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Tag Archive: Etch a Sketch


Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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1959.  A gallon of gas cost a quarter.  Movie tickets were a dollar and color was replacing black and white film.  You could buy a new car for $2,000.  In technology the Soviets beat the United States to the Moon, with a hitch, crashing their Luna 2 spacecraft into the lunar surface.  The U.S. selected seven astronauts for their Mercury space program.  Xerox began selling copiers to companies, IBM made headway with its mainframe computer, and Jack Kilby invented the microchip.  Kids first began playing with Play-doh, Etch-a-Sketch, and Barbie dolls.  On one end of the country The Sound of Music opened on Broadway and everywhere music fans faced the day the music died.  The world first witnessed The Twilight Zone.  The gray flannel suit defined the businessman.  And in 1959 the great filmmaker Billy Wilder produced and directed his own screenplay and the film would become the best reviewed comedy of all time, pegging the number one spot on the American Film Institute’s registry of best American comedies.  The film was Some Like It Hot.  And it’s back in theaters this weekend for a limited release.

Some Like It Hot has it all.  Marilyn Monroe in arguably her best performance.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon only at the beginning of their long and distinguished careers.  The movie doesn’t take place in 1959–it is set 30 years earlier in the heyday of speakeasies and Depression era mobs.  Tony Curtis is Joe, a ladies’ man and gambler–the sax player.  Jack Lemmon is Jerry, a straight arrow–the double-bass player.  They play in a band in a speakeasy (disguised as a funeral home) run by mob boss “Spats” Colombo (George Raft).  When Joe and Jerry accidentally witness a Valentine’s Day massacre-inspired mob hit, they must go on the run.  They find an all-female band heading to Miami via train and disguise themselves as the original bosom buddies, Josephine and Daphne, befriending the band’s gorgeous and upbeat lead singer and ukulele player, Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe.  That’s where the laughs begin, and a back-up cast of classic Hollywood staples, including Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown, fill in the gaps.

    

Despite the popularity of color film, Wilder shot Some Like It Hot in a steamy black and white.  Wilder had already directed Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, so the pairing was an obvious fit.  Wilder and Lemmon would start a partnership that lasted until 1981.  Wilder was the true King of Comedy.  He worked on nothing but hit movies over the course of his career–serious stuff like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, The Spirit of St. Louis, and Witness for the Prosecution, in addition to comedies including Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, Ocean’s 11, Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, and Casino Royale.

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Play Doh SW

Some toys are timeless.  Once upon a time I or one of my siblings received every single gift on this list under the Christmas tree, and we got hours and hours of use out of these.  Some bring out the creative in us.  Some are just plain fun.  But all of them are classics, and we’re lucky that, with a little effort we can still find each of them, if not under the original brand name, then re-marketed but containing the full spirit of the original.  Check these out, listed in no particular order, with links to the quickest way to find these for your gift giving list via Amazon.com.

Viewmaster

View-Master — If you’re not interested in recently available subject matter reels for this classic 3D image camera, then go to any antique sale in any town and you’ll likely find boxes of the old packets of three reels, ranging in subjects anywhere from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, to the Apollo Moon Landing to The Six Million Dollar Man TV series to every travel destination on Earth.  All you need is a basic viewer.  We picked up an original Sawyer’s black 1939 camera on a visit to the birthplace of the View-Master, Portland, Oregon, and it works the same as the classic 1970s red one you remember.  The same mechanism still runs today’s viewers.  Just grab yourself (or that person on your gift list) some reels and get started.

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