Well, to be honest it all started with Barbie. If Mattel hadn’t released their amply proportioned bombshell in 1959, the first time girls had been sold an adult doll rather than the traditional bottle-fed baby, enjoying massive sales as a result, rival toy maker Hasbro wouldn’t have been minded to try the same with boys, the result of which was GI Joe and in turn Action Man.
In 1964 the advent of GI Joe in the US caused a sensation. First off, boys would play with dolls (although Hasbro banned the use of the term insisting these were ‘action figures’) and secondly it established a hugely successful toy line which worked on the ‘razor blade’ principal, the razor being just the start, the money was in the consumables – the blades. And so it was with GI Joe/Action Man - the figure was the bait, the uniform sets and accessory packs were the real catch. As a consequence manufacturer Hasbro and Palitoy, its UK subsidiary, struck gold.
Unsurprisingly the success of the above boys’ toy encouraged rival manufactures to jump on the band wagon, with varying success. Louis Marx was among the most prolific in producing a wide range of competing action figures. Three are shown here: Sir Percival, a Gold Knight from their popular Noble Knight series which also featured armoured horses; young cowboy Jay West, from the Best of the West series which also included Johnny West, Jane West and Geronimo among others; Stony ‘Stonewall Smith’, the Battling Soldier.
Noble Knights and Best of the West figures were available in the UK but Stony didn’t sail across the pond and consequently is among the rarest. I had to purchase my boxed version from the US. Marx was pretty quick to cash in on GI Joe, releasing Stony the same year as Hasbro’s toy. Initially because he came with a box full of accessories he enjoyed good sales. But Stony had a major flaw. His uniform was moulded on, the only one he ever had. He hit the dirt in 1968 and never got up.