In the 1960s – before the horrors of the morass developing in Vietnam became obvious – World War II was a fascinating period in history for young boys. We played with green army men and watched “Combat” and “Rat Patrol.” For me and other friends, World War II was an experience that our fathers didn’t talk about much but was obviously a big part of their history. The subject of my 1960s fascination with World War II is a topic for another day.
But out of that interest in the war grew the popularity of G.I. Joe, the doll – action figure – for boys.
Marketed by Hasbro beginning in 1964, G.I. Joe was a 12-inch action figure that earned the name: Unlike the stiff Barbie for our sisters and female cousins, Joe had joints at his elbows and shoulders and knees that made it possible to us to pose him in elaborate fighting scenarios. (Not to mention the “kung fu grip” added later, but that was really after my time).
Like Barbie, Joe had a variety of outfits and accessories – only the manliest, though – including guns and canteens and inflatable rafts. I believe it was those accessories that added to Joe’s lasting appeal. Unlike Johnny West – another action figure I had and enjoyed – Joe’s wealth of outfits and accessories made him immensely variable and playable.
The most elaborate accessory I had for my G.I. Joes was the Mercury space capsule. I played for hours and hours with the capsule, being a big fan of the space program.
Joe went through a lot of variations, including weird fuzzy hair and beard. Online sources say that in 1969, after Americans were soured on Vietnam, Hasbro thought Joe should be recast as an adventurer instead of soldier. That led to sets in which Joe hunted the Abominable Snowman, for pete’s sake.
But for me, G.I. Joe was a soldier and remained one. He was a great toy, but he was always a reminder of the war that so fascinated me as a kid.