By Past Nastification
Do you remember being a kid and playing with your toys? If your playtime created storylines akin to movies, the Joes and Cobras were the stars.
Thankfully, there were ample “supporting players” to round out the cast.
Sgt. Rock/The Bad Guys, Adventure People, Tonka Play People, A-Team/The Bad Guys*, and CHIPs. And even a handful of human Star Wars and The Black Hole figures, like the Endor Rebel Trooper or whoever Ernest Borgnine played. If the Joes were “movie stars”, these are the figures that were “extras”. Those non-GI Joe figures that looked great doing maintenance on an early Joe vehicle or just lounging around inside of the 1983 GI Joe Headquarters. Or being killed by Cobra, because none of the real Joes could ever die.
But there’s one set of 1:18 scale “supporting player” figures that seem largely overlooked by kids then and collectors now, the M*A*S*H figures from Tristar International Limited. They were date stamped 1981, but I can’t say if there were in store before 1982 or not. It’s possible that they were riding the tail end of the Mego 1:18 scale wave more than that of the return of GI Joe. If anyone knows, please say.
Kids ignored the line, but Remco didn’t. It officially made mention of the M*A*S*H lineup on the packaging for its lineup of short-armed black-clad villains, The Bad Guys. Because Hawkeye and Klinger needed to fight Snake and Scorpion? Wow. Points to Remco for trying, though.
Instead of stretching out the M*A*S*H figures and giving them their own reviews, here they are all at once. Given the fluidness and consistency of the designs between all of them, a collective review is appropriate. Unlike the original ’82 Joes, who largely utilized overlapping parts disguised by clever colors and paint, most of the M*A*S*H figures wore near-identical uniforms. They’re so similar to each other that talking about them independently would almost be redundant.
The shown figures include Hawkeye, Colonel Potter, BJ Hunnicut, Hot Lips Houlihan, Klinger, Father Mulcahy, Winchester, and the unnamed Driver/Pilot (which I’ll call “Not-Hawkeye”).
Not-Hawkeye? If you see a Hawkeye on eBay or at a comic book show described as a “variant” or “rare”, it’s not. It had sandy blonde hair, while the eyebrows, eyes, teeth, and the undershirt were left unpainted (indicating that it was born without a soul). Tristar International Limited simply recycled the Hawkeye head, the most non-descript one, as an unnamed driver’s head. The figure was called driver or pilot on the packages. The vehicles included a Jeep, an ambulance, and a helicopter. There was also an amazing M*A*S*H Military Base, but it didn’t include any figures.
Also available was Klinger in a dress, a figure I haven’t seen loose to purchase before. Out of respect to collectors who keep stuff carded, I generally won’t buy older toys to take out of the packaging. The carded stuff should be preserved for those who want the packages.
The character lineup reflects the final seasons of the show. Trapper John, Frank Burns, Colonel Blake, and Radar didn’t make the cut. This makes perfect sense, but it’s a shame because seeing these “retired” characters in figure form would have been nice. Am I the only one who wants a McLean Stevenson action figure?
This is probably the only toyline consisting almost entirely of medical personnel, too. Klinger, Father Mulcahy, and Jeep driver are the only figures that aren’t. (I think we can count ambulance driver and helicopter pilot as medical personnel.) 72.72% medical personnel is a strange distinction for a set of action figures (yes, I did the math). I wonder if a second series might have brought us alternate versions of the figures in their operating room scrubs? Of course not, but dare to dream.
I’d also like to think there’s an alternate reality in which dozens more characters were made into figures, including Larry Hama’s one-episode character. One day I’m going to have to go back and watch that episode, “The Korean Surgeon”. IMDB lists his character’s name as “North Korean”, but I don’t know which particular character he played in the episode.
Actually, I’m going to have to go back and watch the entire series through midlife eyes.
All of the figures’ limbs and heads are made of a slightly waxy plastic, a bit flimsier than that used for Kenner’s MASK line, but one that holds detail well. The chest/backs are made from a more brittle plastic. The construction is very close to that of pre-swivel-arm-battle grip o-ring ARAH figures, but with a fixed rubbery inset connecting the torso into the waist piece. This allows for about the same range of motion at the equator. The fixed rubbery insets somehow appear to be immune to dry rot, too. The figures don’t have screws anywhere in their construction, which is probably why the spectacular heads don’t show up in custom figures. More on the heads in a minute.
