxes you wish to sell, please Email me. I’m always looking to buy, and I pay top dollar.

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments on the Mego Museum message board (NB: links to a specific thread about this subject). If you’re not already a member of the Mego Museum, now is the perfect time to join!

I have more great blogs lined up for the near future. Until then, I’ll see you on the boards!

Benjamin

Blog Credits and legal stuff: Images published by Benjamin Holcomb and TwoMorrows Publications. All rights reserved. Images may not be reprinted or published without prior written consent from the publishers.

posted in Aldens, Batgirl, Captain Company/Warren Publications, Catwoman, Heroes World, JC Penney, Mailer Boxes, Mego Corporation, Mego Memories, Mego Packaging, Mego Retailers, Mego World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Montgomery Ward, Sears, Super-Gals, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, World's Greatest Toys | Comments Off

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