Have Yourself A Very Boomer Christmas

Mister Boomer is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. So, this week, he suggests you check out these classic Mister Boomer posts of days of yore, and have a very Boomer Christmas:

Boomers Loved Rudolph
The post that answers the question: Just how did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer become so much a part of every boomer’s Christmas?

The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident
A fun Mister Boomer memory of a Christmas incident with his siblings.

Christmas Shopping the Boomer Kid Way
The whole Christmas shopping experience has changed dramatically since the boomer days of the 1950s and ’60s.

To Icicle or Not to Icicle? Boomers Answered the Question
Tinsel-draped Christmas live trees were the standard for many boomers. Mister B relates his family history regarding those silvery icicle strands.

Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads
Did your family hop on the boomer-era bandwagon and adopt an aluminum Christmas tree?

Early Boomer Toys Became Classics — Part 2

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.

Vac-U-Form (1962)
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)

Spirograph (1966)
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?

Early Boomer Toys Became Classics

Once upon a time, every city of a decent size had a family-owned department store that served as headquarters for visits to Santa and, just as important, a Toyland. This area, usually positioned before the line to visit Santa, offered kids a hands-on look at the toys they might not have known they wanted. These Toylands opened with a great fanfare each year on the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa took up residence. Though most, if not all, of these stores carried toys year round, they expanded their inventory for Christmas, and especially for the most sought-after products.

Boomers had been influenced by TV shows and commercials right from the start. Peer pressure added to their wish list, but a trip through Toyland could cement their desires into a list for Santa. Of course, many parents of boomers had to explain that Santa was very busy, and had to have many helpers, so there was no guarantee that their kids would see the real guy on their visit. But, the tale continued, kids could rest assured that their requests were given directly to the Big Man. The parents of boomers tried to get their kids much more than what they had, and did everything in their power to fulfill the lists.

Every decade has its special toy debut, but the boomer era spawned some of the most iconic toys in the history of toy making. The earliest boomers mainly grew up with toys that originated and were popular in the 1930s and ’40s, like Slinky, Legos, Magic 8 Ball, bottled bubble solution, sock monkeys and Tonka trucks. The 1950s kicked it up a notch, introducing a vast array of toys that have gone on to become classics. A good many are still sold today. Take a look at just a few of the most popular toys of the 1950s:

Silly Putty (1950)
Mister Boomer and his siblings all received Silly Putty as a gift. The stuff was a terrific toy because it would bounce like a ball, could stretch great distances, break like taffy if a sharp motion was used, and it would lift images from the Sunday comics. Ink was petroleum-based then so the putty picked up the color. The image could then be stretched to outlandish proportions, and transferred to another piece of paper. Mister B recalls lifting images of Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey.

Colorforms (1951)
Shiny vinyl cut into simple shapes could be positioned and repositioned on a laminate background that Mister B recalls was black in the set that his sister had.

Mr. Potato Head (1952)
The first Mr. Potato Head kits were nothing more than a series of plastic parts with a pointed stick mounted on the back of each. Boomers would get a real potato (or other vegetable) and plug in a nose, eyes, lips, mustache, hat, and body. This is the kit Mister B had. Mrs. Potato Head arrived in 1953, and the plastic head for Mr. Potato Head was introduced in 1964. Mr. Potato Head made history in 1952 by being the first toy to ever have its own dedicated TV commercial.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBGxCJQkNUc

PEZ Dispensers (1952 in U.S.)
Originated in post-War Europe, the PEZ dispenser was a way to attract more kids to PEZ candy. It came to the U.S. in 1952 as a plain cigarette-lighter shape. The earliest character dispensers, around 1955, were Santa, the Easter Bunny, a Halloween witch, astronaut and Popeye. Mister B had a Popeye dispenser but the head quickly broke. He continued to use the dispensing function without it. In the 1960s, additional heads joined the PEZ line up, with Casper, Bozo the Clown and Mickey Mouse, followed by a full line of Disney characters.

