originally published October 25, 2013
Do you recognize this man?
Probably not, but if you’re over 30 he probably had a thunderous impact on your childhood. That’s Marvin Glass, concoctor of toys, brewmaster of amusement, mixologist of mirth. Marvin Glass & Associates was a fiendishly clever company, foregoing the tedious chore of peddling their goods to every toy merchant in the land, and instead focussing on creation. License it out to Hasbro or Kenner or Milton Bradley – let them do the filthy work of shipping this crap all over the country.
Let’s just make some good crap.
And oh did they make some astoundingly bodacious crap. Toys that spurned obsessions, toys that became icons. For a few marvelous decades in the 20th century, back before every toy needed a synergetic tie-in to a movie franchise, book series or procession of idiotic movies, Marvin Glass’s goods reigned supreme.
It all started with a set of chattering teeth. Marvin’s employee, Eddy Goldfarb, came up with a concept so ludicrously simple and noisy it had to be a hit: the Yakkity-Yak Talking Teeth. This windup novelty put Marvin Glass & Associates on the map in 1949. The dentist community was finally rewarded with the desktop gimmick they’d craved for centuries. Overnight, the world was a happier and more peaceful place.
Along came Mr. Machine in 1960, distributed by the Ideal Toy Company. This was a brilliant toy for teaching kids how stuff works, as it was designed to be taken apart piece by piece and reassembled with ease. My parents never bought me one of these, which is why I become mechanically befuddled attaching the wand to the end of my vacuum cleaner. If I’d had a Mr. Machine I could have fixed that lawn mower instead of trading it to my neighbor for Fritos.
In my defense though, I’ve now got a fuck-ton of Fritos. So life is good.
King Of The Hill is like a 3-D version of Snakes & Ladders, but with no ladders. Players compete to get up the hill first, but landing your marble in front of a cave will plummet you further down the course. It’s a great lesson in the chaotic random nature of the universe, and also that life will screw you over sometimes just because you showed up.
I grew up with a very distorted view of what boxing is. In Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for the Nintendo, I learned that boxing is a matter of finding the right button combination for your opponent. With Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, I learned that boxing is about smashing the crap out of a single lever in order to dislocate your opponent’s head.
In the UK, this game went under the name Raving Bonkers. In 1977, Marx Toys decided the robots, which debuted in 1964, needed an update for the Star Wars generation. They gave the ring a more space-ish look and rebranded the toy Clash Of The Cosmic Robots. I think I like ‘Raving Bonkers’ better.
Surprisingly, I have never played the Mystery Date board game. I think it’s fascinating – girls matching outfits in hopes of scoring the ideal date with some stranger. This teaches a great lesson: girls need to focus more on what they wear and how they look to attract the right man than who they are. I’m kicking myself for not buying one of these for my own daughter, who is now weighted down by all that ridiculous self-worth and self-value that girls just don’t need.
Also, the ‘dud’ date was depicted for a while as a construction worker, which is a fantastic way to remind the working class that they should not breed.
Marvin Glass & Associates beat out the Star Wars merchandizing behemoth by 12 years with their James Bond-related toys. Now your children can re-enact Sean Connery’s fear of having his scrotum spliced by a laser! “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to play!”
Hasbro spread Marvin’s Lite-Brite around the globe in 1967. You can now play this game as an app on the iPad, but where’s the fun in that? Lite-Brite trained us all to be amateur graphic designers. Yes, there were cardboard templates you could follow, but it was more fun to craft your own original work. The downside was that the little plastic pegs, when angled just so in a thick pile or shag carpet, could be downright LEGO-esque with their vicious foot-stabs. I think I may still have a green peg embedded in the sole of my left foot, but I’m afraid to look.
In 1969 Marvin’s crew developed a game in which children gather around a table and attempt to launch plastic vermin at an invisible gentleman’s taint. Ants In The Pants is simply Tiddlywinks with a slightly less goofy name and a theme that cashes in on children’s fascination with insects, as well as their willingness to laugh at even the slightest suggestion of a person’s genitals.
The Inchworm toy, which no child loved as much as the girl in the photo appears to love hers, is a ride-on scooter. It does away with luxuries like steering or brakes, but more than makes up for these shortcomings with a snazzy clicking sound that young children enjoy. At least until they awaken in the hospital with that clicking sound reverberating in their heads as the last thing they heard before careening down the basement stairs because they couldn’t weave out of the way.
Wow, I let this get a little dark. Sorry about that – let’s focus on a toy with absolutely no possible link to cerebral contusions or shattered femurs.
There was a moment in every boy’s life in the 1970’s in which he wanted to be Evel Knievel. Here was a guy who could pop wheelies, leap over semi-trucks and probably terrify a week’s worth of poop out of his mother every time he showed up on TV. The Stunt Cycle could provide children with a miniaturized version of the thrill of leaping Evel’s bike over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace, provided the kid had a fantastic imagination and possibly a goldfish bowl to simulate the fountains.
The Stunt Cycle was the toy of 1973. I wanted one and I wasn’t even born yet. And that’s the beauty of Marvin Glass’s toys – they infiltrated the childhoods of those of us who were born long after most of them were released. In fact, of everything on Marvin Glass’s resume, the only smash hit that was released in my lifetime was this thing:
Freakin’ Simon. Launched at Studio 54 in 1978, Simon combined flashing lights, random melodies (all in the key of an A-major triad in second inversion, as I’m sure you’re all aware), and unconscionable stress. Simon tested one’s memory, but gave you three ways to do it: by recalling the actual order of your instruction, remembering the sequence of flashing lights or re-enacting the tune.
It was based on an Atari arcade game called Touch Me (no, this wasn’t one of Atari’s dirty games), except on that game the buttons were all black and the sounds were awful. Simon was downright brilliant.
Not a bad legacy for an unknown toymaker. Marvin Glass passed away in 1974, and the company suffered a jolt when three of its executives were taken down in a shooting spree by a disenfranchised toy designer a few years later. But they carried on until 1988, when the company folded and its designers went on to other things.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find someone to play Mystery Date with me. I think it’s about time I try it.