The Major Matt Mason toy line is a fascinating set of well-crafted and artistically-rich novel items. While not nearly as popular as GI Joe or Archie comics at the time, it’s place in American culture is a fascinating view of mankind’s idea of life in the space. This concept lives on and has even influenced Tom Hanks, who plans to co-write a Major Matt Mason movie, with a hundred million dollar budget.
Here’s a Mattel TV commercial for the toy line from 1968.
Mattel first introduced the Major Matt Mason action figure back in 66′, along with his crew, the Men in Space. These moon-working astronauts, complete with NASA-modeled space helmets, featured state-of-the art science-fiction concepts. They transported kids to another universe, where Major Matt and the Men in Space contended with the difficult situations and challenges of living and working in space.
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Conceptually, these were engineers in space, forced to deal with unforseen obstacles and mysterious aliens such as Captain Lazer. Much of their time was spent in the Matt Mason Space Station set. In total, there were four human figures in the toy line; Matt Mason (white spacesuit), Sgt. Storm (red), Doug Davis (yellow), and Lt. Jeff Long (blue).
The astronaut action figures were originally 6 inches tall, and designed with a metal-wire frame covered by formed and colored plastizol which, believe it or not, was also used in a line of fishing lures. The Matt Mason action figure (and the Men in Space) were adaptable and ready to play with, unlike many of the plastic toys of today, which typically allow only generic poses and modifiable features. Unfortunately, the wire frames were susceptible to structural compromise, due to the repeated bending and reforming of the wire armature when played with.
The astronaut figure designs were fairly straightforward. Major Matt Mason, the commander of the lunar enterprise, and all of his companions use the same body. Mason has a dark brown crew cut, white suit and removable helmet. Early 1966 versions of the astronaut suits had blue suit straps while later versions were black.
Sgt Storm, Mason’s right-hand man, has blonde hair and a red suit.
Doug Davis, a civilian jack-of-all trades, has brown hair and a yellow suit.
Lt. Jeff Long has black skin, is the second-in-command officer of the crew, and wears a blue suit.
Out of the box, the figures look fantastic. The multitude of poses and accessories for the Major Matt Mason action figures made them compelling to children in the late 60’s and early 70’s as well as to collectors of today. With a three-story, modern, realistic, and well-known space station design, jet packs, and high-tech vehicles, the toy line hit the market with a complete world to captivate anyone’s imagination. And, of course, the aliens add a sci-fi flair to the line overall.
Captain Lazer, and his extraterrestrial counterparts, were experimented with by Mattel both in concept and in physical manufacturing. The idea of aliens, whether a dangerous threat or beneficial helper, had evolved quite a bit by the late 1960’s and this toy line really captured the essence of aliens, space travel and American culture.
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At first, the notion of Captain Lazer was undefined, but in a roundabout fashion, he became an intermediary figure between the Men in Space and the threat of unknown alien danger.
Captain Lazer was much bigger than the astronaut figures and had glowing red eyes, as well as a glowing breastplate, and a red laser pistol that was permanently attached to his hand. Transparent purple plastic attachments could be used to change the size and appearance of the pistol. The figure had Caucasian flesh tone and dark brown hair with a style very similar to the Star Trek character Spock. Captain Lazer’s costume was dark blue metal flake with silver accessories and trim. The figure was made out of hard plastic though it’s head, arms and legs could rotate but did not have as much mobility as the astronaut figures. Some believe that the figure was originally intended for a different toy line and was adapted to the Matt Mason Line hence its size and hard plastic composition.
Callisto and Scorpio, both unique designs in their own right, were added to the toy line as the dangerous alien forces. Callisto was a Jovian from Jupiter.
As you can see his transparent green head and face paint made him a fearsome looking being. His head was actually the same size as the astronaut heads.
Scorpio on the other hand was an insect like being styled in pink and purple. He was advertised as Matt Mason’s ally from the stars. Mattel had added some more features to their figures at the time and Scorpio actually had battery powered flashing electronic eyes. Mattel had planned on another alien figure called Or but it did not make it out of the prototype stages and was never released.
It was July 20, 1969 that humans first set foot on the moon and the Major Matt Mason toy line successfully captured the energy and enthusiasm surrounding that feat. Many, many children could now make the connection between the fictional world of Matt Mason and the reality of a moon landing with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Add to that the edgy loom of alien life in the setting of space provided by a character such as Captain Lazer or Callisto and you have yourself a popular toy line.
The Men In Space inhabit a large space station that they use to work and live on the moon. The station, and many of the other accessories, were modeled after actual NASA equipment and prototypes. Featured was a Talking Command Console, Mobile Launch Pad, Space Shelter, and a Firebolt Space Cannon.
Of course, any child with a vivid imagination would find a million and one scenarios for Matt Mason, his crew, and the life outside planet earth. While this idea had not yet been extensively explored in popular culture, it gave kids and avenue of expression, both for the prowess of American space exploration, and contemplation of alien life.
Here is the Talking Command Console.
Of course they can’t get around without vehicles so there was also a Flight Pack, Space Crawler, Rocket and Satellite Launchers, a Space Probe, a Space Ship, a Reentry Glider, a Uni Tred Space Hauler, an Orbiter, and a Space Bubble.
Sgt. Storm also has a jet pack, and some super kits have other modifications.
The re-entry glider was a popular toy in the line as well.
There are numerous other additions to the Major Matt Mason toy line such as the Greenie Stick-M-Caps, a Notebook Binder, boy’s wallets, Lunchboxes, a Space Exploration Board Game, coloring books, press-out books, puzzles, Halloween costumes, trading cards, and – the Major Matt Mason “Moon Mission” Big Little Book.
Although had some mass appeal in the beginning, by the mid 70s the initial excitement over space exploration had started to fizzle. After a few years Mattel discontinued the line though the toys were sold in stores for a while longer. Still, the toy line continues to be relevant today. It’s refreshing to look back, and see how this toy line’s story drew on political and social concepts, as well as industrial and scientific developments of the time.
The Major Matt Mason toy line includes a long list of valuable items for collectors. At the same time, it remains a shining example of creative development and marketing of action figures. The impressive toys and alien-spin-offs were a great source of intellectual stimulation and hold a significant place in action figure history.
Prices of Matt Mason figures have continued to rise with some mint on card figures reaching nearly $1000. Most of the larger accessories command hundreds of dollars if they are still in he box.