Major Matt Mason Space Crawler
As Fox Mulder or Oliver Stone will tell you, a good conspiracy - alien or otherwise - often sounds ridiculous at first. With this in mind, allow me to explain how the sudden disappearance of Mattel's Major Matt Mason was but a cog in the alien plot that grounded America's space program.
Consider this confluence of facts:
- An expansive toy line celebrating American space exploration, Major Matt Mason was Mattel's biggest boys' toy product for three years in a row. Suddenly, in 1971, it was gone.
- A year later, Apollo 17 returned from the moon - the last time anyone has set foot on the lunar surface. That was twenty-seven years ago.
- Allegedly, Neil Armstrong said the following to an unnamed professor when asked about rumors of "company" on the moon: "It was incredible. The fact is, we were WARNED OFF. I can't go into detail except to say that their ships were far superior to ours." (Of course, Armstrong has publicly disavowed saying anything resembling the above quote, but it's a forgone conclusion that Mr. Giant-leap-for-mankind is officially In On It.)
- In 1994, the US sent a $75 million unmanned probe called "Clementine" to the moon. On it's way there, it mysteriously fell into useless solar orbit.
- Western Publishing has a carefully maintained archive of their material in Racine, Wisconsin. Inside you can find treasures ranging from Whitman coloring book original art to Walt Disney-signed proofs. However, there is an empty shelf where the Major Matt Mason puzzle, cut-outs and coloring book material should be.
- In the news recently: NASA has "lost" the original tapes from Apollo 11.
- My parents NEVER threw out any of my childhood toys, yet all of my Matt Mason stuff is GONE.
Obviously, there are too many factors here for mere coincidence. Ask any conspiracy pundit and they'll wearily explain why it's 1999 and we're not taking vacations on lunar dunes:
IN THE LATE 1960's WE WERE TOLD TO "STAY HOME" BY TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED ALIENS LIVING ON THE MOON.
How else can you explain our stalled race to space? Can you imagine John Glenn's snort of disbelief if it was suggested to him back in 1962 that the next time he left the atmosphere would be thirty-six years later?
If we were indeed banished from space by alien beings, part of the deal would be, of course, the abolition of a realistic space exploration "indoctrination" toy like Matt Mason, necessitating deployment of Men in Black to homes all over the world, including my own. I cannot blame my parents for their continued denials on this matter given the forces at work here.
FIRST TOY ON THE MOON
Alien conspiracy or not, Major Matt Mason is a fond memory for children of the 1960s. Mattel's Man in Space was distinctive not only for his 6-inch "bendy" body style, but also the huge amount of tightly integrated accessories and innovative vehicles available for his adventures (tightly integrated, that is, until the disconcertingly out-of-scale Captain Lazer was shoehorned into the line - see sidebar). A considerable quantity of licensed coloring books, puzzles, costumes, and even wallpaper spun off of the line; the Major was clearly the cornerstone of Mattel's boys' toys effort as the sixties came to a close.
Mattel's timing was perfect. With NASA edging ever closer to the moon landing promised by President Kennedy, children of the middle-1960s were convinced that "spaceman" was as viable a career option as "fireman" or "plumber." So, while Hasbro's much-accessorized soldier, GI Joe, dominated the mid-sixties male action figure landscape, the "house of Barbie" bet on outer space as an alternative to foxholes.
At 1966's Toy Fair, Mattel execs began their spin: GI Joe and Marx's knock-off Buddy Charlie may be hot now, they opined, but kids will get tired of war- and armed conflict-based toys. In addition to Mattel's normal slate of items for 1966, select retail accounts were given previews of the first figures and accessories in a line that would be marketed in 1967 as Major Matt Mason.
If any company could pull off a great realistic space toy, it was Mattel. Just as NASA represented the best and brightest of America's scientific community, Mattel stood as the home of the world's elite toy craftsmen and engineers. They conceived their astronaut as a straight interpretation of the emerging American space program. No army of aliens threatening besieged Earth colonists on a far off planet and no laser battles between sleek fighter craft; Mattel shrewdly decided that the sense of wonder and amazement that the nation expressed while watching televised launches of manned (and monkeyed) rockets could be harnessed in a toy dedicated to principles of exploration and discovery. Furthermore, their resources were such that they could approach the idea with an eye toward, ahem, bending the rules.
While the 11-to-12-inch tall rigid plastic and jointed-limbs paradigm for action figures was made status quo by Hasbro's GI Joe, it was actually Mattel that invented the favored format with their introduction of Barbie in 1959. Still, Mattel's R & D group looked elsewhere for inspiration when designing their astronaut. Because accessories and vehicles would be so vital to the Man in Space toy line, the actual figure needed to be small enough to allow manageable scaled vehicles and habitats. Creating rigid articulation at a six-inch scale, while possible, would be expensive.
The first practical "bendy" (rubber on wire-frame armature) toy body was patented by artist and craftsman Wah Ming Chang, a former child prodigy who would go on to design and fabricate phasers, communicators, tricorders and the Romulan Warship for the original Star Trek television series. Chang also created animation models for Walt Disney's Fantasia and Bambi, and he crafted the Pillsbury Doughboy stop-action model used in commercials. His highly flexible "bendy" configuration utilized a wire armature under a rubber outer body, which allowed poses to be created and held quite easily.