As a kid, we always have our “Go To” toys. These are the toys that, no matter what, we will always find the time to play with everyday no matter how long we get. They are the toys we take with us on a trip to your grandparents for something to do, play with when you get together with friends, or take on vacation or to the beach and play with in the sand. They make it easy for family to shop for you when you have these toys, they can practically get you any figure or vehicle from the series for your birthday or Christmas because they know you are into it, and if you have it already, not a problem, just exchange it for something you don’t have.
Growing up, I had two sets of “Go To” toys. When I was younger, it was Star Wars. From an early age, most likely because of my brother, we had these toys in our house, and we played with them constantly. By 1984 however, after the popularity of Star Wars began to burn out, I began to get into G.I. Joe, and there I stayed until I stopped playing with toys (which I wrote about in another blog titled The Day the Toys Died). Sure I had other toys growing up that I played with and liked, I had a collection of He-Man, my 2nd Stringers, my small but cherished collection of Indiana Jones toys, but these two were my bread-and-butter when it came to playing with toys, and always would be.
Then there was “That Toy”. You know the one. The toy that for some reason you wanted but can’t explain why. The toy that maybe you saw with your mom while shopping and asked for and she bought for you, because maybe you were being exceptionally well behaved lately, or maybe she said no and you threw such a tantrum that all she could do was breakdown and buy you the toy to shut you up and get you out of the store. It might be anything really, but it’s usually a toy that you never before expressed an interest in getting, it might have been based off a cartoon or TV show you didn’t even like, but for some reason, standing there looking at it, you felt you wanted it.
This is my story of “That Toy”.
In the Summer of 1984 my parents took us to California for a weeks vacation. We spent half the week in San Francisco where we saw things like Alcatraz, the shops of Fisherman’ Wharf (and where I went in my very first haunted house The Haunted Gold Mine with my dad and brother) and rode the Cable Cars. The second half of the week we spent in Los Angeles doing things like driving to Venice Beach, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and going to Universal Studios. Now, the Universal Studios of 1984 is extremely different to the Universal Studios Hollywood of today. Many things have come and gone in the past 29 years, and I believe today, while still a working movie studio where they film actual movies on sound stages, they are trying to make it also into a theme park, much like it’s sister park Universal Studios Florida.
However, we’re in 1984, and the day at the studio starts off on a tram ride around the studio where they take you to see how Hollywood special effects are made by driving past a house that is on fire but will never burn down, thanks in part to the fire being controlled by gas jets and the house built of fireproof building material, or driving over what looks to be a rather old bridge, and halfway across the bridge begins to creak from the weight of the tram, support beams begin to fall away, and suddenly you feel as if you drop a foot down before realizing it was all special effects, or even driving through a little town where suddenly a flash flood comes rushing towards you, only for it to stop before splashing and soaking you in your tram (This “flash flood” set was actually used in an episode of Diff’rent Strokes, which ran on TV from 1978-1986. In this two-parter episode the Drummond’s fly to Los Angeles where Mr. Drummond is meeting his future wife. Arnold and his friend Dudley are at Universal Studios, trying to meet the stars of the show Knight Rider – more on them to come in a bit- when they hide on the set of the flash flood. They’re about to get washed away when K.I.T.T. detects their presence and warns Michael Knight, thus saving their lives) . You’d also drive through recreated memorable movie sets and relive moments from the films like the parting of the Red Sea from The Ten Commandments (1956, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses), or drive through the town of Amity where “Bruce the Shark” from Jaws (1975, d by Steven Spielberg) would try and attack your tram car by popping out of the water and trying to grab you with it’s huge teeth. You’d even be abducted the by Cylons from Battle Star Galactica ( original TV series from 1978-1979, Galactica TV series 1980) and drive into their mother ship and into the middle of a laser fight as a Colonial Warrior comes to save us before the ship takes off. You were able to experience all this and more on the tram ride, and when it was over, your day wasn’t.
Once you got off the tram you could walk around the studios and see things like a prop plaza featuring a giant telephone from the film The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981, directed by Joel “I-will-eventually-ruin-the-Batman-franchise-only-so-Chris Nolan-can-save-it” Schumacher) as well as other props. There were places to eat, shop, and other things to do too. There were streetmosphere characters walking around like Frankenstein (1931 directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as The Monster), a Cylon Raider from Battle Star Galactica, amongst others.
