Ten Years of PopCult
Friday was the tenth anniversary of The PopCult Blog, written by Rudy Panucci. Every hour, on the hour (sort of), we brought you one of our favorite posts from the preceding decade. When we got done, we decided to give you a few more, just for the hell of it. Enjoy!
In May, Mark Wolfe and I ran around town playing with action figures.
The PopCult Toybox
Johnny shoots up the State Capitol. Photo by Mark Wolfe
It’s time to mark a Golden Anniversary.
In 1965 The Louis Marx Toy Company introduced Johnny West to the world. Johnny was a 12-inch tall posable action figure who was a Cowboy. He was the first fully-articulated large-scale action figure that Marx made, predated a few months by Stony Smith, a soldier, and Daniel Boone. Neither of those first two figures were articulated below the shoulders, though.
Johnny was an instant star and inspired Marx to create a full line of Western-themed action figures as well as other large figures of spies, knights and vikings. Johnny West lasted ten years in the toy marketplace and may have lasted longer had the Marx Toy Company not changed hands and suffered a series of inept management regimes.
Johnny West gets a 50th Anniversary figure
The creation of Johnny West was a response to the smash success that Hasbro achieved in 1964 with GI Joe. Rather than copy GI Joe outright, Marx decided to test the waters with what were essentially larger, more detailed versions of their classic green Army men style playset figures. After the first two releases, more-articulation was added and Marx hit upon a successful format.
Borrowing the name from an earlier small-scale playset, Johnny West was introduced as a Cowboy Everyman. He shared his headsculpt with Stony Smith, the soldier (though this is still debated in some quarters) and he had a Native American pal, Chief Cherokee. The figures sold so well that within a couple of years Johnny had a wife, Jane, and four kids, Jay, Jamie, Josie and Janice. There were also tons of horses, a couple of dogs, The Fort Apache Fighters, General Custer and a couple of not-so-friendly natives added by the end of 1968.
It’s worth noting that after a short time, Marx pulled out of the military action figure game. Stony Smith was given better articulation so he could ride in a Jeep, but even after evolving into the more GI Joe-like “Buddy Charlie,” sales didn’t justify production. Hasbro and GI Joe handled the military end of things, Johnny West and friends covered the wild West. Nobody knows if it just worked out that way, or if there was some kind of secret golf course handshake deal between Louis Marx and Merrill Hassenfeld.
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