Friday, April 15, 2011

Forgotten Books: Marx Western Playsets - The Authorized Guide

When I was a kid my favorite toys were cap guns (and they still are). But my second favorite things were Marx playsets like these. I had Walt Disney's Official Davy Crockett at the Alamo set (of course), and the Zorro set, and the Roy Rogers ranch. I also had non-Western sets like The Civil War, and WWII, and one with knights vs Vikings. At some point, of course, my mother either threw them in the trash or hauled them to a thrift store. I've since managed to reclaim a few bits and pieces, but short of winning the lottery I'll never own the complete sets again.

So, for guys like me, Jay Horowitz wrote this cool book, which was published in 1992. Along with the great photos, it has a history of the Marx company, profiles of the men who made the toys, info on how these sets were manufactured, and lists of what each set (and each variation on each set) included. There's way more in this book than even I'd ever want to know.

The heyday for this stuff was between 1955 and 1965, but the company was still making some of them, on a more limited basis, up until 1978. Complete sets like these, with the original boxes, command astronomical prices.

The official Fess Parker figure is visible just to the left of the top of the gate,
in front of the hitching rack. 

The two rarest pieces of this set are the plastic cave (far right, in the full set photo), and the fragile plastic stairs and balcony on the commandante's office.

Yep, that's Rip, Rusty and Rin Tin Tin guarding the gate.

That's Roy standing with a raised pistol next to the gate. I'm surprised we don't see Dale or Pat Brady in this set. They appear in others.

This is one of the rarer sets. It was issued only once, in 1959. The Lucas McCain figure is especially hard to come by.

This set came with two Ranger figures, seen here flanking Tonto. How can he be the Lone Ranger when there's two of him?

If you have any of this stuff cluttering up your attic, you're invited to donate it to the Lewis Museum. I'll display it with a plaque proudly bearing your name.

Forgotten Books are brought to each week by Patti Abbott. Check 'em out HERE.


David Cranmer said...

Evan, You shot a memory back because I had Playset as well but I'll be hanged if I remember which one.

George said...

Has Cap'n Bob seen this?

Dan_Luft said...

I caught the tail end of this stuff. I got something called Heritage Playsets from Sears on Christmases and birthdays for a couple years. My Fort Apache had no mention of Roy Rogers but the set was pretty much the same. I remember those corner lookout towers that slid into place. I had an Alamo one too but there was no Fess Parker -- on that one the fencing looked a little different. The Alamo, as I remember, was all metal. Fort Apache had a plastic fence and a metal building. There was also a Revolutionary war set and a Gettysburg set. My army men were the same as the ones in your photos.

As time went by, all the sets mingled together in a big box with some knights, some WWII army men and some Micronauts and the whole living room turned into one Time-bending war. Extra buildings and bridges were supplied by Lincoln Logs.

I wonder if my sister still has any of this stuff. My nephew is the last kid I saw playing them. He's 27 now so it's unlikely.

Evan Lewis said...

The most common set, by a wide margin, was Fort Apache, issued in 46 variations between 1955 and 1977. Most looked a lot like the Rin Tin Tin set pictured here. Some of the later ones came in a tin suitcase that opened to form the fort.

Cap'n Bob knows all, sees all and has all, George.

The Roy Rogers and Civil War sets were each issued 24 times, so there are many variations. And the Alamo was done 19 times. I had some of those Hertiage sets too.

J F Norris said...

Holy Mackerel! I think I had one of these. Hysterical choice for a forgotten "book." You and Bill Crider are starting a trend I see. What's next? Bartending guides? I think I'll do that next week.

This also reminds me of some action figures I had ages ago also maade by Marx: Johnny West and Chief Comanche. I remember using the horses as models when I was trying to learn how to draw them. Bet those are wroth a pretty penny on the toy collector's market now. But...long gone. Ah well.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It must say something - but I don't know what - about my childhood that I never even heard of, let alone saw, and of these. I don't remember any TV ads for them, or magazine ads, or anything. They were completely off my radar.

At one point I had a few green plastic G.I. soldiers, presumably WWII figures, that got played with some and then probably lost in the dirt or sand someplace. Mostly I just played with toy cars and trucks, I guess, or marbles. I never imagined there were these whole figures-in-a-scene sets.

Dan_Luft said...

I had a friend in kindergarten with the tin suitcase variation. Looking back that was probably the first time I ever coveted anything that a friend had. I really sat home and schemed how to get it away from him.

Chris said...

When this showed up in my Google reader this morning my head about exploded. Awesome!

I had the Fort Apache playset as a young 'un. That an things made out of Lincoln Logs hosted many imaginary battles, believe me.

Cap'n Bob said...

I wish I had all. As a kid I had only three playsets--Roy Rogers Rodeo Ranch, Rin Tin Tin Fort Apache, and Fort Pitt. My Rin Tin Tin had the 60mm figures, different from the ones you show, but I had those in my Fort Pitt. Rarer than Lucas McCain is Mark McCain holding a rifle.
The tin suitcase that folded into a fort was done as a frontier cavalry post, a castle, and either Cape Canaveral or Cape Kennedy. Oddly enough, I don't own this book. It goes for big bucks now.

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Unknown said...

I was born in 1963, so I missed out on the heyday of the playset era. But by age 10 I was getting interested in history, and in 1973 for Christmas that year I got the Heritage Blue and Gray set. My brother got the "Sons of Liberty" set. Then later birthdays and Christmas's I got The Alamo, WWII "Battleground", and Fort Apache. My last set was the huge "Navarone" set with the big plastic mountain.

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