Picture this: You are a Trek-crazed child growing up in the 1970's. The show has become a syndication sensation, and your young mind simply cannot get enough of Kirk and Spock's adventures. Whenever the show airs, you can routinely be found just a few feet in front of the television, eyes transfixed on today's adventure. But just as you get ready to plop down and watch "The Trouble with Tribbles" for the tenth time, Mom and Dad abruptly barge into the room and turn off the set. They tell you to throw on your jacket because the family is heading out to the store. Your mind races, grasping for some excuse not to make the trip. After all, how could you possibly be expected to miss Captain Kirk's triumphant defeat of Arne Darvin and his fuzzy death trap?
The situation seems dire... until you hear the name of the store to which your family is going. It seems Granny's prescription has run out, and a quick run up to the local pharmacy is in order. Suddenly you are moving at warp speed, strapping on your shoes and combing your hair in record time. Your parents are surprised by your eagerness, not knowing that you have an ulterior motive in place. Unbeknownst to them, a trip to the drug store is not a journey into boredom for you; it's a visit to a Star Trek merchandise nirvana, thanks to Azrak-Hamway and their plethora of inexpensive licensed rack toys.
Azrak-Hamway International (or AHI as it is more commonly known) burst onto the retail scene back in 1964 with a line of novelty toys. AHI's releases commonly consisted of inexpensive items you would find on the racks of local grocery and drug stores. In 1974, AHI acquired the Remco brand, bringing with it a multitude of television licensing deals. Using these brands, AHI breathed new life into its product. The cost and quality stayed the same, but the toys were now tied around recognizable properties, adding up to big profits for AHI. The placement of the product and its relatively cheap cost made it almost irresistible to children trapped in an otherwise boring grocery store. If a kid had a few extra bucks burning a hole in their pocket while out on a family shopping trip, it's a good bet that they spent it on an AHI product. And to a child obsessed with Star Trek, the following list of inexpensive AHI Trek toys must have proved utterly futile to resist:
Water Guns: A summer playtime staple, AHI made two different Star Trek-themed water guns. The Phaser Water Gun was an obvious product to make, but Azrak's other release, the U.S.S. Enterprise Water Gun, was quite an imaginative toy. It's basically an Enterprise mounted on a handle, with a spray nozzle protruding from the deflector dish. Easily one of the neatest H2O warfare devices ever made.
Disc Shooting Phaser Gun: Much like the Rayline Star Trek Tracer Guns of the 1960's, the Disc Shooting Phaser Gun fired an assortment of small plastic discs at an incredibly rapid rate. Unlike Rayline's product though, the AHI disc shooter actually looks like a phaser, which makes it about 10 times cooler. Also available was a package of extra discs... just in case you ran out of ammo.
Phaser Ray Gun: Starting to sense a theme here? It seems like the phaser was AHI's favorite item to base toys around. The Phaser Ray Gun was the most diminutive of their releases, but may have been the most accurate when it came to action features. Labeled as a "Space Flashlight", this little guy emitted a beam of light when you squeezed the trigger. No crazy discs or stream of water here. One drawback though: The penlight battery was not included.
The Phaser Saucer Gun: Able to fire off a selection of brightly colored disks, the Phaser Saucer Gun seems like the unwanted member of Azrak's phaser family. With only three discs included, the odds of you losing all your projectiles early on were pretty good. Once that happens, how much fun could a saucer gun be without its saucers? Not much, I'd say.
Activity Games: While they don't hold a candle to 3-D chess, AHI's assortment of pinball games probably provided hours of distraction for young Trek fans. The games are pretty straightforward, with a player attempting to lodge a ball into different point recesses. What is really nice about these, though, is the artwork used in their design. Like much of the AHI product packaging, the graphics used for the game backgrounds borrowed heavily from the Gold Key Star Trek comics of the day.
The "Soaring" U.S.S Enterprise: A truly inventive product, the "Soaring" U.S.S. Enterprise doesn't really seem like it belongs with the rest of the AHI line. The packaging design is completely different from all their other releases, and the toy itself featured engineering wizardry seemingly ahead of its time. Using an included launcher, a child could launch the Enterprise into the air and send it soaring by means of a small plastic propeller. While AHI had to take liberties in the Enterprise's design to make it work, the sheer thrill of launching your own Starship into the air clearly makes up for any screen inaccuracies.
Sky Diving Parachutist Figures: It's pretty difficult to come up with something nice to say about Azrak-Hamway's "Official" Sky Diving Parachutist Kirk and Spock figures. I could say that these predicted orbital skydiving well before we actually witnessed it in Star Trek, or I could give them credit for being some of the very first action figures ever produced of Kirk and Spock. But none of that would make up for the fact that these are Kirk and Spock... wearing parachutes. I guess the transporters must have been down that day.
As goofy as it is, the AHI Star Trek product is an integral and often overlooked piece of Star Trek merchandising history. Released years after the show's cancellation, AHI proved that the license was still viable at retail while also satisfying demand for product appealing to younger fans. Although quite inexpensive at the time of their release, Azrak-Hamway Star Trek items can command high prices nowadays, sometimes fetching hundreds of dollars if still sealed in their original packaging. Pretty impressive for toys produced "on the cheap"...
But not all the Star Trek product produced by Azrak-Hamway International fit into the inexpensive, "rack" toy category. AHI also produced higher-quality items under the Remco brand, including some of the nicest toy replicas made up to that point. Next time around, we'll take a look at some of the 70's Remco products, including one of my favorite Trek toys ever produced…
Want to read more from James Sawyer about Star Trek products? Check out his blog - A Piece of the Action.