Twisted Tales of Toy TortureLittle Drummer Boy

Jim Ryan's tale

All Tale material on this page copyright 2002, James Ryan. All rights reserved.

Mego Crazy in Freezer; or, "Protein, Plankton, Grass From the Sea…."

When I received the invitation to discuss my juvenile delinquency here, I didn’t know what to say, since they only recently adjusted the statue of limitations on what I’d done. There’s only so much you can say about your past before people turn from being amused to horrified. And as I tell this tale, there will probably be a number of people who will find plenty in what I say to turn them against me, their reasons ranging from display of sick mental twists through disrespect for collectable toys to having to bring back a lot of 1970s kitsch, thereby undoing years of therapy.

Still, the more I resisted, the more I was encouraged to tell. And as any good tease can tell you, it gets boring if you never say anything but ‘no’ all the time. As the last thing I needed was to just blow off everyone for good, I had to relent, giving them what they want, or at least what they think is what they want….

Now, for those who may be the wrong age, i.e., younger than 32 or over 47, a little history is in order. Back in the 1970s, there was a hot toy company, the McFarlane Toys of its age, called Mego. They had found a wonderful niche to claim as their own, the compact action figure market, which they got through good luck, mass production, and a BIG licensing budget. Unlike the near-foot-high G I Joe and Barbie line, Mego’s figures were somewhat smaller, only eight inches for the males and just a smidge shorter for females. This proved to be somewhat advantageous, in that smaller scale meant smaller retail costs for both the figures and accessories. And if you didn’t much care for their baseline figures, sold under the Action Jackson and Dinah-Mite names (their answers to Joe and Barbie respectively), they did have some major marketing partnerships. At their height, Mego could claim to be responsible for figures modeled on both DC and Marvel comics, the films The Wizard if Oz and Planet of the Apes, and the TV series The Waltons and Star Trek. Imagine the collector who could have the Cowardly Lion alongside Captain America and Spock as they fought against Superman, Doctor Zaius, and John-Boy….

No, that’s not my tale; it gets worse than that. It took me long enough to write about it; you can wait a few paragraphs.

If Mego was so big, you ask, what made them disappear like Atlantis? Near as I had always thought, it was a combination of spiked prices for plastic after Iran fell to the Ayatollah, and sudden awareness of the value of merchandising tie-ins after Star Wars made Kenner so rich, that drove them under. When Paramount, Fox, Warner, et al. started asking for bigger fees, Mego probably couldn’t meet the price and folded, especially as they pretty much let their own properties languish. If there had been some campaign to build brand awareness for Action Jackson, maybe they might have thrived into the 1980s.

But you’re not here for the corporate records, are you? You want me to get on with it, huh?

Well, let me first reassure/disappoint you that no licensed properties were victims in the following tale. What I did, I did to Action Jacksons and Dinah-Mites. Mostly the latter, which made some family members a bit annoyed…. But they’ve forgiven me, especially when they see me holding a 9-to-5 job I hate and laugh at me behind my back between libertine sips of wine at downtown parties lasting until dawn that they can attend because they don’t have to be anywhere the next day.

Me? Bitter? Nah!

Ah, my tale, yes.

Well, what I would do for a time is experiment in the field of cryonics, the art of freezing the living for revival later. Of course, not being old enough to drink back then (even in the "18 across the nation" 1970s), I obviously didn’t have access to live subjects, so I had to make do with what I had on hand. And as the subjects were only eight inches high and made of plastic, I could cut a few corners on such things as respirators and thermometers, the equipment needed to make sure the subjects would come through in one piece….

OK, it wasn’t real science. Hell, it wasn’t even the science you’d find in a Sid and Marty Krofft TV show. (Boy, am I showing my age….) Back in those days, they used to have "shucker" ice cube trays, a solid deep pan with a separate ice cube separator you had to pull to turn the block of ice into cubes. What I’d do is remove the shucker, submerge the figure in the tray (sometimes using rubber bands to keep it down), place the tray in the very back of the freezer, and come back tomorrow. If the subject had exposed flesh outside of the containment area, i.e., their face or ass or even an arm wasn’t frozen, I’d turn it over, fill with water, and wait another day until the subject was fully encased in a solid block of ice.

Now, the big question: Why? Maybe it was a desire to escape, which cryonics seemed to offer as touted by its proponents back then. Maybe it was a statement about young isolation, not feeling a part of society, a statement that was looking for a means of expression. Maybe it was the best I could do for being destructive to personal property in a home where we never had free access to gunpowder, acids, corrosives and other ways of releasing hostility. (Some houses back then did allow their kids a chance to play with that stuff, back when junior chemistry sets were readily available. And some houses allowed the kids to have free reign like that just to keep them quiet; remember, PlayStation 2 wouldn’t be invented for 25 years.)

Of course, there’s another explanation: Around that time, I had gone to see at the theatre a film called Logan’s Run. There are a lot of memorable scenes in that film, which was probably the last of the serious SF films Hollywood used to do before Star Wars changed the rules for what the audience supposedly wanted. One scene that impressed me a lot, though, was where Michael York’s Logan 5 and Jenny Agutter’s Jessica entered a cave covered in permafrost, where they ran into Roscoe Lee as the demented robot Box and a bunch of naked extras that Box had entombed in blocks of ice.

There’s something captivating about this sequence, especially because when it comes in the film, no one’s really prepared for it. The sheer visual and emotional impact of that scene made a deep impression on me, and maybe more than anything else this behavior was a way to find some connection with what I’d seen and felt. Again, it was a different world back then both in technology and attitude; MGM couldn't even imagine having a DVD for sale with the scene chaptered for easy reference and repetition a few months later, so for me that was all I had. If we lived in that type of world today, kids would have to make do for a few years before Attack of the Clones came to TV by spray-painting a teddy bear green and sewing a flashlight onto its paw to experience Yoda’s lightsaber battle over and over.

So, there it is: Scratch a punk kid, expose an artiste. All I can really say in my defense is that I used Mego figures, as opposed to some associates who used to see what happened when you put a tarantula into the refrigerator for a few minutes, and one time accidentally forgot to retrieve it in time. Much as I’m a recovering arachnophobe with a few issues left to go, even I have my standards!


In putting this piece together, I did a little crawling on the Web when I finished my confession to make sure I was spelling some names right. I found the following pages, which give a much better sense of Mego and its output than I could here, and recommend these for students of toys:

Mego Museum:

Mego Central:

And for those who want a good look at the inspiration, the following are two of the better Logan's Run sites out there:

The World of Logan’s Run:

Vicki’s City of Domes:

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