One Word for Boomer Dinosaur Toys: Plastics

On a recent picnic outing with friends in a local park, Missus Boomer saw a small toy nestled in the grass. She picked it up and gave it to Mister B. It was a plastic long snouted dinosaur. Some poor child undoubtedly lost track of it, and now here it was, immediately transporting Mister B back to his own childhood years.

Plastic Dino
Unlike genuine, highly collectible plastic dinosaurs from our boomer years, this one did not have the name of the dinosaur stamped into its tail. Instead was the stamp of modern toys: "Made in China."

Plastic injection-molded toys became possible after polystyrene was invented in 1927. One of the first mass-market toys to take advantage of this new, durable material was Lego, introduced in 1932. After the War, the stage was set for toy manufacturers to supply a baby boomer generation with all types of toys. While Tonka relied on child-resistant metal, and Lincoln Logs continued to be made from good old-fashioned wood, plastic toys were the future, as stated in The Graduate (1968) when a friend of the father of Dustin Hoffman’s character pulls him aside to give him that famous one word of advice.

When it comes to the ubiquitous toys manufactured after World War II, there probably aren’t too many as popular — especially among young boys — as plastic dinosaurs. Like today, boomer boys would study and memorize the names of the dinosaurs, only to take their plastic toys and stage mock battles.

Mister Boomer had a small set of dinosaurs, consisting of a flying Pterodactyl, dorsal-plated Stegosaurus, super-sized Brontosaurus, vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex, three-horned Triceratops, armored Ankylosaurus, plant-eating Trachedon and the sail-finned Dimetrodon. In Mister B’s dino vs. dino battles, the T-Rex never won. They were dull brown, gray and green colors, not the brighter reds, yellows and greens of later-year 1960s plastic dinos, and of course, there was no such thing as a dinosaur whose tail didn’t drag on the ground. Besides, toy makers could use the tail as a way of stabilizing the plastic figure to stand.

Mister B was fascinated by all types of dinosaurs. It was one of his favorite drawing subjects. Sometimes he’d mix World War II elements in, like U.S. dive bombers attacking dinosaurs, or dinosaurs eating Nazi soldiers. Other times, the drawings pictured dinosaur battles that echoed scenes from movies. His drawings and play were fueled by a steady stream of movies containing dinosaurs throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Alongside allegorical dinosaur films like Godzilla (1954), there were movies filled with special effects for B-movie viewers. Besides space travel, what down-to-earth subject matter could possibly be more enticing for 1950s filmmakers interested in special effects than dinosaurs? There were many films made, most centered on a lost area of the globe being rediscovered, or formerly extinct animals coming to life. Of note, other than the Dinosaurus! (1960) trailer pictured above, there was King Dinosaur (1955); Lost Continent (1951, with Cesar Romero and Hugh Beaumont, no less); and Two Lost Worlds (1950). Mister B saw them at both drive-in theaters and at home in glorious black and white on the family television.

What role did dinosaurs — and plastic dinosaur toys — play in your boomer Wonder years?

Boomers Heart Robots

Boomers have had a special relationship with robots that dates back to our youth in the form of movies and toys. Basically, our robots were a link to the future in our play and imagination. There were two types of robots: those that helped us vanquish our enemies (or the task at hand) and those that would vanquish us.

There is evidence that humans have been envisioning robots as far back as the 4th century B.C. Several hundred years later, Leonardo DaVinci sketched a humanoid robot in 1495. However, use of the word “robot” is attributed to a Czech writer in 1920. The word referred to a worker or laborer, or one held in servitude for a contracted period of time.

For boomers, robots meant fun play in the 1950s and 60s. Remember the kid-friendly noise and squawk of Ideal Toy’s Mr. Machine from the unforgettable TV commercial from 1960? Wind the toy up and it swung its arms as it walked, opened its mouth as it squawked. The entire robot, made of plastic and metal, could be disassembled and put back together. It had a switch that would make the toy walk forward or in a circle.

Ideal followed up with another robot toy that let kids “control” the robot. In this case, it fired missiles at your enemy at your command. The toy industry wouldn’t dare let a toy like this one hit the shelves any more, with its numerous choking hazards and eye-poking possibilities.

Mister Boomer didn’t have robot toys, but he loved the robots in the classic 1950s sci-fi movies. Two of his favorites were Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original from 1951 with Michael Renni, not the Keanu Reeves remake).

The plot of Forbidden Planet was inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but to a young boomer, the real star of the film was Robby the Robot. He was there to help in whatever the situation called for, from moving rocks to making a fine evening dress. In the movie, Robby was portrayed by a man in a robot costume, but was listed in the credit as playing “himself.” Robby would appear in other movies and several TV shows in following years. A mechanical version of Robby was made for the TV series, Lost in Space. Many boomers will remember Robby from that TV show rather than the movie that originated the character.

The Day the Earth Stood Still was a fantastic cautionary tale about the dangers of letting our technology get the best of us — particularly our nuclear capabilities. It was the first anti-nuclear proliferation movie. Again, for a young boy, the robot character loomed large. Quite literally, the robot from another planet, Gort, was a giant among men. His handler was the alien, Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie.

Men, ever driven by ignorance, shot Klaatu, causing the robot to go into a defensive/protection mode. Gort’s weapon of choice was a laser that was fired when its eyewear visor swung open. Nothing could stop Gort, as it melted guns and even tanks, while leaving humans untouched whenever possible. Ultimately, Patricia Neal repeated the famous line spoken earlier by Klaatu himself, before he passed out: “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.” Gort carried Klaatu back to the space ship and brought him back to life with the help of the onboard technology.

If you haven’t seen either of these movies in a while, Mister B humbly suggests you go directly to your movie ship list and add them now. You’ll find them great fun in a nostalgic way, and terrific as an adult boomer.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for robot toys, including the ever-popular Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots that we haven’t even mentioned, rest assured that online auctions have plenty available for bidding. In fact, a quick check reveals you can still get an original Mr. Machine for less than $20 (out of the box, of course).

What memories of robots dance through your boomer past? Did they give you nightmares or hours of fun … or both?