PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

PopCult Meets MOLD-A-RAMA

In December, 2018, your PopCulteer and his wife, Mel Larch, visited The Willis Tower in Chicago, one of the tallest buildings in the world, and rather than ascend to the famous SkyDeck, we immediately went to the second-sub-basement for the arcade near the gift shop. There we beheld two MOLD-A-RAMA machines. This video captures that experience.

MOLD-A-RAMA machines are huge beasts of post-war engineering, giant vending machines that make and dispense a cool little injection-molded plastic toy while you wait. The machine was introduced in 1962, but really took off at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, and soon spread across the country, thrilling kids with its distinctive smell of freshly-molded waxy plastic. Invented by Tike Miller, this cool novelty inspired the cult-television show, Wonderfalls, and created lasting memories for hundreds of thousands of kids.

There are still over a hundred machines operating in eight states, and Chicago is a hotbed of MOLD-A-RAMA activity because the company than currently owns the rights to the machines is based there.  A separate company operates the same machines as MOLD-A-MATIC, and those are primarily found in the South.

The engineering that goes into these machines is amazing. The vat that holds the plastic is heated. The molds are refrigerated. There are hundreds of moving parts, and the temperature of every piece has to be perfect, plus the molds have to fit together tightly. Hot plastic is injected into the molds, where it solidifies instantly. The remaining hot plastic inside is then blown out (which also cools the insides a bit). Then, once the mold halves part, a little knife slices the toy loose from the nozzles, and slides it into the retrieval basket.

This is the kind of engineering that got us to the moon.

I was inspired to seek out these machines after Tom Wheeler sent me a video link to a story about them, and through that I discovered that MOLD-A-RAMA has machines all over Chicago, a city that PopCult readers know I like to visit regularly.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are a lot of great MOLD-A-RAMA videos on YouTube, particularly by Carpetbagger, who has been covering MOLD-A-RAMA much longer than we have, as well as tons of other cool raodside attractions..

This visit documents our baby steps, but late in 2019 the plan is to return and record a full-fledged video safari with as many as two-dozen MOLD-A-RAMA machines captured in action. The video above shows our first two MOLD-A-RAMA machine sightings. I expect we’ll have many more. You can visit the official MOLD-A-RAMA website to get an idea of where we may be headed next. And now, we’ll give you a few bonus photos…

Bigger than a Jukebox, but tens times as cool for toy collectors.
Each machine only holds one mold. This one has The Chicago Skyline, in royal blue.
Post-molding, the blade/pusher slices off the toy and pushes it into the basket.
The end result is a nifty plastic souvenir.


To kick the year off in a reflective mood, we’re going to glace at our year-end statistics and give you updates on five or so of the most-read stories in PopCult for the year we just wrapped.

It’s an odd mix of pop culture topics, and I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by our most-read story, because to be honest, I didn’t think that it would be quite the powerhouse it turned out to be. I think the main reason that this post was our most-read has a lot to do with the fact that nobody else seems to have covered this story on the internet, at least not without linking to my post.

Here are the top-six stories in PopCult for 2018:

1) Monster High Closed

Mattel’s strange decision to abandon what recently been a two-billion dollar a year brand continues to mystify industry observers and die-hard collectors of Monster High. As the year ended, it was clear that Monster High was done, at least for now. You can read the original story HERE, and a follow-up HERE. What was strange about this story was that, while it did initially garner a lot of hits, around the time of the San Diego Comic Con, the number of people reading it daily almost tripled, and stayed that high through today. It remains in the top-three or five PopCult posts read every day.

The only product available in Walmart or Target was leftover items that shipped early in the year. K Mart stores (those that are still open) had some Monster High dolls in stock, but those were items that initially shipped to other retailers in 2017.

As the year progressed, Mattel’s strategy seemed to be to discontinue any fashion doll line that might compete against their star brand, Barbie. Their CEO made a remark in one interview that fashion doll trends today, aside from Barbie, only had a shelf-life of two or three years, so their plan was to pull the plug early and move on to what they hoped would be the next big thing. It seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Mattel has seemingly shut down lines that still have a lot of life left in them.

Mattel wound up pulling the plug on their Enchantimals line even sooner than expected, barely hitting the nine-month mark at retail with that concept.

