Title: Mego Man
Subhead: The World’s Greatest Mego fan discusses Dr. Doom’s fate, the Greatest American Hero and why you never saw a Green Lantern or Flash doll
Published: ToyFare #2 (Date 1996)
In the 1970s, Dr. Strange modeled Jordache jeans. Lex Luthor fought Muhammad Ali. And Daredevil was defeated by…parents.
No, this isn’t some sort of What If?, imaginary story or even an Earth-2 tale. It’s the wonderfully wacky world of Mego, Toy King Supreme of the ‘70s. Pioneers of the toy industry, Mego capitalized on licensing characters like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and most successfully, Marvel and DC’s superheroes, by introducing 8” dolls into a 12” toy market. Beautifully sculpted and super articulated, Mego dolls not only came with neat accessories—like Thor’s hammer or Captain America’s shield—but also included interchangeable costumes. Arguably considered the greatest action figures ever made, Megos ruled the toy industry in the ‘70s but unfortunately faded off to obscurity by the early ‘80s.
Recently, however, the collector’s market has seen a lot of interest, as a nostalgic Mego generation is now willing (and able!) to pay some big bucks for a chance to own that Captain Kirk doll once again. But with Mego out of business for years, collectors have had to resort to garage sales, flea markets and toy shows to get their figures and information on the defunct company.
That is, until a 32-year-old Huntington, Long Island resident joined up with Schiffer Publishing to put out the book Mego Action Figure Toys in 1996. John Bonavita—Real Estate agent by day, Mego fanatic by night—boasts probably the largest Mego collection in the world, as well as an incredible wealth of knowledge on the company and all the products it produced…and even some it didn’t. Owning close to 1,000 Mego action figures and roughly 150 playsets, Bonavita’s collection also includes original card art and some unique prototypes. In between selling homes and searching for that Mego Ultraman figure, Bonavita let ToyFare into his home—and more specifically, his toy room—to talk shop.
TF: How did you first get into collecting Megos?
During the ‘70s, things were tight in my family when it came to money. During the holidays, we very rarely got toys—all we got was basically clothes. And there was a time around ‘75, we had this great toy store called Toy Town, which is now gone. I remember going in there with my mom, and they had a tremendous display of Mego figures. We couldn’t afford them, but I remember telling my mom, “Some day I’m gonna own these.” [Laughs] Then it was the Christmas of ‘79, when things had gotten better. My mom had gone to a store that was going out of business, and she ended up buying me like 25 Mego items, because she never forgot. And that was it. From ‘79 to now, I’ve been non-stop collecting Mego figures.
TF: Which ones were the hardest to get?
The hardest production figure that took me the longest to get was probably Montgomery Ward’s exclusive Secret Identity figures. Mego was trying to experiment with the idea of Alter Ego figures–Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Dick Grayson and Bruce–and it was Montgomery Ward who got the exclusive. That took me forever to get, and I was only able to get that set about four years ago. I heard about a guy having em in New York City, and I literally had to go through three or four people to get to him. Then I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
TF: How about the most-difficult non-production figure?
That would have to be the Greatest American Hero prototype. I’d heard about it, knew who had it and kept on working on the fella for about five years before I finally got it from him. In the early ‘80s, an ex-Mego employee went to a flea market in Queens, set up a table and sold everything he had concerning Megos. There was a box on the table that actually had the Greatest American Hero prototype in it. The guy who went to visit this fellow’s table was not an action-figure collector. His son had liked “The Greatest American Hero,” and he decided to pick up the figure for his son, not knowing that it was never made. He actually bought two of ‘em, as well as the one male character called Bill. He paid a dollar each for them, and when he got home, he talked to a friend of his who told him that they were never made and they were priceless. I paid $1,800 for it, and he still has the other one. I think there were probably less than 10 made. But who knows what else was in that box?
TF: Yeah, there could have been tons of other unreleased figures in there. Speaking of which, why didn’t Mego ever produce a Flash or Green Lantern figure?
