At Christmas 1967, the Baby Boom was over and its earliest members had reached the age of twenty-one, while the last group of boomers celebrated their third Christmas. The year gave us the Spaghetti Western with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, while Katharine Hepburn went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, which debuted that year. America was transfixed by the Summer of Love and dazzled by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival. That same month, The Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
The world was rapidly changing, but the holiday landscape reflected Christmas traditions of earlier boomer years for the latest members of the generation, born 1960-64. Nonetheless, the celebration of the season was tempered with the backdrop of a full-scale war, though undeclared, going on in a place most people couldn’t find on a map. Here are some numbers and facts about our Christmas of 1967:
There were 3,520,959 births in the U.S. that year as the population rose to 203,713,081. Among the now-famous who celebrated their first Christmas that year are Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Laura Dern, Vin Diesel, Nicole Kidman, Kurt Kobain, Pamela Anderson, Jamie Foxx and a plethora of celebrities from all types of creative disciplines.
There were 485,600 troops stationed Over There. The Battle of Tam Quan was fought the first two weeks of December, resulting in 58 U.S. soldiers never celebrating another Christmas. In October of 1967, 100,000 people assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and around half of the protestors continued marching to the Pentagon in “The March on the Pentagon to Confront the War Makers.” In December there were protests against the Draft — with public burnings of Draft Cards — in San Francisco and New York. Anti-war protests increased into the next year.
Hot Toys of the Season
Spiro-Graph was named Toy of the Year by toymakers, but Milton Bradley’s Battleship game was the top seller. Other top sellers included Lite Brite, Matchbox cars, doll furniture and houses, Lionel train sets and Aurora slot car tracks, to name a few.
Dollars and Cents
Postage to mail a Christmas card first-class in 1967 was five cents. The average annual income was just over $17,000 and people spent approximately $340 each on Christmas gifts. By contrast, people are expected to spend more than $900 per capita this year, and it’ll cost 49¢ to mail a Christmas card.
Christmas of 1967 was an in-between moment for Mister Boomer. As a young teen he began to become aware of the surrounding world while embracing the music of the time; and it was the year he got his first pair of bell bottoms. It was to be a season of exuberant boomer family celebration as it had always been, though Mister B realized he wouldn’t be a kid forever.
Have yourselves a Merry Boomer Christmas! What was Christmas like for you fifty years ago, boomers?
If your family was anything like Mister Boomer’s, you had brothers and sisters. Between 1950 and 1960, the U.S. population grew 19 percent to pass 179 million. In 1960, the average family had two children, and 60 percent of U.S. households had children under the age of 18. In Mister Boomer’s experience, almost every house on his block had at least three children, and often, more. Growing up with brothers and sisters posed lots of challenges, and one of them that surfaced annually was what gifts to get them for Christmas.
Once Mister Boomer’s younger sister hit the preteen stage, the Boomer children got together and decided to solve the dilemma by giving each other suggested gift lists, with a promise to adhere to the written word. This would ensure that no one got the gift they did not want. Mister B does not recall which of his siblings suggested the list, but all were enthusiastic about the prospect of avoiding the dreaded dud present.
In the earliest days, Boomer Sister would ask for board games, card games and View-Master slides. As she crossed into early teendom, Barbie dominated the lists. It was a welcome addition for Mister Boomer, since she would spell out exactly which ensembles to purchase, and since the cost was within his hard-earned budget, he managed to gift two on occasion.
Brother Boomer enjoyed building things, so model cars and Testor’s paint were often a safe bet for his lists. As he reached high school age, music was right up there on his lists. He would often buy 45 RPMs himself, but Christmas afforded the opportunity to ask for albums.
Mister Boomer always felt funny about asking for gifts, but also wanted to avoid receiving things that were unacceptable. His early lists might include model cars and planes, or building sets. In his late teens, music — albums and 8-tracks — made the list. Almost never would Mister B, Brother Boomer or Boomer Sister put clothing on the lists, but if they did, correct sizes and colors were a must.
