America’s Movable Armored Man?

On my fourth Christmas, I woke up at about 4:00 AM to see what Santa had brought.  In our home, Santa’s gifts were never wrapped so it was okay to open them… especially since the rest of your family would not be up for least three more hours.  These were back in the days when TV had test screens running when they were off the air.  I particularly remember this time, as it was broadcasting the image of a Christmas tree.

That Christmas, I received one my favorite toys ever, Sir Gordon the Gold Knight from the Nobel Knight Series by Marx. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  However, it did surprise me that the box had rips with tape covering some of the rips, it was missing a few parts, several smart parts were broken and had a few extra parts including an extra arm in the package.  As the last child in a large family living on the income of a bottom level college professor, we did not get many new toys, as money was tight.  Evidently, Santa shopped at the Salvation Army that year.

I was confused but still thought such a wonderful toy came from Santa. Since it came with three helmets, I could put a helmet on a GI Joe and put the backside of the knight’s chest armor onto Joe with a rubber band, add a fabric came and then I would have a second knight.  Occasionally, I was able to play with a kid down the street who had Sir Roland the Silver Knight.  A few years later, we found a bag of parts at a swap meet that had some of the parts of Odin the Viking Chieftain who was also from the Nobel Knights and Vikings series.  He was missing legs but the legs of Johnny West were the same color.  I had the only bowl-legged Viking around!

 

Both Knights also had fully armored versions of Thunderbolt, which made the whole look of a knight on horseback “to die for”.  Marx also released the Mighty Viking Horse, but it just was nowhere near as cool.  It needed much more gear to compete or at least add some more Viking gear.

Two of the aspects that I really loved about this figure was that his weapons were sturdy enough to play without breaking them.  The figure could not hold the accessories well. GI Joe and Captain Action both suffered from those issues.  Even once GI Joe received Kung Fu Grip, they were very fragile hands. Marx made their figure’s hands work the first time… okay, the second time.  The nice soft hands from Stoney Smith and Daniel Boone were sculpted well but were too open to hold much, but Marx fixed them soon after that.

In the UK, Marx sold Sir Cedric the Black Knight who came in some fun variation of skin tone and a gray horse Valiant the Fully Armored Horse wearing black armor.

Many years after the fall the Marx (mostly by inept executives who never understood the toy industry – to be discussed in a future article), many of the molds were up for sale.  I even had the privilege of reviewing one of the mold lists offered to Mattel in the early 1990’s to see if they wanted to buy any.  Unfortunately, there were no 1/6th figures or accessories on that that list or I would have pleaded insanely for them to be purchased. However, the molds existed in Mexico and a few intrepid individuals found the factories with the tools and started releasing reissues.

My favorite was the Sir Brandon the Blue Knight and his fully armored horse Destiny. This was very cleverly thought out by using the head of Sheriff Garrett which had appropriate facial hair and still fit inside all the armor (General Custer would also look great but his hair will just not fit).  They also used the pearl additive in the polypropylene so it had the same metallic glimmer as the original.  The deep blue metallic blue color, which looked great.

The packaging of the reissue knights started out more elaborate yet week in structure.  At one point, they released replacement horse armor in poly bags with paper header card.  This kept the cost down enticing me to buy more than I should have.

Most recently, someone released Sir Rudolph the Red Knight. This reused the great old Marx molds but this time in red and with a blond version of the Sir Roland/Sam Cobra head.  I stood holding for quite a while ready to buy it, but the red color they chose was SO plastic looking.  I wish they had chosen a deeper more realistic red metal look.  Ultimately, I put it down choosing to buy a reissue of Sam Cobra shot in the royal blue as James West was originally planned to look.  The deciding factor for me was that Rudolph did not have red horse armor available.  Since then, I found and purchased red horse armor so a Sir Rudolph will be added to the collection sometime soon – probably Toylanta if I do not find another first.

This brings the knight colors I know about to: gold, silver, black, blue and red.  If there is another color I have not seen, someone let me know as, obviously, I am a sucker for more colors and the Captain Maddox head has not been used for a knight yet.  How about a deep metallic green so we can play out “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?”

The Vikings had one set of reissue colors released.  I am hoping for some more realistic colors and heads in the future.  I have also always wondered about the odd pageboy hair cut on Erik the Viking thinking it would have made a better Prince Valiant from the Sunday comics.  Was this another licensing plan that bit the dust?

With so many knights and Vikings that I slowly acquired in my youth and then more so as a collector, they needed a home or at least a fun backdrop for pictures.  I probably went a bit overboard when shelling out all the money for the Little Tykes Castle, but one of the main excuses I used, was that it was just the right size for my knights.

