Guest Blog: A Collector’s Trek #2
Do you remember when Captain Kirk took to the skies in his Astrocopter, dropping bombs on unsuspecting foes? No? Then perhaps you recall an adventure where Spock donned his garish Astro-Helmet to protect his prized ears whilst warning off encroaching invaders with a wave of his rocket pistol? Still nothing? Well, these scenarios may seem ludicrous to some, but if you were a Trek-loving child of the late 60's they may trudge up memories of backyard play with some of the only licensed toys available during the show's original run: Remco's Star Trek Toys.
Remco Toys was founded back in the 1940's, but didn't reach their height of popularity until the 1960's. It was during this decade that they introduced a vast array of memorable children's toys, including the Mighty Matilda Atomic Aircraft Carrier and the Johnny Reb Cannon. More importantly though, Remco became the king of television tie-in toys by acquiring licensing rights to such hits as Land Of The Giants, Lost In Space, Batman, and of course, Star Trek.
Unlike most current toy companies, Remco didn't always look to their acquired licenses for ideas to create new toys from. Remco would instead take an existing toy or concept, repackage it with the name of a television or movie, and then simply use brand recognition to help sell the toy. In the case of Star Trek, most of the releases were repurposed items from Remco's previously existing "Hamilton's Invaders" toy line. The Hamilton's Invaders concept of a science fiction world where an army defends against giant insects provided Remco with a multitude of existing toys from which to mine. Alien technology, military adventure, flight, space travel… if any of the toys could be even remotely tied to Star Trek, Remco ran with it. The results were oftentimes ludicrous, but always fun. Here's a rundown of the some of the Remco merchandise that a young Star Trek fan could expect to find in stores back in the late 1960's:
Astro-Buzz-Ray Gun: This one was kind of a no-brainer for Remco. Since the Hamilton's Invaders toy line had a ray gun, and Star Trek had phasers, it made perfect since to combine the two into the Astro-Buzz-Ray Gun. The gun featured an ominous buzz and a "laser" beam that changed color when you rotated a dial. Two "C" batteries were required, but were (of course) not included.
Plastic Adventure Kite: Much better than your standard kite, this innovative toy exhibited an image of the Starship Enterprise on a clear plastic background. Once the kite reached a high-enough height, the clear plastic background would seem to almost disappear, giving the illusion of the Enterprise floating in the air!
Astro-Helmet: Easily one of Remco's oddest Star Trek releases. This bright-yellow helmet extended down over the eyes and featured large bulbous lenses that a child could peer through. It even had a chin strap so that it didn’t fall off your noggin' during strenuous play. The large bug-like eyes made perfect sense for the insect-themed Hamilton line, but seem just a tad strange when reused for Star Trek.
Rocket Pistol: Available either separately or in a gift set with the Astro-Helmet, the Star Trek Rocket Pistol was a pretty nifty toy. The gun featured a soft plastic grenade that fired an advertised 30 feet by means of an exploding cap. The real highlight of this release, though, is its box, which featured an image that appeared to show Spock firing one off. Shooting off rocket pistols is apparently quite logical.
Flying Rocket Plane: "Electromatic - It Stunts... It Flies" A battery-operated plane made of plastic and balsa wood with the Star Trek logo emblazoned across its wings. There isn't much I can say to excuse this one. Perhaps the folks at Remco watched the episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and decided that Captain Christopher's plane justified the repackaging of their existing Stuntplanes under the Star Trek brand? Yeah, I'm grasping at straws here.
Astro-Wrist Radios & Astro-Walkie Talkies: How else can one keep in touch with the rest of their landing party? Each of these toys featured a long cable running between two receivers to allow long distance communication between friends. Think two tin cans on a string... but in the future! The better of the two releases is undoubtedly the Astro-Wrist Radios. Though this toy saw previous life under both the Batman and Dick Tracy brands, the Star Trek version actually gave a glimpse into the future of its franchise; Wrist communicators appearing 10 years before the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture!
Astrotank, Astrocopter, & Astrocruiser: Noticing a pattern here? Apparently, all you need to do is slap the word "astro" in front of anything to make it space-ready. Each of these gems included a small vehicle and an assortment of plastic figurines that look suspiciously like little army men. Of course, I may have just missed the episode where Scotty brandished a bazooka.
Flying U.S.S. Enterprise: Sure, it's basically just a yellow Frisbee with a Star Trek sticker slapped on it, but at least this one has some basis for being made! Stripped down, the saucer section of the Enterprise could pass for a flying disc after all.
By today's standards, most of these releases would seem fairly ridiculous, but they probably supplied endless fun to a Trek-crazed kid in the 1960's. With very few licensed toys being produced during the show's original run, the Remco toys of the 1960's are highly sought after by collectors today, especially if they are still in their original packaging (which, in hindsight, was often more interesting than the toy itself). Remco Toys filed for bankruptcy back in 1971, but thanks to a buyout by Azrak-Hamway Incorporated in 1974, their association with Star Trek continued throughout the 70's. Next time, we'll take a look at some of those 1970's Remco/AHI Star Trek products, which ran the gamut from remarkably accurate to incredibly comical...
Want to read more from James Sawyer about Star Trek products? Check out his blog - A Piece of the Action.