One of the things my brother, sister and I wanted to do was meet K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider (see, told you more on them). Knight Rider was a very popular TV show that ran from 1982-1986 and starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of K.I.T.T (most of our readers would recognize this name as George Feeny from Boy Meets World – 1993-2000). As a side note, Daniels did NOT voice the voice of K.I.T.T. in the two episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, he was voiced by voice artist Jim Ward, but went uncredited for the show.
K.I.T.T. stood for Knight Industries Two-Thousand, and it just so happened that at Universal Studios that year they had one of the K.I.T.T. cars there, where you could actually sit in the car and ask him questions and he would answer you back (Now, I’ve always tried to figure this one out. If you could ask K.I.T.T. questions, and he would answer you back in real time, how did they this make this happen? It’s not like they had K.I.T.T.’s voice actor William Daniels stuffed in the trunk of the car all day listening in on the questions. So how did they do it? Well, I tried thinking up some ideas and this is what I came up with: 1) the show writer’s for this idea wrote down every imaginable question they could think that some one would ask, and had Daniels record all the lines ahead of time. 2) There was a microphone hidden somewhere inside the car, so when someone asked a question, someone who sounded like Daniels, perhaps Jim Ward or another voice artist would answer. I still have no idea how they did it but when I was there I heard K.I.T.T. talking and it sounded just like in the show, so Universal must have thought of something good. Perhaps I’ll never know.
The line for K.I.T.T. was too long and my parents didn’t want to wait on it, so we never got the chance to actually site inside the car and ask it a question. As a runner up of sorts, Universal Studios had this photo op of a life size cut out of Michael Knight getting out of K.I.T.T. and you could go stand next to it, or next to Michael behind the car door, and pose for a picture. We did that and each had our pictures taken.
There was also another famous TV vehicle there that day, a large black van that had a red stripe running from one side of it to the other, and on the door the show name The A-Team. The A-Team, for those of you who do not know, was a TV show that ran from 1983-1987. The thing about this van though, was that it was parked sideways, and you could walk up to it and physically lift it off two wheels. (Since writing this blog I’ve tried to figure out how that was possible. Obviously there was no engine in it, or anything that would give it weight. Perhaps it was just a frame of a van, but that would still be heavy to lift, so the only solution I could think of was that there was some kind of mechanical arm on the other side you didn’t see helping you lift it. The line for this was short so my dad had his picture taken lifting the van, and then my brother, sister and I had our picture taken together lifting the van.
Another thing we did was see an outdoor A-Team stunt show called The A-Team Live Stunt Show that ran from June 16th, 1984 until 1987. According to the original press release from 1984 for this stunt show, it read “They crash, they burn, they blow up. And they always walk away winners. But if you think their stunts look wild on television, wait until you see how we recreate what they do at Universal Studios. It’s the spectacular new A-Team Live Action Show. Our fifth new show in the expanded Entertainment Center. You’ll see incredible stuns like leaping vans, controlled crashes, roll-overs, artillery duels, gunfights, motorcycle jumps and high explosives – all demonstrated and explained to you in our new arena. It’s an awesome display and it’s all just part of a full day of family fun at Universal Studios. The A-Team Live Action Show. If you can take it, they can sure dish it out.”
Now, you must be thinking by now that, after taking my picture with the A-team’s van, and going to see their stunt show, I was a pretty big fan of the show, right? Wrong. I hated this show. I could never get into it. In fact, even after reading the press release, I don’t remember one single thing that happened during the show.
It wasn’t like I didn’t watch a few episodes to give the show a chance, I did. But I just could never enjoy it. There was really nothing that could make me change my mind on this either. At the time, Mr. T was extremely popular, and not even his popularity and all that gold he wore could sway me to like it, not even the fact that Hulk Hogan, who was also extremely popular in the early 80′s, appeared in two episodes could make me like the show.
Also, I always got two of the main characters confused. The line-up for the four A-Team stars was:
- John ‘Hannibal’ Smith played by George Peppard
- ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock played by Dwight Schultz
- B.A. Baracus played by Mr. T
- Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck played by Dirk Benedict.
For some reason I always got Hannibal and Faceman confused. See, Hannibal was a master of disguises, so I always felt that his code name should have been Faceman, because he was constantly in disguise, thus leaving the code name of Hannibal to Faceman. But that was never the case. If I had to choose one character that I liked the most though, it would have to be Murdock, who was always funny.