Wiffle Ball (1953)
One of the great things about Wiffle balls was you could bat them around a yard and not worry about breaking windows or hurting younger siblings. Mister B, though not having a Whiffle ball and bat himself, recalls playing games at his cousin’s house with boys and girls of varying ages.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH_QaYZDQiA

Matchbox Cars (1953)
Tiny metal cars that would fit in a matchbox, boomer boys took to these toys right away. Mister Boomer was not one of them. He and Brother Boomer had small slot cars instead.

Play-Doh (early 50s)
Like Silly Putty, another strange substance from our youth, Play-Doh could be molded like clay, but was much easier to shape. It could also be baked into permanent items with the help of boomer moms. Mister Boomer and his siblings all had their own Play-Doh kits for several years.

Gumby (1955)
Gumby first appeared on TV in 1953. Gumby toys hit the stores in 1955. Boomers could not resist the bendable figures of Gumby and Pokey. Mister B had cousins who owned the toys, but he and his siblings did not.

Fisher-Price Corn Popper (1957)
A good many boomers had this early development toy that encouraged kids to walk. Resembling a lawn mower, as kids pushed it, small colored balls would pop inside a clear dome. Again, this toy didn’t make it into the Mister Boomer household, probably because he and his siblings were too old for it, but his younger cousins did have them. Fisher-Price also gave the world Busy Bee and Snap-Lock Beads in the 1950s.

Two-Handed Pogo Stick (1957)
A single vertical-poled pogo stick was around since the late 1800s, but a two-handed stick debuted in 1957. Mister B didn’t have one, but some neighborhood kids did. It took a while before he got the hang of it and could compete with the kids for highest number of consecutive bounces.

Hula Hoop (1958)
Based on a gymnast’s ring, which had been around for centuries in China, Wham-O introduced the plastic hula hoop in 1958 and launched a huge worldwide fad. Youngsters to teens were all mesmerized with the task of rotating the hoop around their waist for as long as possible. Advanced users could rotate them around their necks or arms. Mister B and his siblings each had one. Mister B enjoyed flipping the hoop. The proper flick of the wrist would send the hoop out and back to the place of origin.

Barbie (1959)
The doll that launched Mattel toy sales into the stratosphere for years began during the boomer years. Mister Boomer’s sister loved her Barbie, and Mister B and Brother boomer liked the fact that they could always count on getting a new outfit for her each Christmas, making gift buying for their sister that much easier.

Chatty Cathy (1959)
The first talking doll activated by pulling a string, the doll appeared in stores and in TV commercials in 1960. Mister B’s sister got one of these dolls for Christmas one year. (See Boomers Knew What a “Chatty Cathy” Was)

Etch A Sketch (1959 in Germany, 1960 in US)
Etch A Sketch has become one of the most iconic toys of the Boomer Era. The Ohio Art Company saw the toy at a toy fair in Germany in 1959, envisioned its potential, and brought it to the U.S. market as a new decade appeared. Mister Boomer had his for many years, eventually becoming proficient enough to draw circles using the horizontal and vertical control knobs.

Whether you were an early or late boomer, chances are good you or your siblings got one of these toys for Christmas. Which ones did you enjoy, boomers?

A Very Boomer Christmas

It’s Christmas Week and Mister Boomer is behind schedule. He is overwhelmed by the hubbub of the season, like a manic Lucy in a gift wrapping factory. Therefore, please enjoy this encore presentation of some of Mister B’s favorite Christmas posts from Christmases past:

Have Boomers Half-Baked the Holiday Cookie Tradition?

Why Boomers Love “A Christmas Story”

Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads

Boomers Watched Santa On Radar

Boomers Had Their Holiday School Break Outside

The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident

One year after Mister Boomer’s father had switched the Christmas tree bulbs from the large, teardrop-shaped glass bulbs to white mini-lights, he found them so satisfactory that he bought more, this time in multi-color strands. The Boomer brothers saw the extra strand of white mini-lights from the previous year and decided they needed to further decorate the home.