Mego was really a licensed company, which means their bread and butter was getting something that’s based on a movie or TV show and producing a toy on. The number one question I get from a lot of people is, “How come there’s no Flash or Green Lantern or whatever?” Well, all their action figures were not based on the comic; they were based on the exposure they got. And when it came down to certain figures, it really came down to the “Super Friends” cartoon. The major reason why those two figures were never made is because they were not big characters on that show until around 1977. And by the time ‘77 came around, Mego had started cutting back and stopped introducing new figures. But if Mego had gone on for one more year, and introduced a new line, I guarantee they would have been introduced. By 1978, if they had continued, you would have seen a Green Lantern and a Flash. Green Lantern is actually drawn on the Hall of Justice playset, the last playset Mego ever produced. That’s pretty much proof.
Another reason why certain figures weren’t made, though, is because of the price. Mego had a certain manufacturing price point, where after they added the cost of the head, body, outfit, whatever, if it was over that price point they would not make that figure. And that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Doom. When they went into production with Dr. Doom, it would’ve been a very elaborate figure. It was literally only a few cents more than making say a Superman figure, but because of that few cents, Mego said cancel it.
TF: So they totally scrapped Dr. Doom for a few cents.
Well, once they decided to cancel Dr. Doom, being a very cost conscious company, they took the head and made it into Iron Man. If you take that Iron Man figure, you can actually see that it’s a cross between Iron Man and Dr. Doom. They got rid of the rivets and the nose looks like a Dr. Doom nose—you can kinda see where they changed it around. And they were gonna use some of the pieces from the knights [as his armor and cloak]. That would’ve been a great figure.
TF: What were some of the weirdest toys Mego ever put out?
They came out with a figure called Dr. Kromedome. What happened was, Kenner had the license for the Six Million Dollar Man, but they never produced a villain. And Mego quickly—literally overnight—put this figure in production. And it’s a really stupid figure. He comes with this oversized Q-tip as his weapon. If you take his silver helmet off, he’s got a completely bald head. The body is one of the worst they ever made. He’s unjointed, other than the knees. He’s one of the worst figures Mego ever made.
One of the strangest figures they did, considering where they took it from, is the Mugato from Star Trek. Star Trek was a big license for them, and they did a really bad job with the Mugato. On the show, he was an all-white, furry ape creature. And here, Mego made it like a person [with a furry white head], and he’s horrible. They did a really good job on their Star Trek figures, but for some reason they blew it with the Mugato.
TF: Speaking of Star Trek, is it just me or does the Gorn look a lot like a certain wall-crawler’s villain?
Yes, the Gorn is the same as the Lizard. To save money, they just used the same figure and dressed him up as a Klingon. [Laughs]
TF: And what about Chekov and Sulu? They made practically everyone else, why not them?
The Star Trek figures were not based on the TV show from the ‘60s; Mego only did the line when the animated show came out in ‘74. But ‘77 was the end of a lot of cool things like superheroes and Star Trek. If it would have gone for another year, you would have seen Chekov and Sulu. They were planning on producing them, and there was a primitive electronic game that came out, whose box had a drawing of Sulu and Chekov. When Mego did packaging, it was to promote their own figures. So on almost all of their packaging, you’ll see the figures that actually came out.
TF: So what other figures were in the works that never made it to the big time?
They were supposed to come out with a 12” Mr. Fantastic, but it got canceled. No one knows why. It’s actually on a couple of the packagings. For some reason, he was never issued. I actually have Mego ledgers—a sheet where toy stores could order things—and he’s actually listed on there, but he’s crossed off.
Mego was also gonna do a Daredevil figure. It didn’t get put into production because of the word “devil.” This is the ‘70s, remember; Mego did not want to offend any parents. That’s a good one, especially compared to what’s going on today with McFarlane—Bonebreaker and Violator—which would never have happened back in the ‘70s.
TF: How about Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor?
Lex Luthor is the perfect Superman villain, and for some reason, they opted not to do a Lex Luthor. On a couple of the playsets—like Hall of Justice—Lex Luthor is pictured. They planned on making him, but I think the major reason why he wasn’t made was that he wasn’t too much like a supervillain for them. He was just a bald guy. There actually was an 8” figure designed, though. What they did was, they took that Lex Luthor head and just made it bigger to fit the 12” body [and used it as Muhammad Ali’s opponent] Lightning Lefty.
TF: What’s the story with the Dr. Strange doll?
