Will the Real James West Please Stand Up?
There has long been discussion among Marx collectors and it was mentioned in the outstanding book “The Encyclopedia of Marx Figures” by Tom Heaton that Marx may have been planning to make a James West figure from the TV show “Wild Wild West” along the lines of the Best of the West collection, but they shelved the idea. The theory goes that it would use the body from Sam Cobra and the head from Captain Maddox. The body and gear certainly look like the classic James West look. The head is also a reasonable likeness of Robert Conrad who played James West.
Assuming this was true, I always wondered if they had planned for an Artemus Gordon figure. That could have been very cool if it was made like the Marx Mike Hazard Double Agent with masks, wigs, beards and more secret weapon props. If anyone has any info on that, please add it to the comments on this. Me and many others would love to hear it.
Rumors also talked of the Zeb Zackary head being made for a TV show of “Billy the Kid” and General Custer being made for another show of the same name. Tom’s book shows an image of a figure with a 20th Century legal marking on it. It costs time and money to modify an injection-molding tool so there must be some truth to these stories. It is also in keeping with what a toy company would do after an item gets cancelled or does not sell. They would typically reuse the tooling if possible since it is very expensive.
(For 1/6th scale purists, you may want to skip to the next paragraph.) Mattel planned a small 6” doll line based on Wonder Woman which the Mattel pushed hard and even convinced Warner Brothers to bend their style guide rules to create a new line of classic superheroes in more girl colors to help empower young girls. It was ahead of its time. Since it was so important to the current Mattel president, the started the doll tools before they sold the line in to retailers. Unfortunately, it was too far ahead for retailers so the line was cancelled. Since the figures looked great and the tooling was already paid for, I took the tools, made new heads and released them as the Disney Musical Princesses. I tell this to illustrate that it is typical to find new uses for non-used tooling.
Back to James – At Toylanta 2018 I purchased the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Marx Sam Cobra figure that is molded in royal blue instead of black. The dealer showed me an image that was thought to be the only known color photo of the Marx James West prototype which showed a blue body similar to the color James wore in the colored episodes of “Wild Wild West”.
The first time I heard the story, it prompted me to see for myself so I switched a Captain Maddox head onto an extra Sam Cobra body so I would have a James West figure. When the blue one came available, and believing that is one of the best sculpted Marx bodies, I was a sucker for the sale.
One other telling clue was the tooling. When an injection molded tool is made, sometimes the company will “shut off” part of the tool by adding a plug to a part of the molded runner or welding that spot closed. It could be that some cavities are just not working right or they need to save some money by running fewer parts. Either way, this new Sam Cobra has additional parts than were with the original Sam Cobra. These include extra tips to fit onto the breakaway pool stick to make them into knight like weapons – see image below. This was also a major proof verifying the story for me. Once again, you do not modify tools for the fun of it. It is time consuming and expensive. Those extra parts were made for a reason.
So today, I have as a close to a Marx “Wild Wild West” James West figure as feasible. He currently sits proudly among other 1/6th scale action figures (Thor, Wonder Woman, GI Joe Talking MP, Sir Cedric the Black Knight).
But wait… there’s more! Marx was not the only company who planned to produce figures of James West.
One of the Boys Toys Design executives from Kenner started the Warner Brothers Toys company. It also included a key marketer and a key designer from Kenner. Then they hired away the head of Kenner’s sculpting department and brought in another veteran sculptor who had worked as a vendor for Kenner and many other companies including Marx. The sculpting on all of the WB Toys/N2Toys products was always top notch.
The original plan was that this new (loosely associated) division of WB would make and sell the action figures from WB properties. In case you have not seen one of the Warner Brother Toys 1/6th scale figures up close, they are well worth the look. Many were designed: Mad Max, Crocodile Hunter, Red Planet and The Matrix but only The Matrix 1/6th figures shipped. (They did release a beautifully sculpted and painted set of small figures from “Babylon 5”).
Unfortunately, for that division, WB corporate kept giving the big projects to licensees so they could never create the critical mass of sales to keep the company going. It later broke off completely from WB and sold products under the name N2Toys. I think there was at least one other name but I really only noticed if the name on the check paying for the work was different.
In 1999, WB was scheduled to release a reboot of “Wild Wild West” as a feature film starring Will Smith. The plan was to make two different figures of Will as James West.
When they started sculpting a new 1/6th scale body for the proposed figures, I was thrilled when the two sculptors asked for my input. Accordingly, I brought them examples of some of the best 1/6th sculpted figures. Since they asked, I was very insistent on pushing them to get the hands right. As a collector, I wanted them to be able to grip but not be locked into a permanent closed fist. They finally settled on a hand that looks good, functions well and is a cross between the original Marx hands and the final Marx hands. They could grip but still had a more open look.
The other subtly of the bodies I really liked was the shoulders. It always bothered me that the engineers insisted on putting arms exactly on the side of the torsos while the shoulder is partly defined by the shoulder joint itself. If we moved the joint into the shoulder, it would look better and still give good motion.
My task was to make the costumes to fit the new body and provide accessories since those new parts would not be completed into time for New York Toy Fair.
For the models, I used Mattel Barbie African American Ken heads. At the time I finished the costumes, they had only one head sculpted and painted. Therefore, I painted up one if the heads to look like Will in the film and left the other as it was since it would be switched onto a full painted/sculpted figure.
The direction was to make the clothing look deluxe with multiple textures so the long coat is made in a fine black corduroy that looks like velvet in that scale. Cuffs were added to the coat sleeves to get the look without the added cost or trying to hide a bulky shirt underneath. The vest is satin with fake buttons, pockets and a pocket watch chain. The vest had the collar and tie sewn to it and it closed on the back with Velcro. The tie even had the spotted detailing that was on the costume from the film. The pants were made with a flat percale cotton to contrast from the shiny satin vest and matte textured coat.
The gun belt and pistols used for the show samples came from the Captain Action Lone Ranger. The hat is the Marx Sam Cobra Stetson hat.
The other costume would be the signature short waisted coat look of James West from the original 1965 series, which is also on the Marx James West… I mean Sam Cobra.
To match the look from the movie photos, I used a black knit with a crepe texture for the coat and pants. It matched the texture but still hung a little stiff. To give the rest of the outfit a punch, we used a gold metallic brocade for the vest. I used the same sew in shirt/tie to keep the look slim. It is hard to see in the photo but there are actually textured vinyl chaps over the pants for added detail. I do not recognize the gun belt I used on that one. It is possible it came from a Marx Butch Cassidy Wild Bunch figure. This one needed to be a single pistol holster.
The product was presented at NY Toy Fair but the major buyers passed on it so the line was dropped.
One of the fun parts of working on licensed product is getting to see stills and preproduction art from upcoming movies. I remember in this case that they only gave a stack of about a dozen scene shots and backstage shots to work from.
So, technically, we do not have an official Wild Wild West 1/6th scale James West figure on the market, but I think we can all agree, it would have been SO cool.
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