Gadgets, Gizmos and Spy Stuff
In 1963, spy films changed forever with the release of the James Bond film “Dr. No”. The film, based on the book series by Ian Fleming was such a big success that the studio quickly released “Goldfinger” in 1964, From “Russia with Love” in 1965 and “Thunderball” in 1966. The Television Industry jumped onto the spy wagon (or Lamborghini) with “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” running from 1964 to 1968. “Mission Impossible” chose to accept the mission to keep spies on TV from 1966 to 1973.
It was no surprise when the Toy Industry built on the intrigue of spies with the release of the 1/6th scale James Bond action figures by Gilbert in 1965. They then refitted with the figures with new heads, costumes and gear to be Man from U.N.C.L.E. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin figures later. Overall, these figures had the worst quality imaginable. They had very little use other than looking nice on a shelf: if that. They had spring-loaded arms to shoot or throw hats, but almost no articulation so play was very limited.
They did sell some fun gear packs you could use with a movable figure like a GI Joe, but nothing matched the cool gear that came with Mike Hazard: Double Agent by Marx. Marx was the clear master of creating and including tons of wonderful gear with every one of their 1/6th scale figures spanning cowboys, knights and spies.
Mike Hazard has the same basic construction as Johnny West with solid polypropylene jointed bodies, soft PVC hands and great molded heads. Sure, they looked a little cheap since they bodies were not painted, but the quality of the sculpting made up for any lack of color.
Louis B. Marx revolutionized the American Toy Industry through mass production techniques and plastic. There was very little manufacturing labor expenses. In many cases, the product sold with the parts still attached to the molding sprues to save even more labor. If there was decoration, (beyond the metal-lithographed product) it was usually just a label sheet for the customer to apply. The company concentrated on great sculpting, small action features and tons of parts. Mike Hazard is the poster child for a Marx action figure with tons of cool parts.
Depending upon how you count the assembled parts, Mike came with fifty-four accessories not including the figure. Most of his soft PVC accessories are tan and enable him to disguise himself. He came with three hats: a bowler, a beret and a fedora, which included a tape recorder, molded inside it. Also included was a tan wig to help change his appearance. There was a shoulder holster and a snap-in tie that with a clip to hide a stiletto knife. He had a TV wristwatch like Dick Tracy, a tape recorder and a belt with loops to hold the recorder and other accessories. For safety, he had a tan bulletproof vest. There were two other soft accessories molded in a flesh tone. One was a mask that made him look like a European thug, but also a soft nose with mustache and glasses. It never stayed on well and was one of the few bad parts.
The real fun was in all the hard polypropylene molded parts. There were two different exploding bags. The carpetbag could be loaded with real caps then tossed and it would “bang” and usually pop open the top. The brief case had at trigger like a mousetrap to set so it would make a loud “snap/bang” if you opened it. It also held a hidden knife in the case to pull out in case of attack. I usually left it in and threw the case to watch it pop open and have the knife go flying for additional shrapnel. There were three hidden guns, in a pipe, in a cane, and as a radio with a barrel and stock that pulled out. That was just in case he already used his Berretta, Colt .45 or Derringer. He had three grenades to make a quick escape as well as a tear gas pen. There was a set of keys to help him get in anywhere and a flashlight to look around once he did. To make up for the terrible soft “Groucho glasses” there was a very nice beard/mustache and glasses set that worked great. To eavesdrop, he had a special gun with listening cone and headphones and even a movie camera that could mount onto it. (I often used that as a stun gun). He also had X-ray glasses if needed. In case he was only apprehending a criminal, he had hand cuffs that could snap closed. After a long day, he also had a lighter and cigarettes (imagine the outcry if a modern toy included those!)
The best accessories I saved for the last. This included parts you could rearrange into a multiple of devices: a Lugar pistol, silencer, detachable shoulder stock, scope, machine gun stock and bayonet. In addition, a spring loaded grenade launcher could shoot three grenades. Those parts could rearrange into about a dozen different configurations.
The only piece of soft goods was a trench coat which every spy needs to go out into the cold. However, that coat had pockets to hide knives and a ton of gear. The soft belt with metal buckle was very helpful to close the coat after you stuffed it full for a mission.
The spy accessories were so cool that they were even sold separately as a Montgomery Ward’s store special with in a cardboard locker. The catalog picture really confused me as a child as it pictured GI Joe was wearing all the Marx Mike Hazard gear.
As this is arguably one of the best action figures Marx ever released, its brilliance stuck with me and I sought ways to add that fun into toys I was designing as an adult. When working with Kenner/Hasbro, I finally had the chance when assigned to create a 1/6th scale version of the GI Joe Real American Hero character Gadget and later changed to High-tech for release. The instructions were to make him similar to a TV character who builds great gadgets out of ordinary things to get out of whatever jam he is in.
To add as much fun to accessories as possible, I gave him the flak-vest molded torso but painted it to look more like a vest with pockets. The tan pants were the only soft goods part to save cost. I found an existing soft PVC belt from Action Man Operation Camouflage Jungle Force to allow him to carry as much of the gear as possible. His boots were existing from the Double Duty Tiger Hawk and other AM sets before that. The character’s signature headset was the only part that did not combine with anything else. By the way, the head was one of many sculpted to look like one of the GI Joe designers.
The rest of the accessories were all black polypropylene and consisted of 2-piece binoculars, bipod, flashlight, pistol, silencer, projectile launcher, projectile, satellite dish, ice axe and banana clip magazine. From these eleven parts, the user could construct fourteen different gadgets including sniper rifle and firing mortar.
In case you are saying to yourself, “Wait, I saw that figure and it does not make into those gadgets.” Well, it does; somewhere along the development cycle, that information was not included. Here was a great figure with a great feature but no one knew about it.
Ironically, this project made me realize if I wanted to make sure the product retained all the fun, I would have to switch to the dark side; Marketing! Since Marketing is the role pulling all the strings in modern manufacturing, the designer would have to become a double agent, acting as a marketer in order to design and develop the best toys possible.
What is your favorite spy toy?