Brother Boomer laid out the strand and plugged it in to see if all the tiny white lights were still in working order, the way he had seen his father do it numerous Christmases before. When all the lights were securely in their sockets and lit, the boys looked around for where they could hang them. They chose the doorway arch that led down the hall to the house’s one bathroom and three bedrooms. The problem was, there was no way to secure the lights to the plaster wall. Mister Boomer grabbed the roll of generic transparent tape from the junk drawer. He and Brother Boomer set the strand of lights down, starting at the nearest electrical outlet, and taped the green plastic wires to the inside of the arched doorway with cellophane “Xs” every few bulbs. Even before the boys had finished, some tape was failing its duties. More tape was employed to buttress the gaps. Scotch tape brand would probably have had better adhesion capabilities, but the family wasn’t into buying more expensive brands unless there was a big sale. Three-quarters of a tape roll later, Brother Boomer plugged the lights in and the hall entryway became holiday-ready.

Wanting more pizzazz, Brother Boomer told Mister B to retrieve the clear glass flasher bulb from the tiny bag that came with the lights. In Mister Boomer’s household, all the elements were kept in the original packaging as long as possible. After reading the instructions, Brother Boomer dutifully removed the first bulb closest to the plug and replaced it with the flasher bulb. Now, when the lights were plugged in they flashed on and off every few seconds. Mister Boomer and his brother and sister admired their handiwork by turning the living room lamps off.

When Brother Boomer grew tired of staring at the flashing bulbs, he walked over to the entryway and, waiting for the lights to toggle off, leapt through the doorway before the lights could turn back on. Mister B followed his lead and made the leap. The boys motioned for their sister to join them, but Brother Boomer made the game more interesting by telling their 5-year old sibling that she had to time it right, because if she didn’t make it through before the lights went on, she would be electrocuted. She started sobbing and refused to try as the Boomer brothers laughed in the hallway. Brother Boomer tried to show her it was “safe” by making the leap through back and forth as the lights toggled off, but she was not convinced. He crossed over, grabbed her by the arm and tried to push her through, but Sister Boomer would have none of it, digging her heels into the carpet and screaming. Since Mister B’s parents were out Christmas shopping, pre-teen Brother Boomer was in charge, so her screams were to no avail. Finally, he dropped her arm and leapt back through the lights. This time he pretended to barely make it through and acted like the bulbs singed his hand.

Mister Boomer joined in his fun. The boys, laughing in the hallway the other side of the light field, tried to toss each other through the “killer” lights. When Brother Boomer pushed Mister B into the doorway, he was caught directly in the “beams.” He convulsed like the electrocuted characters he had seen in cartoons and collapsed on the living room floor. “You zapped him!” Sister Boomer said as a motionless Mister B suppressed a giggle. Brother Boomer leapt through and unplugged the lights. He tried to console his little sister and told her, “Don’t tell mom and dad. He’ll be OK in a few minutes. He was just stunned.” Sister Boomer ran over to the doorway and tried to pull the lights down. The cheap tape was already not holding, and half the strand was dangling loose. She stopped when Mister Boomer got back up on his feet, exclaiming, “Whoa, what happened?” Then the boys told Sister Boomer again that the lights were not electrocuting anyone and it was a game. She didn’t believe them. Mister B retaped the lights as best he could with the remaining tape.

When Mister B’s parents returned, the Boomer children were watching TV and the lights flickered on and off in the doorway. “What did you do?” shouted Mister B’s mom, pointing at the lights. “I don;t want you playing around electrical outlets!” “Leave them alone, it’s fine,” chimed in Mister B’s father. Sister Boomer shot the boys a dirty look, but she didn’t tell her parents what had transpired. But for the rest of the night, if the lights were lit, she would not step into the hallway. One of the boys had to unplug them first.

