As a kid I spent an inordinate amount of time playing with action figures. G.I. Joe, Star Wars, He-Man–if it was a plastic guy based on a TV show or movie, I was all over it. One question that always struck me–why are they called “action figures,” when, really, they’re just dolls? Who came up with the idea of naming ‘em something different?
After a bit of research, I learned that a very clever marketing expert came up with the term in 1964. HeroToys.com explains that Hasbro wanted to release three toys based on the famed “G.I. Joe” comic strip. The folks at the toy company came up with “action figures,” because “they figured it would make the toys much more appealing to young boys.”
The phrase itself was coined by toy designer Stan Weston. The Island of Lost Toys writes that Weston approached Hasbro in 1963 “with the idea of a pose-able military action figure, as a tie-in to ‘The Lieutenant,’ a television series produced by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.” The TV show didn’t last, but the G.I. Joe action figure “was a hit.”
Comic Book Bin offers an exhaustive and entertaining history of the G.I. Joe action figure. Originally, the toy “was conceived as a military man with different names for each branch of the armed services.” The Navy guy was to be named Skip, the soldier Rocky, and the Air Force pilot was to be named Ace. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, and the ad agency advised the toy company to go with one name for everybody. After seeing a late night showing of “The Story of G.I. Joe,” starring Robert Mitchum, they settled on the now familiar name. Apparently trademarks were less of an issue back then.
Today, action figures are hugely popular with boys and girls (and adults). You can find figures on everybody from Sigmund Freud to Boba Fett. But, it all started with one patriotic guy named Joe.
What are your thoughts on the line between action figures and dolls? Is an action figure simply a doll for boys or do you have a better definition? Please leave your comments below, and include links if you have ‘em.
Thanks for reading,
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!