Boomers Survived Christmas Toy Hazards

In the classic movie, A Christmas Story, the character Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas. His mother and father tell him he’ll shoot his eye out — and even on a visit to Santa, the jolly man himself chimed in with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie persisted and his father bought him the BB gun through his wife’s objections. Playing outside on Christmas Day, Ralphie does in fact almost shoot his eye out when a BB ricochets off his target to hit him in the cheek. But BB guns were hardly the least dangerous toys for boomers. In fact, in Mister Boomer’s view, hazards were more the rule than the exception.

Throughout the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s, boomer toys contained all manner of safety hazards, from projectiles that could shoot your eye out to small pieces that could be swallowed, and cuts and bruises potential that at the time seemed like part of everyday play. Mister B recalls receiving a cheaply-made bow and arrow, the arrows being tipped with suction cups. Of course, Brother Boomer immediately grabbed an arrow and pulled the suction cups off to reveal just the wooden tip. Though blunt, it certainly had the potential for damage if the shot was errant. The bow had a string that was more appropriate for a kite, but still, Brother Boomer launched arrows at Mister B that resulted in stinging body blows.

Mister Boomer remembers making slingshots with neighborhood kids, out of tree branches and old rubber bike inner tubes. Acorns and small rocks were the choice projectiles chosen to sling. Regardless of whether a toy was inherently hazardous, boomers could play with them in a such a way as to create a hazard. Mister Boomer recalls Brother Boomer and a cousin playing with Tonka trucks. Sitting on his aunt’s basement floor, each would roll a metal truck at the other as fast as they could possibly push it, the objective being a massive crash of toys and a metallic twang that seemed to be very satisfying to them. This was the late 1950s, and Tonka trucks were made of solid metal, so there was hardly any damage to the toys in the process. Fortunately, no metal pieces flew out from the intentional accidents. Can you imagine the same scenario a decade later, when the trucks were made of plastic, of the sharp pieces that could have broken off and gone flying?

One year, Mister Boomer’s sister got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. Though she did not experience any injury operating the appliance, other children did. The tiny light bulb inside got hot enough to bake a tiny cake, and hundreds of kids did burn their little fingers. It was pulled off the market in the ’70s, then retooled to add safety precautions, and came back in the ’80s.

Lawn darts have been around for centuries, but whoever thought giving kids a sharp metal spike with dart fins on it was a good idea never saw a boomer play. Lawn darts became popular under various names throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Mister Boomer’s cousins had the brand name game, Jarts, but rather than toss them like horseshoes into a plastic ring on the lawn, they took to throwing them like mini-javelins at each other. Fortunately, they did not get hurt in the process, but between 1978-86, more than 6,000 children ended up in emergency rooms, and two children were killed, by playing with this toy.

The classic hazardous toy in Mister Boomer’s mind has to be Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers (also sold as Thingmaker), introduced in 1964. It was a kit that came with metal molds and a liquid that, when heated, would produce a rubbery plastic model of a spider, snake or other insect (the creepy crawlers part). A child would attach the metal mold to the provided hot plate, plug it in, drop the goop into the mold and as the plate was heated to 390 degrees, watch the liquid coalesce into a bug. Boys and girls loved this toy! Mister Boomer’s sister loved this toy, and he recently learned his spouse did as well. After numerous injuries were reported, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, created in 1973, put the kibosh on it and Mattell discontinued manufacturing the product. They brought it back in 1978 after engineering some safety checks into it. Basically, the toy no longer provided the hot plate, so kids had to have mom and dad help them heat up the goop. Yeah, that idea went well. It quickly disappeared, but was revived by another company, Toymax, in 1992.

How about you, boomers? What was your favorite hazardous toy you received for Christmas?

Boomers Watched (and Re-Watched) “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

On December 9, 1965, CBS aired the animated holiday special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, for the first time. Based on characters from Peanuts, the comic strip by Charles Schultz, which gained in popularity throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s. This popularity prompted Coca-Cola to sponsor an animated feature. It was the first Peanuts animated feature, and its success foretold additional Peanuts animated features in the coming years.

The comic strip’s distribution exposure meant that TV viewers would be aware of the main characters and their personality traits, so no additional introductions would be necessary. Consequently, it was decided that this would be a half-hour special.

In true 1960s fashion, one of the main plots of the animated feature is Charlie Brown’s dissatisfaction with the commercialization of the holidays. However, the feature embraces the religious sentiment of the holiday with Charlie Brown agreeing to direct the school Christmas play. From the start, Charles Schultz intended there to be a focus on the religious origin of the holiday, and that it would have a jazz score. Neither was common on television at the time, and many wondered if it would be accepted because of that.

The music for the feature was a mix of jazz and traditional Christmas music. Vince Guaraldi was chosen to score the special, and he added two new songs to the mix. All the singing was recorded by children and children’s choirs, and the characters were voiced by children actors. The music was as stripped down as the animation, consisting mainly of just acoustic piano, drums and bass, a fairly common set up for jazz bands.

CBS owned the rights to the special from 1965 to 2000, and aired it each holiday season. ABC acquired the rights and ran it from 2001 to 2019. In 2020, Apple acquired exclusive rights for its streaming service, Apple+, choosing to keep the special off broadcast TV entirely for the first time since 1965. After fielding much criticism from nostalgic consumers, Apple agreed to sponsor an airing on PBS. This year, PBS will air the animated half-hour feature on December 19 at 7:30 pm, sponsored by Apple.

Mister Boomer may be an outlier on this one. He was never a fan of schmaltz and sappiness, in any form. This special falls completely in that category for him. Mister B does not recall the first time he saw A Charlie Brown Christmas, but in subsequent years, he avoided it any chance he could. Raised on the superb animation of Disney films and the contemporary modernism of Chuck Jones’ artwork for cartoons like the Road Runner, the animation in this feature left him unimpressed. Even the bare-bones animation of Rocky and Bullwinkle was light years ahead of this one.

Like many boomers, Mister B found his introduction to jazz from TV. He recalls the jazz songs introduced by a lion puppet character on Soupy Sales, and of course, the adoption of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five for the Today Show’s theme song in the late 1950s. Such sophisticated beats that were being played on TV in that era ran circles around the insipid soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. One wonders if the producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas couldn’t afford a musician who would add some pizzazz to the project. Can you imagine if Miles Davis or Duke Ellington had been hired for the job?

As Mister Boomer has stated, he acknowledges that this special, and its soundtrack, are much beloved by boomers and beyond. He is just not among them. Somewhere in the early 2000s, a co-worker gave Mister Boomer a CD of the soundtrack, not knowing how he felt on the subject. After warehousing it for a couple of years, Mister B regifted it.

How about you, boomers? Is it thumbs up or thumbs down on A Charlie Brown Christmas? Did you endure the soundtrack, or like it enough to add it to your holiday music collection?