However, Barbie sales were up 11 %, so perhaps in the short term, Mattel’s plan was working. It’s just a shame that Barbie’s resurgence seems to have been built on the corpses of Monster High, DC Superhero Girls, WWE Fashion dolls and Ever After High.

It’s still possible for Monster High to be revived, but with lines like Super Monsters and Vampirina eating up market share, it may be to late for a return from the dead.

2) The John K. Story

John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy and Ripping Friends was accused in print of engaging in unacceptable and irredeemable behavior. There are no reasons to doubt any of these accusations, and I wrote about them HERE.

The only update to this is that Kricfalusi issued a public statement in May, that only made things worse. The first page of his statement read like a reasoned, if tepid apology, and had he stopped there, may well have been the best that he could possibly have offered in the way of a public apology.

Unfortunately, his statement continued for an additional ten pages that showed off the worst of his delusional and narcissitic personality. It pretty much confirmed that, not only was every accusation about him true, but that he had yet to learn anything from the experience or change in any meaningful way.

3) The Marx Toy Museum

The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville closed in 2016, which you can read about HERE. In 2017 the museum re-opened to allow American Pickers to come in and visit and buy some classic Marx Toys from the museum’s founder, Francis Turner. You can read about that visit HERE, and see a couple of videos about their encounter with Big Loo HERE.

The episode of American Pickers featuring the Marx Toy Museum originally aired in November, 2017, but every time this episode gets repeated, thousands of people flock to Google and find their way to PopCult to read more about it.

For now the museum is still closed, but it usually re-opens on a limited basis during the annual Marx Toy Convention, which is held nearby in Wheeling at The Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. We expect to pop in for a quick visit this June, and you can see some of last year’s convention coverage HERE.

4) Mistress Rhonda Has Left Us

Eleven-and-a-half months ago PopCult lost a friend, Rhonda Baffes, the proprietor of the Bizarre TV Roku Channel. Rhonda succumbed after a long battle with cancer, and her channel, which she’d programmed to run on auto-pilot, kept going for several months following her death.

You can read the original obituary for Rhonda HERE, and our notes on the passing of the channel HERE.

5) Captain Marvel vs. Racism

Last summer, following DC Comics’ decision to cancel a deluxe hardback collection of the first long-form serialized comic book story, “Captain Marvel vs. The Monster Socieity of Evil,” I managed to procure a copy from public domain comics re-publisher, Gwandanaland Comics, and reviewed it HERE. My conclusion was that, due to the overwhelmingly racist elements in parts of the story, it was a wise move by DC not to put this out in advance of their big “Shazam” movie.

Sadly, after I discovered Gwandanland and started buying up their collections of classic Captain Marvel stories, it was discovered that those stories may not be in the public domain after all, and they discontinued their Marvel Family series. They remain a wonderful source for reprints of great Golden Age comics, just with a little less of the stuff I really, really like.

6) The Return of MEGO

Marty Abrams’ MEGO returned to mass-market retail after more than thirty years in limbo, and you can read our coverage of that return HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. It was a pretty big deal in the action figure collecting world, and fans are waiting for the arrival of the fourth wave of figures, currently expected sometime around March.

There were other big stories in PopCult in 2018, the saga of The Bakery, the end and fizzzly resurrection of Toys R Us and lots of your PopCulteer’s travel adventures. We’ll take a look at some of those tales of pop culture next week.

Swing In The New Year On The AIR

Today you can listen to The Swing Shift all day long on our sister internet station, The AIR. Tune in at The Website, or listen right here on this embedded radio-type player…

I’ve made no secret of my love of Swing Music. Each week I bring you a new hour of The Swing Shift, in addition to the other programs I host on The AIR (Radio Free Charleston, Beatles Blast, Radio Free Charleston International and maybe some new shows in the new year). The truth is that Swing Music holds a special place in my heart, going back to my chance purchase of Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive way back in 1981. That was the spark, and Mel Gilliespie’s Big Band Music class at WVSC whipped it into a fire that has yet to go out.

So, to ring in the new year, since so many of my readers and listeners are enjoying the day off, and I’d sort of like to do that as well, I’ve programmed 24 hours of The Swing Shift, beginning Tuesday morning at 9 AM.

We’ll have some other programming stunts on The AIR this week as we prepare to unveil our new schedule next Monday.

In the meantime, PopCult wishes you a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year. Remember, it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.