Friday, December 3, 2010

"Mysterious M*A*S*H Figures" - 2009

This was a piece I did for, who asked me to write about a very obscure line of M*A*S*H toys, which combined two passions of mine.

I decided to go even more obscure and write about a completely mysterious set of M*A*S*H dolls that I wouldn't believe even existed, except for the fact I own them.

Suicide may be painless, but toy collecting sometimes isn't.

As both a fan of the TV series M*A*S*H (so much so I created a blog about the show, and a toy collector, of course I felt I should--nay, had to--go out and round up the action figures based on the show.

For most M*A*S*H fans, that meant the earnest but doomed 1982 line produced by Tri-Star, consisting of action figure representations of the whole cast, plus an early "variant", Klinger in a dress. But even a lot of die-hard M*A*S*H fans don't know there was an earlier, even more strange, attempt at harnessing some of that M*A*S*H heat onto toy shelves.
These two action figures (dolls, really) of M*A*S*H's Hawkeye and Hot Lips present an almost unending series of questions for those interested in either the show or toys in general. Other than a small "©1969 Aspen Productions" notice, there is no indication as to who produced them (1969 was the year the M*A*S*H movie was copyrighted, and Aspen Productions was director Robert Altman's production company). Inside the bubble it says they were distributed by F.W. Woolworth Co., perhaps they were produced exclusively for the chain.

The packaging goes out of its way to show stills from the series that do not show the other M*A*S*H cast members, except for one shot of Gary Burghoff as Radar. Judging from the looks of actors Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, and Burghoff, I would say these stills come from the first year or two of the show (Burghoff's Radar has stubble, something he never had past the first season, and Hawkeye is wearing an Army green hat that he abandoned during the first season, as well).

That might've been a clue as to when as to when these figures were produced, except on the back, each package has a small stamp that says "December 10, 1977" in exact same manner, looking as if it was put there by the factory, not a later vendor. Considering M*A*S*H was not popular in its first season, and wildly popular by its sixth (1977-1978), odds are these were made sometime in 1977.
The bodies and outfits for both dolls are identical except the heads and the addition of some breasts on Hot Lips (just like real one!). The hands are hard pieces of plastic with sloppy paint jobs, with the right hands sculpted so they can hold their accessories--Hawkeye is given a golf club to wield, where Hot Lips has a medical bag.

The figures are promised to have "Automatic Push Button Action", reminiscent of Mego's "Fist-Fighter" line, where if you press a button on the doll's back, it swings their right arm forward.
I can't bring myself to break open the packages, so I guess I'll never know whether this action still works, several decades later.

Despite M*A*S*H's staggering popularity as a TV series, it obviously didn't translate to these dolls. They were marked at the factory at $2.33 each, but someone has taken a grease pencil and slashed the price of each figure to a paltry .96 cents. And judging by the fact that almost no information on these figures has ever surfaced (do a Google search for these, and you'll find virtually nothing), it seems as though these dolls were almost completely forgotten.

I had the opportunity to meet Loretta Swit last year, and got her to sign my Hot Lips Tri-Star figure. In retrospect, I should have brought this Hot Lips doll--odds are she's never even seen it!

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