The kids in my third grade class, however, were huge fans of the show, and even formed their own club called “The A-Team”. They would only allow certain kids to join their elitist regime, and if you weren’t allowed to join, they considered you part of “The B-Team”, which I guess to them was an insult towards you. I could have been part of “The Z-Team” for all that mattered and it wouldn’t have bothered me, I didn’t want to be a part of their club.
Here is what I remember of the show some twenty-something odd years later:
- The opening theme song.
- Someone, Hannibal usually I think, saying “You just hired the A-team”.
- Murdock usually making B.A. Baracus mad over something (which was always funny).
- A musical montage set to The A-Team theme where they would build some kind of weapon or vehicle that would help them fight whoever was terrorzing their clients.
- A fight between The A-Team and the villains which usually consisted of lots of gun fire, explosions, them using whatever it was they built to fight with, B.A. Baracus throwing someone threw the air, and finally The A-Team winning in the end.
In writing this blog I watched the opening intro to the TV show just to get a refresher of what the show was about. According to the opening narration of the show ” In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The -A Team”.
After watching the intro I looked up the cast on www.imdb.com
and did some reading there. The crime they committed they were ordered to do, which was rob the Bank of Hanoi, but upon completing their mission the man who ordered them to carry out the robbery was killed and all files regarding this matter were burnt in a fire, thus any evidence of them being under order to carry out the mission was forever lost. Through out the series they were being tracked by the military, and apparently had a news reporter driving around with them (that part I don’t remember.) Also, Murdock was clinically insane, “shell shocked” from the war, and they had to bust him out whenever they needed him, which would be like, what, every episode?
After watching the intro and reading all this information, but mostly the intro, it leaves me, a 38 year old grown up, with the following questions that just don’t seem to make sense:
- If they were being hunted by the military (apparently several different military leaders through out the series), why did they first off drive
around in a big black van with a red stripe all the way around it? Not like that won’t be catching anyone’s eye or anything? Also, why not
leave the country? Go to Canada, or Sweden or an island or soemthing where they wouldn’t be hunted anymore?
They always say, “You just hired The A-Team”, but yet, I’ve never seen them get paid. Ever. Now, I know I’ve only seen several episodes, but didn’t these people who hired them know they were mercs and had to pay them?
If they never were paid for their help, how did they live? How did they afford the van? How did they afford gas for it? Where did they sleep,
you got to think, as big as the van was, that it would be cramped for four grown men to be sleeping in. Where did they shower, if they didn’t
have a place to sleep that means no bathroom, no bathroom means no shower, no shower means smelly dudes. How did they eat? How did
they afford new clothes? You’d think that after all the help they gave to all the people that their clothes would get dirty and ripped at times. How did Hannibal ( I still think his name should be Faceman) afford all the costume and make-up for disguises?
How did they register the van in the first place? A bunch of fugitives walk into the DMV and just happen to get a vehicle registered with no
problem? What about insurance?
If Murdock was in a mental hospital due to the war, and had to be broken out whenever they needed him thanks to the conning of Faceman (still think his name should be Hannibal), why didn’t they just keep him with him? What did they do, drop him off at the nearest mental hospital once they were done? Also, if the hospital had a fugitive in their ward, wouldn’t the military found out about that eventually and stake the place out to trap them?
When news of the A-Team movie was announced I felt no nostalgic feelings for it. I didn’t follow the casting, in fact, I only found out that Liam Neeson was in it because one day I checked my usual movie websites I look at and it was posted right there on the front. What I thought was, “Really, Liam Neeson? Is this what your career has come to?” Just for a moment let’s take a brief look at Mr. Neeson’s career.
- His career starts in 1979 doing a lot of TV series roles.
- In 1981 he lands the role of Gawain in Excalibur (acting alongside the great Patrick Stewart)
- More movies and made for TV series movie roles.
- He appears alongside Justine Bateman in Satisfaction in 1988 (Julia Roberts is also in this film).
- Appears in some more movies, some starring well-known actors of the time.
- 1990 has him starring in Sam Raimi’s “comic-book-movie-that-isn’t-based-on-a-comic-book Darkman, which is a great film and performance by him.
- Few more movies, and then he starts to hit the big time, landing roles like Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List in 1993 directed by Steven
Spielberg and really becomes a Hollywood name.
Does Rob Roy in 1995 as the title character, a movie my old boss at the video store I worked at said was amazing.
Appears in some crappy George Lucas movie in 1999 (I’m an original trilogy kind of guy and hate anything from The Special Editions and on).