As far as Mister B’s parents, they would go their own way in buying gifts for the kids, regardless of whether the kids gave them a list or not. Of course, that didn’t stop Mister B and his siblings from pointing out a commercial or two during Saturday morning cartoons. It was a given for the Boomer children that there would be socks and underwear. And long johns were a must in Midwest winters, so if the kids had outgrown the pair from the year before, Christmas gifting was the clothing staging center for the impending coldest winter months.
Mister Boomer’s father was always a big kid himself, so he enjoyed buying toys for his children. Though Mister B was always aware the family was on a tight budget, his father saw to it that each kid got one “big” gift every year. For the boys, it might be a football, ice skates or hockey sticks; and for his sister, Easy-Bake ovens, Creepy Crawlers and Operation. Every child had their own sled as well.
The idea of exchanging gift lists continued with Mister B’s brother and sister until one year, when all three children lived in different states and both his brother and sister had children of their own. It was agreed that they had exchanged enough gifts and sibling presents could stop; then the lists that circulated were for their children.
How did you treat gift buying with your siblings, boomers? Did you exchange suggested gift lists?
The 1950s and ’60s saw the heyday of model building in the U.S., and Mister Boomer was, like so many boomer boys, in the middle of it. Having got the model-building bug from his brother, Mister B built model kits for airplanes, ships and cars of all types. Yet the models he most treasured long after they were fully assembled and painted were his monster models collection.
Model kits have been around for generations, but before the war they were primarily composed of balsa wood, cloth, paper and metal. After the war, plastics fueled the model craze because they could be easily molded into any shape and were inexpensive to make. Consequently, several companies vied for boomer boys’ attention, each specializing in their own genre. The Aurora Plastics Company entered the market with plastic figurines in 1950. The company was interested in gaining a higher percentage of the burgeoning model market against stiff competition from the likes of industry giants Revell and others, and in 1956 they found a way; that year, Universal Pictures released its classic monster movies for television broadcasts. The company acquired the rights to make models of the classic monsters that had been scaring people on the silver screen for twenty years. Boomers were already feasting on a movie monster and sci-fi craze throughout the 1950s, so Aurora had an audience ready to buy what they were offering.
In 1961, the first Aurora monster model — the Frankenstein Monster — rolled off the production line and into the boomer zeitgeist. The model was an immediate success and sold as fast as Aurora could make them. In fact, the models sold so quickly that the company had to keep production going 24 hours a day. At its peak, Aurora was making 8,000 Frankenstein Monster kits a day, each sold for 98¢.
The prospect of a Frankenstein Monster kit for just under a dollar opened up the market for boomer boys, including Mister Boomer. After the commercial success of the Frankenstein Monster, Aurora developed an additional 12 kits known as the Aurora Monster 13: 1962: Dracula and The Wolf Man 1963: The Mummy, The Creature (from the Black Lagoon), and The Phantom of the Opera 1964: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla
The Salem Witch and The Bride of Frankenstein were also sold in 1964, followed in 1966 by The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel-Maré, to complete the monster set. Technically, the Forgotten Prisoner wasn’t a movie monster, but it represented a collaboration between Aurora and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
Mister Boomer collected ten of the classic movie monster kits, including Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, The Creature, Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla. Plus, he added Superman and the Chamber of Horrors Guillotine, both released in 1964. The affordable price meant he could buy them himself from his savings, but most often he asked for specific ones for Christmas. After all, he would need to buy glue and little bottles of Testor’s enamel paint to finish the projects.
Mister B spent hours assembling the pieces and painting them. He set up an entire wall shelf in his bedroom to house his collection, removing Superman from his base and suspending him in flight by a string. The guillotine was especially impressive since it actually chopped off the head of the condemned man. And painting the blood and guts of the prisoner mounted behind bars on the Phantom of the Opera base was satisfyingly creepy.
In the 1980s, Mister B paid a visit to his old homestead, only to discover, like so many boomer boys before him, that his mother had sold every model — monsters, cars, airplanes and ships — at a yard sale. Is it any wonder that many boomers are buying the kits again in their golden years? So far, Mister B has resisted.