By morning most of the strand was on the floor. The tape wasn’t going to hold, so the boys gave up and took them down. Fifty-plus years later, Mister Boomer’s sister still tells this story of how her brothers had taunted her and tried to electrocute her with Christmas lights. While Brother Boomer still laughs, Mister Boomer is a little more apologetic, but explains to his sister that even back then he could not believe she was so gullible.

Did you and your siblings ever join in any reindeer games of your own, at the expense of your younger sibling, boomers?

Boomers Loved Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the 1939 creation of Robert May, a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward Company in Chicago. He penned the story of Rudolph as a poem for the store’s holiday booklet, an annual giveaway. Some folks thought the reindeer’s red nose would negate any positives of the story of a misfit as the terminology of the day saw someone with a red nose as a drunkard. May convinced his bosses by having Rudolph drawn as a young deer, too cute for anyone to object to. When the store discontinued the booklets in 1947, May acquired the rights to his work. He published the poem as a children’s illustrated book and sold one hundred thousand copies.

That same year, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, a veteran songwriter and radio producer, thought the poem might make a good song. May gave Marks the green light to give it a try. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came into being as a song and was pitched to some stars of the day; Perry Como rejected it when he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to change any lyrics, and so did Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby.

In 1947, Gene Autry was riding high off his Christmas hit, Here Comes Santa Claus. He was looking for another Christmas song to follow up on his success, but Rudolph wasn’t to arrive on his doorstep until fall of 1949. The Singing Cowboy made the song his own, and Rudolph was released as a single in Christmas week of 1949. The song shot to the top of the charts, partly due to shrewd marketers. Autry’s Here Comes Santa Claus had a colorful cartoon picture sleeve that helped propel its status among very young boomers. It was decided that Rudolph should also have a picture sleeve, paving the way for singles with picture sleeves for the next couple of decades. Since it remained in the number one spot through the week ending January 5, Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first hit of 1950.

It seemed the timing couldn’t be better for becoming a beloved classic of a burgeoning Baby Boom generation. Stars leapt at the chance to record it for this new generation. The list of recording stars to croon their version of Rudolph over the next two decades reads like a Who’s Who of popular music. More than 500 recordings were made, including:

1950: Bing Crosby (just a few years after rejecting it)
1957: The Cadillacs did a doo-wop version
1959: Dean Martin
1960: Alvin and the Chipmunks
1960: Paul Anka
1963: The Crystals sang the first rock ‘n roll version
1964: Burl Ives sang it for the Christmas animated special
1965: The Supremes
1968: The Temptations
1970: The Jackson 5

The song went on to sell more than 25 million copies, second only to White Christmas.

As Rudolph soared into the zeitgeist of the Baby Boomer generation, it was only natural that the next step would be to bring the story to television. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an animated TV special created by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass in 1964. Filmed as stop-motion animation, the characters were posed articulated models, shot frame by frame which were combined to form the full-length cartoon. The result was a very relatable homemade look that inspired many baby boomers to create their own animations with their families’ new Super 8 film camera.

The first airing of the TV Christmas special was on December 6, 1964 and it has been broadcast every year since. The show started out on NBC but has been airing on CBS since 1972. In other words, as boomers grew, it became an annual tradition that they now share with children and grandchildren. As to why it continues to strike a cord with boomers and non-boomers alike, well, Mister B feels it has to be the story. We boomers were carving a path of our own in the Brave New World of the 1960s. Rudolph, Hermey the elf and the Island of Misfit Toys were eminently relatable to a generation of underdogs.

Mister Boomer and his siblings watched the special every year since the first airing in 1964, naturally, in black & white. Brother Boomer was never much interested in the TV adaptation, but his sister really enjoyed it. Mister B did like the Misfit Toys, but especially liked the Abominable Snowmonster. By the time the Rudolph song was sung by Burl Ives at the end of the special, it was anticlimactic. Every kid had heard the song for years and knew the Rudolph story, though the TV special put a new spin to it, with memorable characters.

Did you listen to Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on your record player, boomers? And did you watch the Rudolph TV special every year?