Aside from Klinger in a dress, all of the figures- including Hot Lips Houlihan- share the same legs. Actually, Winchester also has different upper legs. BJ Hunnicut and Hot Lips Houlihan have unique arms, but the other figures in uniform share the same arms. There is no real difference in height or body type. Instead of Hawkeye having a sinewy build and Winchester being a tad stout, they are identical. It works, especially when thinking of these as “background players”. The elbow joints are very smooth, with flat plastic hinges that look much better than the rivet-filled cavities of the Joes. The hip joints feature legs that have a swivel and a pin, providing wide movement that is slightly hampered by what we’d later call “diaper crotch” on early 25th Anniversary Joe figures. The design feel of the figures coincidentally lands right alongside Tonka Play People and Sgt. Rock. Some wrinkles, but not too many. Pockets, but no stitching.
The head sculpts on these are nothing short of amazing. The likenesses to the actors are spot-on. I wonder if someone associated with Mego might have done some freelance work for Tristar International Limited. They’re that solid. Father Mulcahy and Colonel Potter have sculpted-on glasses, basically with the frames as part of the head/face that go around the eyes (think ’84 Baroness and her no-lenses eyewear). This makes me realize that even in ’82 Hasbro could have given Short-Fuze his spectacles if it had really wanted to. It also makes me wonder what the head sculptor(s) could have done if Kenner had them working on the Star Wars line. Imagine an early Han Solo that looked like Harrison Ford instead of Cindy Williams as Shirley from Laverne & Shirley.
It’s worth noting that all of the figures have wide beaming toothy smiles. This probably had more perceived kid-appeal than a grumpy Colonel Potter, a focused Hot Lips Houlihan, a concerned-for-your-eternal-soul Father Mulcahy, or a surly Hawkeye would have. For the record, I disagree with the all smiles approach, but I understand it. The character-appropriate smiles do work amazingly for both the Klinger and BJ Hunnicut figures.
The figures came with no accessories. No clipboard for Klinger, no Bible for Father Mulcahy, no adult beverages for Hawkeye or BJ Hunnicut. But the figures do have good sculpted-on details: some have dog tags, some have stethoscopes, Colonel Potter has rank/medical insignia pins on his collar, and Father Mulcahy has a cross around his neck, and Hot Lips Houlihan has an intricate watch. There is one exception: Not-Hawkeye came with a helmet, but this may only be for the Jeep driver version. I’m not sure about the ambulance driver or helicopter pilot. I’m speculating, but it also looks like this helmet was swiped by other manufacturers and was included with ripoff lines. If anyone knows…
Somewhere in my attic’s Sea of Toys are a broken-up ambulance and the remaining bits of the above-mentioned M*A*S*H playset. The ambulance was a great period piece. The playset was wonderful, but its fragile vacuum form tent walls/tops didn’t survive. I think I stupidly threw out the rollout mat (on which to place the pieces) as a kid. Other bits and pieces, like the medical beds and chairs, must still be in boxes and Tupperware containers awaiting random discovery. Sadly, there’s probably not enough of the playset left to review.
Most “supporting player” figures weren’t designed to be soldiers. But M*A*S*H figures (as well as Sgt. Rock and some of the Tonka Play People figures) were. Despite the M*A*S*H figure’s realistic olive drab uniforms, correct proportions, and a high points-of-articulation count, they were and continue to go unnoticed.
Maybe the production numbers were too low to register, or the availability too sparse in certain areas. Maybe the lack of weapons turned away kids. Maybe the excellent likenesses simply screamed “M*A*S*H!!!!” so loudly that a 9 year old couldn’t stand a Colonel Potter figure next to a Colonel Abernathy figure without creating a strange time-bending continuity in his head. (You know I couldn’t say “Hawk” for that sentence to really work.)
Whatever the reasons, these figures never got the notice they deserve. That’s a shame.
*In an earlier review I wrote, I incorrectly said that Sgt. Rock’s villains were “The Bad Guys” and that the A-Team’s was just “Bad Guys”. I was wrong. They both used a “the”.