Did you build these classic monster models, boomers?
Three items crossed the news desk at Mister Boomer headquarters this week that have direct connections to our boomer community. One is old news, one is recent, and one just happened this week. The juxtaposition of the three illustrate the expanse of the boomer generation and differences from early-to-late boomer tendencies.
Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum
This news is already seven years old. Somehow Mister Boomer may have heard that the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum was closing in 2010, but it didn’t immediately register on the scale of momentous boomer happenings; this is probably due to the fact that the TV and movie cowboy and his wife were never a big presence in Mister Boomer’s mid-era household.
Riding the wave of the popularity of Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, Leonard Slye (later called Roy Rogers [1911-1998]) appeared in a multitude of western movies on his slow and steady rise, from being part of several bands on recordings and radio, then appearing with bands in movies and moving up to starring roles. Along the way he became a lead performer in a band called the Sons of the Pioneers. The band appeared with him in numerous movies, on records and in TV shows. By 1941, Roy Rogers had appeared in 39 films. The band, with Rogers, had several hits, most notably Tumbling Tumbleweed (1934), Cool Water (1941) and Ghost Riders in the Sky (1948). The songs became classics in the Country-Western genre and indeed, the Sons of the Pioneers released new recordings of them every decade through the 1960s.
Rogers’ first wife, Aline, died in 1946. He met Dale Evans (1912-2001) when the two of them were working the same rodeo in 1947. That year they were married. In 1951, The Roy Rogers Show debuted on TV. His wife, Dale, starred alongside him. Each episode, which centered around a rancher (Rogers) and restaurant owner (Evans), espoused their Christian values of fear of God and love of country. The scripts included ample space for musical numbers, and ended with the duo’s signature song, Happy Trails. The original show ran for six seasons. In 1962, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show appeared as a western comedy and variety show for one season.
Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, a vast blitz of Roy Rogers merchandising hit the marketplace, including toys, lunch boxes and more. This merchandise held as much interest for early-era boomers as Gene Autry and Davy Crockett items.
After trying to revive their TV career failed in a changing landscape that perceived them as old-fashioned and “square,” the couple retired and moved to the Apple Valley area just north of Los Angeles, California. In 1967, they established the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in nearby Victorville. In 2003, the couple’s children moved the museum to Branson, Missouri. After lagging ticket sales, the museum shut in 2009, with its contents auctioned off in 2010. Among the items sold at auction was Rogers’ trusty horse, Trigger. The horse appeared with him in numerous movie and TV appearances, and became as much a star for early boomers as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. When Trigger died, Rogers had him stuffed and placed in his museum. Trigger corralled $266,500 at auction. Contents of the museum brought in a total of $2.9 million.
Stanley Weston (1933-2017)
While later-era boomers didn’t know much about Roy Rogers, they knew even less about Stanley Weston. However, most boomer boys born after 1960 knew about Weston’s invention, G.I. Joe. Often called the “Barbie for boys,” Weston knew there was no way his toy would sell if he billed it as a doll for boys. He coined the term, “outfitted action figure,” to describe his poseable figure dressed in military garb. To increase the macho qualities, he gave the figure a scar on his left cheek. He quickly sold the toy to Hasbro for a flat fee of $100,000 in 1964. The original figure was 12-inches tall and could be purchased dressed in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.
Weston cleverly saw the opportunity that accessories and different uniforms — like Barbie had shown the year before — could add to the continued sales of his creation. Far from a sure thing in the same year that U.S. soldiers began active fighting in Vietnam, the toy became one of the most successful of all time. The original G.I. Joe had no stated mission, no back story and no named enemies. In contrast, the G.I. Joe sold today is unrecognizable to boomers who had the original toy. The action figures sold today are more muscular — though smaller at nine-and-a-half inches, have a wide variety of weaponry and vehicles available, and are billed as terrorist-fighting men of action. The main adversary of all the ethnic varieties of G.I. Joe is Cobra, a terrorist organization whose goal, like James Bond villains, is to rule the world.