More movies, then lands the role of Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul in Cris Nolan’s 2005 reinvention Batman Begins which brings the Bat-franchise back finally, and does a great job acting as Bruce Wayne’s friend and mentor, only to turn out to be Batman’s enemy.
2005 he also voiced the role of Aslan in the adaption of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and
proves not only can he act physically ON film, but can also act just WITH his voice.
Returns as Aslan in C.S.Lewis’ adaption of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
More movies and then finally, in 2010, he is casted in The A-Team movie.
Also in 2010 Neeson reclaims his voice-role as Aslan in another C.S. Lewis book adaption The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn
Reclaims his role as Ra’s Al Ghul in Nolan’s Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises.
So, as you can see, it isn’t exactly like Neeson hasn’t made some great films, he worked his way to becoming a well known Hollywood actor and I really don’t understand his decision to take a role on in The A-Team movie. Of course, this is just my opinion. Others, mostly fans of The A-Team, would feel differently. Now, I have never seen the movie, in fact, whenever it is on I just keep on skipping through the channels.
But, like I did with the TV series, I went into www.imdb.com
and looked up who rounded out the rest of the cast:
- Liam Neeson as Hannibal
- Bradley Cooper as Face
- Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus
- Sharlto Copley as Murdock.
Dwight Schultz, the original Murdoch, makes a cameo as German Doctor #1 while Dirk Benedict makes a cameo as Pensacola Prisoner Milt. Mr. T refused to appear in the film in a cameo role, and George Peppard passed away in 1994.
So, no, I’m not a fan of either the show or the movie and will pass on watching them if the movie is on or the series is in syndication. Now you might be wondering, after this massive list of complaining about The A-Team, when does this blog entry get to be about toys? Right about now actually.
As I said, I don’t remember one thing from the stunt show, but I do remember two things that happened afterwards. The first was, as the crowd exited the theatre, the actor playing B.A. Baracus was walking off set when some little boy (not me) yelled out, “Hey, Mr. T!”. Now the actor, tired, hot, sweaty, thirsty, most likely looking forward to his break before the next stunt show began, instead of ignoring this little boy, turned and waved to him. I know it sounds like nothing, but to that kid I bet it meant the world, and I bet even to this day it still does. The B.A. in B.A. Baracus might mean “Bad Attitude” (in the show the characters real name was Bosco A. Baracus), but when it comes to little kids, B.A was all heart.
We made our way out of the theatre, and as the crowd thinned, there was a stand selling A-Team merchandise. Now, I don’t know why, maybe it was from sitting in the hot, California sun during the stunt show, but I walked over to the stand and looked at the merchandise, and there were some A-team action figures, and just like I don’t know why I walked over there, I don’t know why, but I wanted one. I asked my mother if I could get one, and she said yes, but only one. The figures were six inches tall and made by Galoob in 1983. I decided on Murdock since, as I’ve said, he was the one I liked the most, and bought him. The Murdock toy came dressed in a baseball cap, brown leather jacket, blue shirt underneath, khaki pants, sneakers, and came with a machine gun and a grappling hook. (The grappling hook might have also been a deciding factor since I figured I could use it with my G.I. Joe toys.)
Now here is the strange part. I don’t remember at all playing with this toy. Not once. I must have opened him up in the car as we drove back to our hotel, and must have played with him at the hotel since I didn’t have any of my toys there, I figured I would have played with him while waiting for our flight home at the airport and played with him on the plane, but I can’t remember any of that. I just remember having this toy for some strange reason. Basically, this Murdock toy went from hanging on a rack in the hot, California sun, to a free cross country flight to the great state of NJ, to my toy box where he sank to the bottom and was never seen again. Most likely my mother was in a cleaning the boy’s bedroom mood, went through the toy box and took out any toy she didn’t see me playing with, and either gave them away or threw them away, Murdoch included.
As I said earlier in this blog, this is my story of “That Toy”, and a “That Toy” by definition means: “The toy that for some reason you wanted but can’t explain why…It might be anything really, but it’s usually a toy that you never before expressed an interest in getting, it might have been based off a cartoon or TV show you didn’t even like, but for some reason, standing there looking at it, you felt you wanted it.
So, Murdock from the A-Team toy line, was my “That Toy”. I’ve never since had a “That Toy” in my toy playing or collecting years. Just this one time I did. But how about you folks out there. Did you ever had a “That Toy” that you felt you had to have?
Until Next Time,