When they came out with a “Dr. Strange” movie, around 1978, Mego got the rights to do a figure of it. When it didn’t get picked up as a new TV series, the figure was shelved. In 1982, Mego had a fashion line called Jordache, based on the jeans. That Dr. Strange head became the male fashion doll. I actually have the male fashion doll and the way Mego was planning on issuing him as Dr. Strange. It’s kind of a rough thing, not something that would’ve been sold in the store, but it’s Dr. Strange. I got that from this guy who did the package artwork for Mego. But it’s so funny when you see the two. You just wanna say, “Poor Dr. Strange.”
TF: And what about the 12” Captain America doll? His head’s enormous!
If you look at the 12” Captain America, his head is put on the wrong body. Mego had two different 12” bodies: a really bulky one and a skinny body. The Captain America head was supposed to be on the bulky body, but they screwed up the production and put it on the skinny body. So it’s oversized. But they never changed it; no one really cared. [Laughs]
TF: What causes Mego Molt, a condition where the paint seems to melt off a figure’s head?
Mego Molt basically affects the 12” figures, the ones produced after 1979. To save money, Mego started using inferior vinyl in their manufacturing plants and the dye. Whatever they used in that type of paint just did not, on a chemical level, bond very well with the really bad vinyl. When the figure would come off the assembly line, the pigment and face colors would start to melt, literally the next day. But Mego didn’t care, they still shipped the figures. It basically happens to the 12” figures—Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Buck Rogers, The Black Hole. It also happens on the 8-inchers made after 1979, the worst one being Ponch from CHIPs.
TF: Do you have any tips on storing or displaying your figures?
The Mego figures themselves can be displayed anywhere. The problem with them, though, is they don’t do good in sunlight or moisture areas. A damp basement or an attic that’s gonna get very hot in the summer is not very good for them. It will affect the joints—they might become brittle and break. The problem with damp basements is that [the figures and costumes] can get moldy. And this has all happened to me.
TF: So why were Megos so darn popular?
Mego covered all the bases: superheroes, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek and the hottest licensing. And they were the dominant toy maker. If you had gone to Toys R Us in the late ‘70s, a good 60% of the toy aisle would’ve been Mego. Their prices were very good; no one could compete with them. Forgetting about G.I. Joe and Captain Action in the ‘60s, Megos were really the first true action figure. They were small—could fit into a kids pocket—completely jointed and cheap. And just because of who they got as a license, kids could have Spider-Man, Superman and Captain Kirk. All those different factors contributed to their big success.
TF: So what happened? Did Star Wars kill them?
They were offered Star Wars, but science fiction was dead in the ‘70s. The last [sci-fi] hit was probably “Planet of the Apes.” Mego actually had the rights to do Logan’s Run. They actually made a couple of thousand, but didn’t have a place to store them, so rather than throw them in a dump, they just burned them. But when Star Wars was peddled around, they went to Mego first because they were king of the hill. Mego thought it looked very cheesy—some of the early [movie] stills didn’t look that great. So they went to Mattel and Hasbro, and ultimately ended up at Kenner, who was a no-name company. But once the Star Wars figures broke out, it just blew the market away.
When Mego had gone to 8”, they killed the 12” format because they were able to produce 8” figures cheaper and make accessories more cost affective. And where Mego killed the 12” doll, the Star Wars 3 ¾ killed the 8” doll. So what Mego had done to its competitors in the early ‘70s, Kenner did to Mego in the late ‘70s.
Mego was so mad about Star Wars killing them, that they bought the rights to almost every major production. Mego put all their money into Buck Rogers, the Black Hole, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even James Bond. And everything that came out bombed. They put so much money into the marketing and production of those figures that they never made it back. Everything they tried to do from Micronauts to Dukes of Hazzard, nothing could help them and they finally went out of business.
So what figures are you still looking for? What are your Holy Grails?
I’m looking for more prototypes. I do know that there are Logan’s Run figures out there. They weren’t all burned. There’s a Mego Ultraman figure that came out in the early ‘70s, which I have people in Japan searching for me. And I’m looking for the Dodge City playset for the 8” Western figures. I don’t wanna tell you anymore, because then other people are gonna look for them.