Stanley Weston went on to form a merchandise licensing company, Leisure Concepts. His company represented Farah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), Nintendo, the World Wrestling Federation and several TV shows, including Alf and Welcome Back, Kotter. He was inducted into the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Weston was also part of the team that created the popular ThunderCats TV cartoons.
Gregg Allman (1947-2017)
News arrived this week of the death of fellow boomer Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. The singer, guitarist and keyboardist had his mind set on medical school when his brother, Duane, convinced him to join his band on tour in 1969. Allman agreed to a two-year stint, but continued for the next forty years. The band helped define Southern Rock with their own blend of blues, rock and country.
In October of 1971, his older brother, Duane, died in a motorcycle accident. Four months later, in February 1972, the band returned to touring. By then the band had several hits, including Melissa and Whipping Post, both written by Gregg Allman.
Gregg Allman, already a household name among the majority of boomers before 1970, watched his celebrity kick up a notch when he married Cher in June of 1975. The marriage lasted three years. In total, Allman was married six times, producing four children from different mothers.
In 1995 the Allmann Brothers Band was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and granted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2012.
His addition to heroin and abuse of alcohol and cocaine sent him to rehab 11 times until he became sober in 1995. By then his drug abuse contributed to liver cancer, diagnosed in 2008. He had an unsuccessful liver transplant in 2010. Despite growing health issues, he continued to tour with the latest incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band. His last live performance was in July of 2016.
Mister Boomer’s involvement with the work of the three men had been fleeting. He would have been too young to remember reruns of the first Roy Rogers Show, and his family was more of a Hollywood Palace watching family than the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. Mister B also did not have a G.I. Joe. He was already aged in double-digits when the action figure appeared, though he recalls a neighborhood kid having one. As far as the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman, Mister Boomer heard them on the radio but didn’t like the band enough to merit adding their records to his collection. He did like several of their bluesy tunes, but to this day he owns no Allman Brothers vinyl, and only one Gregg Allman song appears in his electronic music collection: Whipping Post.
How about you, boomers? Did you have a Roy Rogers lunch box, a Trigger toy horse, or a G.I. Joe? Did you go to an Allman Brothers concert or own their hits on vinyl?
It’s funny how, as we age, memories from decades ago are triggered by everything from a smell, circumstance or in this case for Mister Boomer, a mundane act. Recently, while Mister B was emptying the dishwasher and putting away the flatware, he pulled the knives from the drawer in the door and flashed back to playing pick up sticks with his sister more than fifty years ago.
Boomer Sister loved games of all types, from card games to board games, skill games to games of chance. Inevitably, she would receive games for Christmas, and would constantly attempt to rope the family into playing the games with her. She was instrumental in getting the family to gather around Candy Land, Monopoly, the Game of Life, Mousetrap, dominoes, checkers, Old Maid, Uno, Yahtzee and more. One of the games she enjoyed in her early years was pick up sticks.
Pick up sticks is an extremely old game known by many names in different cultures. It has been called Mikado, Jackstraw and Spillkins, among other labels. Most historians trace its origins back to 12th century China, where sticks of ivory or bone were used to make predictions that were centered around one stick of a different color that was called the Emperor stick. No one knows for sure when or how it became a game for adults and children, but the simplicity of it may have had something to do with the spread through Asia to Japan. It is thought it spread to Native Americans over the Bering Strait, around the same time it was moving through Asia into India, and then Europe. Native Americans taught the game to English colonists.
Somewhere along the line, the sticks were made of wood instead of bone or ivory, making it much more portable and affordable for average gamers. Native Americans used wheat straws in their version. In each, however, the sticks were designated — usually by color — as having different points when they were retrieved. The highest-point value was associated with the Emperor stick, which was usually blue. In several countries that knew the game as Mikado, the name comes from the translation of the name as “emperor,” harkening back to its origins.
