Big Jim’s Early Days of Space Exploration
Updated: Mar 22
When I first started working at Mattel in 1984, I poured through every toy catalog I could find. Any that I found tossed in a throw-away pile became part of my personal library. Not only was I reliving my youth seeing old toys that I played with, but I also was able to see some very fun toys that which never sold in the US.
It was these catalogs which opened my eyes to a much larger world of Big Jim. While I was more of a GI Joe, Captain Action, Johnny West kid, I did have some Big Jim figures. My favorite was Big Jeff with his machete to chop some odd type of bamboo. For some reason, I always loved the Australian hat with the one side flipped up. Big Jim’s Pack arrived poised for some more fun adventure… then it ended.
One of the interesting things you learn working in a toy company is that not everything hits the shelves the same way it looks in the catalog. Sometimes projects are added at the last minute, and there is no time to finish the model in time for the catalog deadline.
Big Jim’s Captain Laser
A good point in case is the Big Jim figure of Captain Laser. Once Mattel owns a character trademark, they reuse it when expedient. Captain Lazer first landed on shelves as the only twelve-inch figure in the Major Matt Mason line which started in 1967 before the moon landings. These were bendy astronauts with vehicles and features ahead of their time.
Note the pictures from the Italian catalog from 1983. There is no detail on that body. The only new part was the head, and they painted an existing Big Jim body. The Big Jim version of Captain Laser also had only molded clothing. The similarity between the two was a light-up feature in the eyes. The way they designed this newer was fun. You could play with him as a spaceman in a helmet, or flip up the visor for a humanoid spaceman with laser eyes or press the button on the back of the head to lift the whole helmet up to discover it was, in reality, a robot. If you look carefully at his left thigh in the images, that model has the markings melted into it to say “SAMPLE NOT FOR SALE” as it is a preproduction engineering sample.
Big Jim Space Pilot
This costume is simple and effective. The ribbing in the jumpsuit makes it seem more real. That was one thing they (usually the Barbie designer Carol Spencer) did well, was good textures on Big Jim uniforms. The helmet was nicely designed and also had a movable visor. I was not a fan of the dye-cut printed gear belt, but sometimes those simplicities had to happen to hit shipping windows or cost. The gear belts in the last years of Big Jim were the best.
Mattel Big Jim Space Leader
This costume looks like it walked off the set of the 1970’s children’s TV series “Jason of Star Command.” Simple but fun. Great box art!
Big Jim Dr. Bushido
You cannot have a good space adventure without a good villain. This figure has one of my favorite Big Jim head sculpts. I thought it was smart how they made the figure taller by hiding the extra height in the beard. I have only seen this figure in photos but had several of the Dr. OBB spy versions which were SO cool. I assume Dr. OBB came first, but one of my readers will have to confirm that – I do not have every year of Big Jim International catalogs. His costume also looks like it came from “Jason of Star Command.” The glow-in-the-dark sword is always a nice touch.
Big Jim Space Laser Gunner
This figure has a simple yet fun jumpsuit. I had this but did not know what it was from since I did not have the catalog from that year. I also had the laser pack but would not have guessed that is what it was. It looked like it came directly from an engineer and skipped the designer in between as it is so blocky.
Big Jim Thunder Blue
Obviously, this set represents a transporter malfunction when they beamed Big Jim too close to a Las Vegas slot machine. (I would have sent this one back to the drawing board.)
Big Jim All Terran Vehicle Driver
This one was obviously, “make me a driver costume using only existing plastic parts.” It is truly dorky. I thought maybe it was something one of my kids put together while playing with my Big Jims until I saw it in the catalog. However, considering the vehicle he was made to drive, it kind-of fits.
Mattel Big Jim Space Spy Vehicle
To end on a high note, we have a cool space ship. It has wings that fold-up and landing gear. Note that it was later reworked for the final years of Big Jim with two large propulsion engines on the wingtips, but it is still fun.
It is also fun to see names change on the packages depending upon what country it ships into.
What is your favorite Big Jim figure?