It stands about 4 feet tall and almost 6 feet long. (Hey, don’t judge me – I know many of you have used similar rational).

At Hasbro and Mattel, we were always encouraged to present new concepts to expand an existing line or add a new one. Now that Joe was back in the market and doing well, I wanted to push for an expanded range and rekindle the wide array of 1/6th scale figures we had in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Therefore, I took my love of medieval knights and Vikings and presented a segment of GI Joe to expand upon that genre. Boldly I presented to upper management the positioning for the segment as “Only Sir Joseph offers scale re-enactors and older boys the opportunity to display and recreate armored heroes and battles from history in the 12” scale.”

The strategy presented was to:

1) Expand Hasbro’s dominance in the 12” male figure market by expanding the category beyond 20th century military with GI Joe and spy/extreme-sports with Action Man

2) Be the first to capitalize on the growing interest in medieval arms and armor by introducing a new brand marketed through mass channels in the U.S.  Expand globally after U.S. launch

3) Provide a wide base of figure opportunities ranging from 500 BC to 15th Century in time and from Europe to Asia in nationalities.

Just like the modern GI Joes had specific price points with appropriate military phonetic alphabet names (Alpha, Bravo, Delta, Gulf, Foxtrot), this plan had:

Bronze Assortment – $14.99 Retail – Basic Figures

  • Fully articulated figures molded wearing chain mail, leather or padded outfit.
  • Each figure represents an armored soldier from a specific battle or event.
  • Removable gear includes helmet, shield, surcoat and weaponry as appropriate.
  • This price point is positioned for initial purchase and older boys.

Iron Assortment – $19.99 Retail – Deluxe Figures

  • Each figure has armor that is more extensive or an action feature (slashing, spinning mace, raising shield, etc.)
  • Mid-priced to offer dual appeal to boys and re-enactors.

Steel Assortment – $22.99 Retail – High Detail/Collector Figures

  • Each figure is sold with a full suit of armor and appropriate weaponry.
  • This price point is aimed primarily at the scale re-enactor.
  • This price point also offers the opportunity to recreate specific historical or legendary figures (Charlemagne, Ivanhoe, Eric the Red, etc.)

Silver Assortment – $39.99 Retail – Vehicles/War Machines

  • Vehicles: war horses in full armor, jousting horse with tournament silks, etc.
  • Machines of war: siege tower, catapult, ballista, battering ram, etc.

Gold Assortment – $49.99 Retail – Diorama scenes

  • Highly detailed diorama pieces to create a realistic stage and setting for the figures
  • Large enough to display two interacting figures
  • Scenes: Battlements being defended, tournament tent w/tilting rail, etc.

Copper Assortment – $4.99 Retail – Armory Additions

  • Armor pieces/weaponry to extend the detail and personalize lower priced figures.

I showed one figure from the three primary price points.

The basic Bronze price point model was a version of the Marx Sir Roland the Silver Knight with the broadsword and shield came from Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Philip product, which I created in my earlier days. The head was replaced with the WWII “Harley Head” as it was known internally and used on the logo.

The Iron price point model was of a Viking with a sword for hacking. The body came from the GI Joe US Coast Guard in Full Immersion Suit, which has a button on the back that raises both arms when pushed.  With the mechanism that could ratchet the arms in different positions, the figure could slash down with both arms holding the sword. The head was the Hall of Fame Rock and Roll figure as it had the fullest beard at the time. The soft goods were all newly made for this project.  The helmet was created by pulling a vacuform from a Marx Erik the Viking helmet with side horns where the horns were removed and a nose guard more accurate to real Norseman was attached.  Sadly, the model was re-purposed and I could not find images of it.

For the Gold price point, approximating a GI Joe Jeep, I presented a Norman knight in full tilt as a battle charge with livery similar to Ivanhoe. The model used the Johnny West horse Flame from Marx since it was in a running stance. The saddle from the Mighty Viking Horse by Marx.  The figure was an embellished Sir Gordon the Gold Knight with a blond bearded Classic Collection Adventures of GI Joe head.  The shield, lance and soft goods were specially made.

To highlight the fun and action, the audiovisual department at Kenner/Hasbro helped me assemble a sizzle video of great knight clips from films like Excalibur and Prince Valiant.

It was possibly the biggest flop I presented in those first twenty years of toy designing.  I believe the reaction of the Senior Vice President was, “Okay… next!”

At least I tried – and in my mind, it would have been so great.

 

Would you have bought a knight themed Joe/Joseph?