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The Mask of Red… Plastic

The first dressable action figure to battle his way into our hearts and toy boxes was GI Joe in 1964.  He dominated the toy stores until retiring in 1978. There were many challengers to that battle. Today’s discussion is about one of his worthy opponents: Captain Action by Ideal. The figure was similar to GI Joe in size, articulation and being dressable, but Captain Action was a super hero. However, not just ANY superhero, he could BE just about any was his arsenal of comic book hero licenses: Batman, Superman, Phantom and many more.

They were very clever at Ideal. For about half the cost of a new figure, you could buy a “uniform and equipment” set that would completely change your Captain Action into a full new figure with a mask.  It would also (… mostly) fit on GI Joe. It was not until the late 70’s that I finally obtained a Captain Action … mostly.  He was just missing hands: but I stole them off the dorky obvious knock-off Darth Vader: Knight of Darkness by Ideal. This figure used the retired Captain’s body tooling but all molded in black.

One of the sets I has was the Lone Ranger in his blue uniform.  His sidekick Tonto was released in 1967, but money was tight so my Marx Chief Cherokee had to fill in as my Tonto.  When I was much older, I traded some vintage Mattel Major Matt Mason toys for a real Ideal Captain Action Tonto set.  I believe I only dressed him all up once, and only on a real Captain Action, before he became one of the rare pieces that I actually leave it is protective bag.

The Ideal Captain Action Tonto has a brown fabric shirt and pants with fringe, soft molded headband, moccasins, belt, quiver and eagle and well as a hard knife, pistol, bow and four arrows. My favorite part was the one-piece mask that slipped over Captain Action‘s head (or unflocked GI Joe) with just the ears showing to have a new character to play with.

Another bit of cleverness on the part of Ideal, was an odd half-mannequin with head and torso blow molded part that held the mask in package while if filled out the top of the costume. It was a very clever set of toys that were often in the thick of battle and still reign as one of my favorite toys.

Early in 1998, I was had left the corporate life of designing toys for Mattel and Hasbro and was running my own design firm developing toys for big and small companies (including Mattel and Hasbro).  One day I was asked to quote a project that made my jaw drop.  They wanted to rerelease Captain Action and needed someone to do the soft goods patterning (one of my specialties).  I quickly sent in the quote and added what I hoped would be the clincher “… and you will not need to supply any of the Captain Action reference as I own almost all of them.”  Unfortunately, Chinese labor was much cheaper than my fees and it was developed overseas without my help.

That did not stop me from buying them… all… for research… really.  At least that is the story I told my wife.  Now, I had a Lone Ranger and a Tonto on real Captain Action bodies!  Chief Cherokee could stay on the reservation until a full Indian adventure was required.  This new remake by Playing Mantis was very nice.  Was it perfect? No.  Was it fun? Absolutely! It is very hard to recreate vintage toys perfectly as plastics and molding techniques have changed. His box was very cool with great art on the front 5th panel.  There was also a comic book inside to extend the fun.

I was a big fan of these sets and was very disappointed when they stopped.  I certainly did my best to keep their sales up. However, I have to confess that not all were opened – (Loki is still giving me a dirty looks daily for leaving him in package – someday he will wear me out and I will pull him out.)

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, toys often affect and influence their owners.

In the late 80’s, I was at Mattel designing girl’s toys and was the designer who created the Disney Classics line. When I sold the concept of Disney Classics into Disney, the concept was to unite the many classic properties into one evergreen brand. Multiple dolls and fashions were designed with concept models showing eight different films.

One of my goals, which the Disney executives loved, was to create most of the product for each property so a child to play out their favorite Disney animated film.  To do this, I needed the secondary characters and villains.  However, secondary characters and particularly villains do not sell well compared to buying another beautiful fashion doll.

It was then that the ghost (or maybe the Phantom) of Captain Action whispered to me… “Masks!”

With that solution, I jumped ahead to have my team develop what I called “mask packs”.  The incredible Mattel Sculpting Department was too overloaded with final production work at that time so they were not able to support concept models.  This meant I had to sculpt many of the model heads myself.  They did not have to be perfect, just close enough to sell the concept; which they did perfectly.

Now we had a way to offer the whole play was with mask packs as a low-cost opportunity to offer the secondary characters. Four mask packs were released, the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, the Stepmother from Cinderella, the Queen from Snow White and my favorite, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

Unfortunately, the mask packs failed, as at that time, Toys r Us (a moment of silence please…) and other large toy retailers, merchandised all fashion sets together and nowhere near the dolls they went with.  The purple Disney Classics mask packs were swallowed up in a sea of pink Barbie fashions. In many stores, they were on the next aisle over.

Although only the four were released, concept models were made of many more. Not including the Beast with transforming mask from Beauty and the Beast, there were seven more concept models constructed and presented to Disney Consumer Products.

One mask pack had inspiration from Tonto with the Chief from Peter Pan. He was named “Super Chief” on the original animation reference artwork as a nod to the railway line in the West.  However, in the film they only referred to him as ‘’Chief”.  While all the other sets released were designed to fit “any female fashion doll body” this mask pack fits Ken or any other male fashion doll.

His tunic and pants were made of brushed tricot with fringe.  His moccasins were sewn brushed tricot as were his gloves (with more fringe).  The headdress was a combination of die cut fabrics that lost is stiffness over the years.  The head was sculpted using Sculpy modeling compound.

Here is the trick to making your own masks – sculpt the head in Sculpy but do not bake it.  Take a fine tipped heat gun and sear the outside edge. Leave the neck unheated.   Be sure to wear leather gloves or put the head on a stick.  You have to be very careful and not hold the heat gun too long on any one spot or you get bubbles.  After that has cooled, take a loop tool and gently scoop out the still soft middle to make enough room to fit over a fashion doll head.  That is the tricky part, as you need a certain wall thickness to keep the shape.  Once that is done, then bake it low (300 degrees) and slow (about 45 minutes) until fully dried. Add a coating of matte fixative and paint to your own delight.

The Chief was obviously very cartoony to match the look of the film, so Tonto or Chief Cherokee would shun him, but he had the bit of Captain Action inside him.

What Superhero mask and costume would you like your action figure to wear?

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  1. I think that having a Joe Banks mask and accessories would be hilarious. It would naturally, have to go on a Ken Doll, and absolutely MUST come with his 4 trunks, a duck, and maybe an anal probe (or something with the company’s logo on it). (Joe Versus the Volcano, movie, if anyone missed the references). OH! And you could have slight changes to a Barbie/mask to have all 3 of Meg Ryan’s characters, too!