Mego: A Great Toy of the Past
Today’s kids and collectors enjoy playing with (and hunting for) DC Universe or Marvel Legends action figures. But back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the Mego Corporation was the undisputed giant of the figure world. According to the MegoMuseum website, founder D. David Abrams started the company in 1954 as a manufacturer of 88 cent promotional toys and dime store novelties.
In the early 1970’s, Abrams’ son Marty began working for Mego and was responsible for much of its subsequent success. During his tenure, Mego launched the toy line which changed the childhoods of so many of us for the better: the World’s Greatest Super Heroes (made from 1972-83). They looked a bit different from present-day figures.
Mego heroes were 8″ tall instead of the 3 or 4 inch height typical of modern action toys. Despite their curious construction of rubber bands inside a plastic body, they were quite poseable and could stand upright. Each had a removeable costume consisting of a cloth unitard and footwear, usually boots in a matching color.
Megos had only four basic body shapes, making them easy to mass produce. This was handy for the consumer as well. If something happened to the toy, you could simply place the head on another body. This also applied to many of the costumes. A big part of Mego play was carefully peeling off the unitard, then placing it on another figure for a droll or bizarre effect.
Another cool feature was the fact that Mego manufactured both DC and Marvel characters. Some of the more popular toys included Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman. There were also villains such as the Joker, the Lizard, the Green Goblin, and Silver Age Superman foe Mr. Mxyzptlk.
The exciting thing for comics-loving girls was the inclusion of several female characters, among them Supergirl, Catwoman, Isis, and the aforementioned Wonder Woman. It’s hard for present day kids to picture how these female heroes stood out in the toy landscape, an oasis of girlpower in a male figure world. Sure, there were Barbie and her fashion sisters, and they were beloved. But it was also neat to have a tangible representation of the heroines you always read about.
With the success of the Heroes, Mego was able to expand and produce more figures, birthing a microcosm of pop culture in the process. They came up with toys based on the original Star Trek TV series and the Planet of the Apes movies. 1975 began the era of TV-based lines, such as the CHIPS and Happy Days characters.
Some of these (like Cher of the TV Starz series) were a bit taller than the standard Mego. Not surprisingly, the TV toys have become very collectible because of their appeal to 70’s nostalgia.
In 1977, a strange thing happened with the Mego company: they turned down the rights for a Star Wars toy line. Various reasons have been given for this, the most cited being that Mego became leery of making figures for every science fiction franchise that came along. MegoMuseum reports that it was a communications error; the basic pitch never reaching senior management.
In any event, Star Wars licensing went to Hasbro, who promptly turned quite the profit making 3-inch likenesses of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the rest. Evantually, the trend toward smaller toys with painted-on clothes and better joint articulation became standard in the industry.
But it’s hard to keep a classic toy down, and though the original Mego corp disbanded in 1983, the figures remain popular and very collectible. Several posts could be devoted to the subject of customizing Mego toys alone. As mentioned earlier, Megos are ideal for this due to their standardized bodies (easy to change and fit clothes to).
Before being cancelled recently, Toyfare magazine took customizing to a whole new level with their “Twisted Toyfare Theater” stories. These delightfully demented satires of comics and SF movies featured Megos and other toys as main characters, sending up everything from The Matrix to X-Men tales. It was great to read humor which featured toys one actually played with while growing up.
Though smaller action figures are the present-day norm, anyone who grew up with Megos retains a soft spot for them. After all, they were the embodiment of our favorite heroes. They fostered imagination without a single battery. In a tech-driven world, that’s still quite an accomplishment.