When I was a kid, there was one toy that I wanted more than anything—the Dr. Evil Gift Set! It was really called the “Dr. Evil Lab Set”, but “gift set” sounds so much funnier when matched with “Dr. Evil.” Anyway, this set filled me with an early instance of what I have come to call “toy lust.” I haven’t managed to lose that affliction as an adult, either. I wouldn’t write so much about toy collecting if I weren’t so heavily under the influence of it.
This is not the lame Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. I’m talking about the REAL Dr. Evil–the blue-skinned guy with the bug eyes and exposed brain who came from Alpha Centuari to fight Captain Action. (The guy in the movie is just a bald parody of Lorne Michaels.)
The blue Dr. Evil was Captain Action’s worst enemy! Super-intelligent and capable of destroying the world, he could kick the movie Dr. Evil’s butt.
Recalling Captain Action
As a reminder, since not many people remember him, Captain Action was a GI Joe-sized action figure made by Ideal Toys. His gimmick was that you could buy costumes (with cool, head-covering rubber masks) that allowed you to dress Captain Action as an impressive variety of other superheroes. A quick change of clothes and the Captain could turn into Superman, Batman, Spider-man, The Phantom, The Green Hornet, and other larger-than-life icons. He was one of the coolest toys every made.
But I digress.
For Christmas 1968 I really wanted the Dr. Evil Gift Set. It came with Dr. Evil, two disguises, a lab coat, and the evil hypnotic eye. In 1968, I already had Captain Action and I really wanted a bad guy for him to fight. Santa (in the form of my parents) had the not-so-good Doctor on lay-away at Arlan’s Department Store (now the site of Sport Mart on the South side of the Patrick Street Bridge. But before they could pick him up, Arlan’s burned to the ground. Nobody else in town had Dr. Evil, so for Christmas, and I wound up with a Marx Chief Cherokee. Talk about a letdown.
Fifteen years ago, a mint-in-box Dr. Evil Lab Set would set you back more than two grand. I haven’t checked the price lately, but I think that if you want one now, you have to sweeten the pot with your firstborn or a kidney or something. So I went without Dr. Evil in my collection… until 30 years had passed.
In 1998, a company called “Playing Mantis” was making a name for themselves by bringing back some of the beloved toys from the ’60s and ’70s. They’d already revived Johnny Lightning cars and the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, when word leaked out they were thinking about bringing back Captain Action.
I was jazzed. After tracking down and pestering their PR person, Suzi Klimek, I got the story in TOY TRADER Magazine and scooped the toy press in trumpeting the return of one of the most collectible toys from the ’60s superhero boom.
And because I was writing a monthly column about action figures, I was sent complimentary copies of Captain Action and Dr. Evil to review.
I waited 30 years to get my hands on Dr. Evil, and of course I gave it a glowing review. You don’t want to cross Dr. Evil!
Even without the goodies from the Lab Set (just to get the Hypnotic Eye on eBay will cost you more than a Kia), this was a very satisfying moment. As I type this, Dr. Evil is watching over me from his spot of honor in my office.
And that’s why I collect toys. It’s either the warm, fuzzy feeling of recapturing my childhood, or the trauma caused by not getting Dr. Evil when I wanted him. One of these days I’ll tell you about how it took me 25 years to get a DEVO “Duty Now For The Future” T-shirt.