The Hollywood make-over of Big Jim?
Updated: Mar 22
Mattel sold Big Jim, the ten-inch answer to GI Joe from 1973 to 1977 in the US. During that time, Big Jim was mostly a sportsman with the last two years being a pseudo-spy adventurer with “Big Jim’s Pack.” Big Jim continued in International markets into about 1988, but there was one more push for a version of Big Jim in the US.
The Mattel 1978 catalog shows a full-page spread of three new sets of Big Jim – although none of them were truly Big Jim. Someone inside Mattel must have decided that licenses are the way to keep Big Jim alive. All of these figures had the new gripping hands that are found on the later International figures. The hands are very well done and Mattel managed to keep the gripping shape while still sculpting a correct inside of the hand (Sorry Kung Fu Grip GI Joe, you finally received good gripping hands but they look like the first thing you did was to grab a hot metal pipe and melt off all the features on your palms… but I digress.)
At the far-left side of the page are figures from the popular live-action TV series – Grizzly Adams
(Does anyone else still have the theme song stuck in their heads after all these years? “Deep inside the forest is a door into another world…”)
As usual, Mattel did a great job on the sculpted heads. The head has the infectious smile of Grizzly Adams. They also sculpted the beard very well. These figures still had the push-button arm movement so Grizzly could chop wood. The catalog shows three sets: one was a Grizzly Adams figure by itself, and the second was a Grizzly Adams with his bear friend Ben. I have never seen this multi-pack to know if it shipped to toy shelves or not. If someone has one, please post a picture to confirm it. Mattel must have either sold that set or used the bear in a later International Big Jim set as I have seen versions of that bear in collections. Based on the angle of the arms and playing with the Big Jim gorilla, I assume Ben’s arms kind-of rotate in the same way.
The third figure was Grizzly Adam’s Indian Friend Nakoma
Just in case anything thinks I am culturally insensitive, that is how Mattel describes the figure in the catalog so I am trying to keep the discussing in the right time period. This figure is one of the nicest of the Indian figures that Mattel made with the Big Jim and Carl May lines (Carl May is the international Cowboy line using Big Jim parts). The skin tone looks great. The face is well sculpted and the soft goods are a type of knit suede to replicate leather as much as possible in that era.
If you are ever wondering about that odd box configuration – it is not an accident. It ships with half the cube size to save money as the figures can nest together more efficiently in a master carton. Then it has twice the shelf presence to entice young buyers. The package art looks great also.
The second licensed set was from the TV series “How the West was Won.” (on a side note, I wish to apologize for misquoting that name as “Best of the West” on my Big Jim space article – I know better but must have been in a rush writing that.)
The figure is also well done with good head sculpting, and I believe it even has a unique cowboy hat – but the rest of the accessories already existed in the Big Jim International line. This line also had three items where one version came with Zeb Macahan and his horse Dakota. The horse appeared in many international sets including Carl May.
Then Mattel thought no one would notice when the casting director had Nakoma also play the part of Lone Wolf! The figure does have very detailed pants and cool weaponry, but Nakoma still looks better.
Now, I have to ask. Even though I grew up watching WAY too much TV, does anyone remember even watching the TV show “How the West was Won”? I remember the fun motion picture with the all-star cast, including Jimmy Stewart and Debbie Renolds (you know, Carry Fisher’s mom).
The third licensed set was Tarzan.
Yes, I saved the best for last. Yes, it is Big Josh’s head painted to look like Tarzan but it still works.
These figures were prompted by the popular Saturday morning cartoon “Tarzan Lord of the Jungle.” It had thirty-six episodes that I watched over and over and over again. I could not appreciate it at the time, but the art styling was based on the comics expertly drawn by Burne Hogarth (1937–1945, 1947–1950). I am not going to post any of the images since I am sure it would break Copywrite laws, but google that artwork; it is amazing!
There is a sense of the original comic artwork on the package, and even the back of the package is a work of art.
The catalog shows two sets available. The first set is Tarzan and the Giant Ape.
This is the same ape used on a few Big Jim sets including Big Jim Jungle Adventure with Real-action Gorilla
I always like the look of the gorilla but thought the movement was dorky. But at least it did something since the arms were the only moveable part on the figure.
I find it interesting that Mattel chose to sell both of these sets on large blister cards instead of being similar to the boxed figures of the others. But they look really cool!
The second set is the Tarzan and the Jungle Cat set.
So, that ten-inch long jungle cat should look familiar. It was originally a Tiger for Big Jim in a couple of different sets including Big Jim on the Tiger Trail.
It is a good thing that it is sculpted so well since it also became…
The Masters of the Universe Battle Cat in green with orange stripes. There was also a purple flocked version for Skeletor with the oh-so-clever name of “Panthor.”
Okay, now that I have all that out of my system, here is the real reason I wrote this post. When Mattel sold its original buildings where they once manufactured, they emptied and closed the Mattel Archives. This next item was found there with a bunch of other Big Jim prototypes.
It is a chariot made to look like it was made in the jungle. The model was hand-made of wood and bamboo.
It came with two black jungle cats attached to pull it. This prototype ended up as part of a private collection so I had to photoshop an assembled view of it. In case you did not watch the show (over and over and over again), yes, there were a few episodes with chariots in the show.
Is this prototype set beyond cool, or what?
What is your favorite 1/6th scale licensed Action Figure?