In 1968, Americans and Russians were blasting into space trying to beat each other to the moon. This excitement spilled over into toys also. Mattel supplied this demand with its space themed line Major Matt Mason.
I know that at this point, some people are getting a little excited since Major Matt was only about six inches tall and isn’t this supposed to be about twelve-inch figures? Fortunately, the intrepid astronauts met up with the superhuman Capt. Lazer “Major MATT MASON’S® FRIEND FROM OUTER SPACE.”
The 1968 Mattel catalog, where he was first introduced, describes him as “Superhuman CAPT. LAZER-action-charged with astonishing lazer powers! Gigantic space personality features incredible light-up Lazer Pistol! Plus add-on Cosmic Beacon, Paralyzer Wand and Radiation Shield to adapt to a friendly or hostile environment! CAPT. LAZER’S other remarkable capabilities include flashing eyes and chest beams from his solar reactor plush solar buzz with backpack control. Bendable legs, movable arms, space-tredder boots, removable 3D helmet.”
The packaging was unusual for figures in that time frame. Most were sold in “coffin boxes” where you could not see the actual figure. In this case, Mattel packaged it like they did baby dolls. The box was printed corrugate with a label only on the front showing the glory of the toy. Then the whole package was shrink wrapped. But it did allow a great view of the figure and his accessories.
His backpack had three buttons that each provided a different flashing and sound effect. To extend the light effects, the Cosmic Beacon, Paralyzer Wand, and Radiation Shield are molded in clear plastic so when they plug into the hole on the end of his pistol, those parts extend the light for a broader effect.
It was a good thing the figure came with space-tredder boots that would snap onto his silver knee-high boots. Without those, the figure does not stand well with such small feet and a backpack with heavy batteries up high. Also, the joints in his knees are usually floppy, so he only stood well standing straight up. I suspect the boot extensions were added just before shipping as the first photos of Capt. Lazer in the 1968 catalog shows him posed as walking without those the extensions.
The figure itself was about twelve inches tall which made him a great addition for any 1/6th scale space adventure. Yes, the articulation was limited, and he was all plastic instead of wearing a fabric uniform like Hasbro’s GI Joe or Ideal’s Captain Action, but his lights and sound features made up for those shortcomings.
The lighting up chest was fun, but the eyes are what I really loved. Unlike the gigantic eye, Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man had, Capt. Lazer’s eyes were a complete surprise when they lit up. The other feature I still enjoy is the silver aluminum speckles molded into his blue uniform for a definite spacy touch.
Evidently, the light up eyes were intended to be the primary feature from the beginning. When digging through early prototypes in the Mattel Archives in the late 1990s, I found the original prototype for Capt. Lazer. It was really just a “breadboard” model showing the feature. The funny thing is that it was made from, what is now a very valuable and collectible Gilbert’s the Man from UNCLE Illya Kuryakin doll. Lights are crudely placed in the eyes and in a gun attached to his hand while he wears a clunky gold helmet. I would have included a photo, but if you have seen the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” you can understand why some things are lost between my personal collection and the collection all the most toys I made over the year (which keeps growing).
From my childhood perspective, while Major Matt never joined any missions with Joe, Capt. Lazer and all his gear sure did. It was also augmented with the gear from Topper’s Billy Blastoff. I used those as space probes, planet landers, evil robots and anything else I needed them to be. At one point as an adult, I had enough space station parts to build two towers, one six feet tall and one three feet tall. Then I found if I connect two sets of the red girders on top of each other, Joe could stand up in the space station. For a few weeks, Joe lived in Major Matt’s space station before my family insisted I put my toys back away.
After Major Matt Mason flew off to the dark side of the toy shelves, Mattel reused the name for an eight-inch Big Jim figure with light up features. This figure was only sold internationally in the late 1970s. It also wore no fabric clothing. It had a light in its head that would shine out through holes in its eyes or through its blast shield. One of the odd things was you could lift the face also to see the light; insinuating that he was a robot — this Capt. Lazer had no backpack, so the batteries just fit into his back. In my opinion, it was okay but lacked the great design of the original Capt. Lazer.
When Star Wars hit the big screens and little toy shelves, Mattel needed an answer to compete against Kenner’s Star Wars toys that were blasting off the shelf. Opportunistically, they licensed the new space television show Battlestar Galactica. While the show only ran one season before cancellation, Mattel considered it a success with about three years’ worth of sales.
Following with the “me-too!” attitude common in the toy industry, they thought they needed twelve-inch figures since Kenner had twelve inch Star Wars figures. To save tooling cost and get to the shelves quicker, the Capt Lazer tooling was repurposed. Honestly, it was really poor execution and looked lame compared to what a Colonial Warrior looked like in the show. They even used the same Capt. Lazer head. For the Cylon, at least they tooled a new head and a chest plate that snapped onto the round light feature on his chest. By vacumetalizing the helmet and chest plate, it makes it look decent and less embarrassing than the Colonial Warrior wearing a flocked vest.
The Mattel tooling engineers did change Capt. Lazer’s belt to replace the “L” with a geometric shape. The figures were not provided with all the plugin parts to the pistol, and the figures often fell without the extra boot extensions.
When you put the three figures together, the original Capt. Lazer is still the best and a key part of my personal collection. If you look at the big space cantina scene photo on my site, there is Capt. Lazer and a Cylon enjoying the fun and reminding me how fun that toy still is. I have no doubt that many of you feel the same way.
What is your favorite 1/6th scale space toy?