Mattel’s Matt Mason action figure made its debut in 1966. Word of the Nerd looks back the action figure and the impact it had on the author.
It Was the Late 1960s
Marketed as The Man in Space, Mason was an astronaut who lived and worked on the moon. Yet Matt Mason was more than just a toy. It represented President John F. Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s the media was all a buzz about missions to the moon. I was excited about anything to do with NASA. Even when I counted backward from ten I would end with “ignition, blast-off!” My parents found a way to tap into my enthusiasm so I would be more cooperative at home.
Like most kids I hated taking a bath, but my parents found a way to connect it to NASA’s Apollo space missions. If I need just a quick rinse my parents called it a “splash down” because I watched space capsules returning to Earth on TV “splash down”. To make sure I had enough vitamin C my parents would buy Tang. After all, it was the official drink of astronauts.
My mom helped me clip articles from the daily newspaper and weekly TV Guide to create a scrapbook chronicling NASA’s missions to the moon. The clippings were taped to color construction paper and wrapped in a psychedelic Peter Max style Burger King book cover.
I remember sitting in front the television in our living room to watch the historic moment when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the lunar surface July 20th, 1969.
I had a lot of fun playing with my Matt Mason action figures from the 1960s. The brown and orange shag carpet of my bedroom floor was the lunar surface. The only limit to Matt and his space buddies’ adventures was my imagination.
I kept my Matt Mason action figures and scrap-book in a wooden trunk that I still have to this day.
Mattel’s Matt Mason Figures
Mattel created a line of these 6 inch toys astronauts using a molded rubber body of Plastizol over a wire frame. A distinct head for each model astronaut was attached a body sporting a different color suit and a removable space helmet. There were four Matt Mason action figures, each with a different colored space suit.
Major Matt Mason
He was the first and only model that launched the toy line in 1966. The first year Matt wore a white suit which was similar in structure to those of astronauts who were part of Project Mercury. These single passenger space capsules orbited the Earth as part of the NASA aforementioned space program from 1958-1963.
The earliest Matt Mason figure had blue painted straps with large red dots on the arms and legs. The figures had “c1966 MATTEL, INC.” and “U.S. PATENT PENDING” stamped into their rubber back. “HONG KONG” was also embossed on the right calf. Later models were embossed with “c 1966 MATTEL, INC.” and “U.S. AND FOREIGN PATENTS PENDING but larger print.
The second figure released in 1967 had a red suit with white-painted cuffs, black dots on the arms and blue straps. Later the white cuffs were dropped and the straps painted black.
This figure was also released in 1967, had a yellow suit with black straps and no dots.
The 1967 figure had a blue suit with black straps and no dots. To the best of my knowledge this was the first space toy which represented an African-American astronaut.
On August 30th 1983, NASA astronaut Guion Bluford would be the first African-American in space.
He was not an astronaut but I am including him in my retrospective because 1) I had one and 2) it was really cool.
Matt’s alien friend from Jupiter had a transparent, veined green head to represent the character’s advanced mental powers. He also came equipped with an air operated ray gun that shot out a gold-colored thread. It was a simple yet brilliant design.
Early Callisto figures had tall boots and a white spot painted on its chest that were later dropped by Mattel.
I still have all these action figures except Jeff Long plus an extra older Matt Mason figure. The older Matt Mason figure was probably one of my first toys since it has the blue straps and red figures.
But how did I come by the other four action figures and when? Talking to my parents, they could not recall when they bought them for me.
In my research of Mattel’s Matt Mason toy line I discovered a set offered in 1969 containing Major Matt Mason, Callisto, Doug Davis and Sgt. Storm and two space vehicles. The set must most likely was given to me as a gift around the time of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.
The End of An Era
So why did Mattel’s Matt Mason toy line cease production circa 1971?
Unfortunately, enthusiasm for Mattel’s Matt Mason declined when Apollo 17, NASA’s final space mission to the moon, splashed down south-east of America Samoa on December 19th, 1972.
Collectors today seek these marvelous toys to recapture memories of their childhood, and for profit. Finding a Matt Mason figure intact is just about as difficult as finding any collectible to in its original undamaged packaging.
Since the toy’s thin wire frame was covered in rubber, it would break at the flexible joints after logging hours of rouge play. The paint covering the rubber body would also flake off over time exposing the black molded rubber body beneath.
According to the 19th edition of Mark Bellomo’s Toys & Prices Guide a 1967 Major Matt Mason Sgt. Storm figure in near mint condition can fetch $100 and $430 mint in the package.
Will Mattel’s Matt Mason figures ever be produced again for future generations?
Perhaps this will come to pass in time, but it would take a renewed public enthusiasm and more government funding of NASA’s space missions. We could see such a revival one day if there is a global space race to land the first human on Mars.
Who knows, maybe Mattel can capture lightning in a bottle again, sparking imagination young children by creating Matt Mason: Man on Mars.