TOYHEM: Sometimes the most basic toys are ones you love the best…

Welcome to TOYHEM! For the fourth straight holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan


Louis Marx and Co. crafted so many great toys for kids throughout its 61-year history, but one of my favorites of their lines is the 6-inch plastic figures they made from the early 1960s up to the early 1970s.

They’re static and feature no paint details, but the line included several diverse themes, some of them even licensed characters. In all, a kid was sure to find something they really liked: cowboys, Indians, superheroes, soldiers, astronauts, spies, and more. It’s for that very reason I love them now and collect them whenever I come across the figures “in the wild.”

I picked out 13 of my favorites from among the ones I own. The hunt goes on, though, and I hope to find many, many more in my travels.

Enjoy a glimpse into a past when a plastic figure didn’t have to move and sport accessories—they just had to look cool!

In no particular order:

The Frankenstein Monster. One of six Universal Monsters licensed by Marx. Other collectors tell me he’s based on the Glenn Strange Monster, but I feel I see a lot of Lon Chaney Jr. from Ghost of Frankenstein in him.

Astronaut. This is one of the ones I had as a kid. I was a complete Apollo program junkie back then, and still am. True story: I used to pretend he had a laser beam cannon instead of a camera.

Indian Chief. The Indian series was handled well, considering the times in which they were made. I love the majesty of this chief, one hand holding the tools of war and the other raised in a gesture of greeting and peace.

German Soldier. This machine gunner has such a great running pose with a lot of good detail on his uniform and equipment.

Illya Kuryakin. I think actor David McCallum really comes through on this licensed Man from U.N.C.L.E. figure, along with his accurate U.N.C.L.E. Special gun.

Caveman. Marx’s cavemen series was pretty much the one that got me into modern collecting of the figures. I dig this one because he reminds me of my Aurora Prehistoric Scenes Neanderthal model kit, which had a similar pose of a small boulder held up over the head.

Japanese Officer. Like the Indian figures, I think the Japanese soldiers in the line were handled fairly well for the era in which they were made. I like the feeling of being able to hear this guy barking out orders to his men.

American Soldier. One of my most favorite of all the different Marx soldier figures. I think this one’s dynamism is just fantastic.

Secret Agent. So, in addition to Man from U.N.C.L.E. figures Marx produced a set of generic secret agent men. The pose on this one intrigues me—he’s actually checking his watch, presumably to call in the detonation of explosives, or maybe even to give the go-ahead on an assassination.

Cowboy. Another of my huge favorites in the line, despite the morbidity. I give all credit to Marx for designing a cowboy being shot—just look at the falling gun, the rolling hat, and the incredible look of anguish on his face. He even has an exit wound on his back!

Spider-Man. Another one I had as a kid. He’s very comic accurate, despite the fact that he seems to have no lenses in his mask, and we can see his eyes. It’s an interesting deviation from the source material, but there was so much crazy stuff like that in ’60s and ’70s superhero toys.

Knight. Funny story: I bought one of these a year or so ago and then a few months later found another one. The difference between the two was that this one had his loose helmet faceplate intact. I had no idea when I got my first one that there was anything missing!

Russian Soldier. Oh, this one… the pistol, the grenade, the amazing pose, that look on his face. Sheer poetry in plastic.


— The Complete TOYHEM INDEX of Stories and Features. Click here.

— Dig These 13 COOL VINTAGE GI JOE Figures. Click here.

JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.

Check out his latest releases: Rising Sun Reruns, about classic Japanese shows on American TV; a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting; his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World; and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season OneBiff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.

He’s also published novels about a character very much like GI Joe: DC Jones – Adventure Command International.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. As a kid I had all six of the Marvel characters in what I believe is the original silver/grey color scheme.

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  2. I hadn’t realized it before, but I had found Illya Kuryakin ( think actor David McCallum) for a time. I used to park him on top of our record player, and shift way down to 33 rpm or slower so that he would make a slow circuit around the spindle…and “walk” in front of a goose-neck lamp to project his shadow onto the wall and window shade. I remember seeing this done in an episode of Man from UNCLE to draw an assassin’s fire, and it worked. Though I always looked for Napoleon Solo and Mr. Waverly, I NEVER found any more of these. The Astronaut looks familiar though…

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    • Kirk, ultra-wonderful memory. So cool. I actually found a Solo a few days ago in an antique mall in Powell, Ohio, but passed on him because he was somewhat damaged and he was being sold as a pair with an Illya.

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  3. Jim, do you have any painted versions? I’ve see pictures of the Marvel heroes painted over the years.

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  4. Would’ve loved to have seen DC versions of figures.

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  5. Totally missed that there was an U.N.C.L.E. set, cool to see the Illya. Also had never seen the just-shot cowboy. But my all-time favorite Marx character figure will forever be Roy Rogers.

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