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Classic toys

G.I. Joes will infiltrate Military Museum on Saturday

Action figure turns 50 this year

Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Classic toys


Schenectady psychotherapist Tearle Ashby poses with some of the G.I. Joe collection he owns.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Schenectady psychotherapist Tearle Ashby poses with some of the G.I. Joe collection he owns.

— Tearle Ashby and G.I. Joe both turn 50 this year.

“He’s in better shape,” the Ballston Spa resident joked, comparing himself to the iconic action figure.

G.I. Joe is also more famous, but Ashby, a local psychotherapist, has made a name for himself as a collector of different incarnations of the plastic military man. He’s amassed over 2,000 of them since the 1990s, over 100 of which are on display at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of G.I. Joe’s debut, Ashby will speak about the toy’s history at 1 p.m. Saturday at the museum. Several other collectors will also have their G.I. Joes on display that day, and Ashby plans to show off some vintage members of his collection.

“I have every piece they did from 1964 to 1974, minus one elusive piece,” he said.

Although G.I. Joe was Ashby’s favorite plaything growing up, his extensive collection doesn’t contain a single action figure from his own toy box.

“I played really rough with them,” he recalled. “G.I. Joe would go to throw a firecracker and blow his arm off. You know, it was war, and we know there’s casualties.”

The first doll ever marketed to American boys, G.I. Joe has had many incarnations over the years, starting as a 12-inch military action figure.

“G.I. Joe was created by Hasbro as a means to represent America’s fighting man,” explained Col. Richard Goldenberg, spokesman for the New York National Guard. “Joe was every guy.”

G.I. Joe morphed into an adventure figure when enthusiasm for war waned in the late 1960s.

“Instead of being a pilot and a Marine, he was an astronaut and a scuba diver,” Ashby explained.

From 1970 to 1976, the G.I. Joe Adventure Team was marketed. Complete with features like “Eagle Eyes and a “Kung Fu Grip,” the figures were dressed for adventures in the ocean, desert, mountains and jungle.

“They had these guys with lifelike hair. It didn’t really look lifelike, but they just called it that,” Ashby recalled.

In the mid 1970s, with plastic prices on the rise, G.I. Joe was downsized to an 8-inch figure called Super Joe.

“It was a total flop,” Ashby said.

By the late 1970s, Joe was put out of commission, but came back in 1982 as the 33⁄4-inch-tall G.I. Joe: Real American Hero. The much shorter Joe capitalized on the popularity of Star Wars figures of that same size.

“It had tie-ins to comics and it had specific characters and there was a huge resurgence. They had G.I. Joe cartoons on; they had all kinds of paraphernalia,” Ashby recounted.

The 12-inch figures made a comeback in the 1990s.

In 1991, Target stores exclusively carried a popular 12-inch version of G.I. Joe dressed in the camouflage soldiers wore during Operation Desert Storm. Other collectors’ editions followed.

Ashby speculated that G.I. Joe is the most influential toy ever made.

“If you walk down the aisles, there’s tons of action figures and that’s all as a result of G.I. Joe kind of breaking the barrier back in 1964,” he said.

 
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