The general consensus is the modern-day version of the game came from Hungary to the U.S. in the 1930s. The name we know — pick up sticks — is thought to have been taken from the children’s nursery rhyme:
One, two, buckle my shoe Three, four, shut the door Five, six, pick up sticks Seven, eight, lay them straight Nine, ten, a big fat hen
Boomer Sister usually played the game on the living room floor, which was carpeted with the sculpted broadloom of the day. This meant an uneven surface, increasing the difficulty level of removing a modern-age plastic stick without disturbing others. It was this scene that Mister B flashed back on, he and his sister stretched out on the carpeting, rising only to take their turn at dropping the sticks.
Astute readers pointed out to Mister Boomer that in last week’s episode on classic toys of the 1950s, he ended the list with two that were released in 1960. However, Mister B would like to say this was not in error as he was planning to segue into this week’s review of some of the popular classic toys released in the 1960s.
Mister B knew there were lots of fantastic new toys introduced in the 1960s, so he included the two in the ’50s category based on their patent date rather than release date. So without further ado, check out this list of now-classic toys that got their start in the boomer years of the 1960s:
Game of Life (1960)
Originally created by Milton Bradley in 1860 as The Checkered Game of Life — a modified checkerboard — it became one of the most popular board games of the late 1800s. It was reinvented one hundred years later with the now-famous plastic spin wheel and other three-dimensional mountains and buildings imbedded into the playing board.
Mister Boomer’s sister asked for one for Christmas just as she was growing out of Candyland. She loved all types of board games, and would try to rope Mister B and Brother Boomer into the game. When she couldn’t get her brothers to play, she’d insist her father play the game with her. Mister Boomer was never all that interested in board games.
The Ken Doll (1961)
Did you know Ken’s full name was Ken Carson? He was named after Ruth Handler’s son; she had invented Barbie just two years earlier. He was conceived as a love interest for Barbie — the ultimate accessory for the doll who had everything. Ken came first with flocked hair, then with a plastic-molded crew cut in blond or brunette, and shipped with a red swimsuit, yellow towel and sandals.
Again, Mister Boomer’s sister got a Ken to go with her Barbie. However, Mister B recalls she generally preferred dressing up Barbie.
Duncan Butterfly Yo-Yo (1962)
The toy we call a yo-yo has been around in various forms for centuries. There is evidence of a yo-yo type of toy as far back as the Egyptians and Greeks. In the 1920s, a Filipino-American named Pedro Flores made the toy out of wood. Donald Duncan (the same entrepreneur who gave us Good Humor Ice Cream) bought the rights from Flores in 1929 and released his own version. In the 1950s, Duncan sponsored teen events and competitions to spur interest in his yo-yo. By the 1950s, Duncan’s version was made out of plastic, and in the following decade dozens of manufacturers became Duncan competitors.
In 1962, the company released the Butterfly Yo-Yo to try to regain dominance of the market. Looking like a butterfly-shaped spool, it had an inward-sloping center that made the toy easier to manipulate into tricks. Due to a national TV commercial blitz that year, interest in the yo-yo resurfaced to its highest level. Both Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer had several yo-yos made of wood and plastic, though he doesn’t recall owning the Duncan name brand or a butterfly style. Mister B remembers Brother Boomer performing trick with his yo-yo that lit up when it spinned.
Slip ‘n Slide (1961)
Who else but an American could conceive of a toy that consisted of nothing more than a sheet of vinyl? But when boomers set the family’s garden hose on it to wet the surface, hydroplaning action made it super-slick. Boomers could slide the length of the sheet face down or feet first.
Mister Boomer recalls somebody in the neighborhood having one, but he found all too often wrinkles in the vinyl could scrape the skin. He and Brother Boomer made their own version in their backyard using the vinyl liner of their 1950s kiddie pool, with unsatisfactory results since they didn’t repeat the experiment.
Another in a series of scientific toys released in the Boomer Era, Vac-U-Form molded plastic sheets that were set over a heated metal plate. When the boomer child pulled the handle to pull the top of the mold over the plastic, a vacuum would form and force the heated plastic into the mold’s shape.
Brother Boomer got one, and Mister B watched the process with a fair degree of fascination.
Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone (1962)
Following the success of the Corn Popper in the 1950s, Fisher-Price released the Chatter Telephone with a dial, handset and buttons that all made sounds when activated. The intent of the toy was to let kids mimic their parents using a telephone. It became the company’s best-selling toy throughout the 1960s and 70s. Original versions were made of wood, which was then replaced with plastic.
Easy-Bake Oven (1963)
Kenner gave us light bulb baking at its best in this super-popular home economics toy. The original version was made of blue plastic, which was changed to green the second year of production, then yellow the year after that.
Mister Boomer’s sister got one, but Mister B does not recall that she ever successfully baked a mini-cake.
Creepy Crawlers (1963)
Another toy that could potentially burn boomers’ fingers, Creepy Crawlers let boomers squirt a liquid rubbery substance into a mold that was heated by a hot plate. When the liquid cured, it became rubbery toy spiders, snakes and lizards.
Mister Boomer’s sister received the toy one Christmas, probably in 1963. Though he does not remember his sister burning herself, the toy was declared too dangerous for children and taken off the market in the 1970s. It was refitted with safeguards and re-introduced in the 1980s.
Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots (1964)
Two “robots” in a boxing ring could be controlled via joystick handles with push-button punching action. Boomer players would literally try to knock the head off the opponent’s robot. When struck correctly, the head would lift from the body along a metal shaft, which could be snapped back down for the next round.
Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer did not have one, but got to play the toy when they visited his cousin’s house.
G.I. Joe (1964)
Controversial in its time, G.I. Joe was called an action figure rather than a doll to counter calls that boys should not play with dolls. Designed as a macho hero from World War II, it was aimed squarely at boys. Articulated arms and legs allowed for action poses to interact with a plethora of weaponry, tanks and Jeeps (sold separately).
Neither Brother Boomer or Mister B had one, more than likely because they were out of the targeted age range.
See ‘n Say (1965)
Fisher-Price followed the success of the Chatty Cathy doll with talking toys for the younger set. Little hands could choose the sound they wanted to hear by turning the center pointer to a circular melange of potential sounds and pull a ring to hear it. Later the company made different versions to highlight particular categories of sounds, including the Bee Says, Farmer Says, Mister Music Says, and more.
Mister B recalls younger cousins having versions of the toy, especially Farmer Says.
Super Ball (1965)
Wham-O was on a roll with boomer toys, from the hula hoop and Frisbie of the 1950s to the Slip ‘n Slide and Super Ball of the ’60s. (See Boomers Had A Ball With This Fad)
A similar toy made of wood was available in the 1908 Sears catalog as The Marvelous Wondergraph. The toy used mathematical formulas to draw shapes by way of gears rotating on a fixed ring. Kenner’s 1960s version had plastic gears that were detailed so when a pen was inserted through designated hole, and the gear operated, would produce geometric designs.
Mister Boomer got one and was constantly enthralled by the geometry of the designs that could be drawn.
Barrel of Monkeys (1966)
Literally a plastic barrel filled with a dozen plastic monkeys, the game took its name from the phrase, “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.” Each monkey had “S”-shaped arms that could be linked with one another. Monkeys were dumped from the barrel to a table, where a player would grab one and try to make a chain by linking the arms of all the monkeys in the pile. A player’s turn ended when a monkey was dropped. One point was assigned for each monkey remaining in the linked chain. The first player to get to twelve points won the game.
Lite Brite (1967)
Hasbro was another toy manufacturer well known to boomers. The Lite Brite was essentially a small light box covered by a sheet of black paper. Kids poked small pegs through paper in templates that formed shapes and objects, or free-form, causing them to light up the resulting shape.
Hot Wheels (1968)
Following the success of Matchbox cars, Mattel went one better with Hot Wheels. The cars were insanely fast when pushed on plastic track accessories, thanks to special ball bearings invented for the purpose. If you are a mid- to late-era boomer male, chances are you had a Hot Wheels collection. Mister B and Brother Boomer were teens by the time Hot Wheels were introduced. In fact, Brother Boomer got his his first real car in 1968.
While this list is by no means all-inclusive, how many of these toys did you play with, boomers?