Perhaps more than any other line of action figures, it is Hasbro’s G.I. Joe that most deserves to be described as an “action figure”. Indeed, the company – known as Hassenfeld Brothers back then – were so concerned about any mention of the word “doll” in its initial 1964 marketing campaign to launch the toy, which was aimed exclusively at boys, that they coined the term to describe it. “Action figure” has since gone on to become the generic term for any poseable doll, but the 12 inch G.I. Joe figure with an impressive 21 points of articulation was where it all started, whilst the name of the UK counterpart launched under license by Palitoy in 1966, which was simply called “Action Man”, was even closer to the mark!
As the name suggests, G.I. Joe began life as a military action figure – there were G.I. Joe figures for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces: Action Soldier (Army), Action Sailor (Navy), Action Pilot (Air Force) and Action Marine (USMC) – however, the anti-militaristic times during the 1960s, in the light of an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, saw G.I. Joe reinvented in 1969 as an all-round Adventurer with exciting accessories and outfits for every situation.
Growing up the UK, I’m most familiar with the Action Man figure and took for granted the action figure innovations to the product line during the 1970s, such as flocked hair and gripping rubber hands, and I remember very well the moving “Eagle Eyes” which were operated by a slide button on the back of Action Man’s head, not to mention the wonderful outfits such as the wet-suited scuba diving figure!
In 1982, the G.I. Joe action figure line was scaled down and relaunched as a 3 3/4 inch figure complete with gadgets, vehicles, play-sets, and a even a ready-made plot involving the battles between the good guys of the G.I. Joe Team and the bad guys of the Cobra Command. This eventually evolved into the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line. In fact, it is this particular franchise which is the inspiration behind the 2009 live-action blockbuster movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. For many action figure collectors, however, the vintage 12 inch G.I. Joe and Action Man figures from the 1960s and 1970s will remain the original and best!
Vintage G.I. Joe and Action Man
Original G.I. Joe photo by H.P.Holland, 2006. Used and adapted by Deborah Swain under CC License 2.5.