When I was a kid, a lot of girls I knew had Easy-Bake Ovens. For boys, the opportunity to give yourself second-degree burns and burn your house down came via the Thingmaker.
News that Hasbro is eliminating the Easy-Bake Oven’s light bulb and replacing it with an actual heating element stirred memories of the Thingmaker.
While the Easy-Bake’s light bulb didn’t really pose much of a hazard, the Thingmaker was a genuinely dangerous toy. And we loved it.
As part of the monster craze of the 1960s — sparked by the TV reissue of the old Universal monster movies, which also precipitated Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine — Mattel released the Thingmaker Fright Factory in 1966.
For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, the Thingmaker in its various incarnations was basically a hotplate — not unlike a traveling salesman might put on top of a chest of drawers in a run-down hotel to warm up a can of beans — with metal molds that could be used to make soft plastic toys not unlike what you might find in a box of Cracker Jack if the Cracker Jack factory was operated by the Addams family.
Really. With the Thingmaker, boys could make realistic scars, fangs, eyeballs, miniature skeletons and, oddest of all, shrunken heads. Yes, the Thingmaker probably represented the high point of kids collecting and playing with representations of shriveled, shrunken human heads.
All you had to do was plug in the hotplate — er, Thingmaker — and wait for it to warm up. Then you simply placed one of the molds on the scorching hot surface and — ow, dammit that hurt — you simply placed one of the molds in the Thingmaker and squirted some colorful plastic goop into it from handy bottles included in the Thingmaker kit.
The Thingmaker baked the plastic pieces in the molds until they were ready to extract. Using a pair of tongs that were provided, you simply removed the molds from the Thingmaker — ow dammit — and let them cool before removing your ghoulish new toys.
The scars and eyeballs could be applied — hopefully after they cooled — directly to your skin to excite and alarm your parents. The skeleton could be assembled. The shrunken heads … well, I’m not sure what you could do with them other than freak out squeamish girls who had been waiting several hours for a light bulb to bake a cake.
I loved my Thingmaker but remain to this day surprised that it was allowed to come to the market. My mom, a smart woman, wouldn’t let me use it in the house. No doubt remembering the Silly Putty Incident of 1967 — which left a stiff, permanent stain on our carpet — she banished me and my Thingmaker to our front porch.
Like my Captain Actions, Johnny Wests and Major Matt Masons, my Thingmaker disappeared over the years. I like to think that it found a second life, warming up coffee for some poor soul living over a big-city bus station.