an effort to compete with Hasbro's G.I. Joe, Marx Toys hit it big in the Western genre when the company
released the original Johnny West sixth scale action figure in 1965. Naturally, a number of old west themed friends
and foes followed everyone's favorite "movable cowboy," along with a wide range of horses and other
period appropriate sets and accessories.
How Louis Marx and Company Won the West
March 29, 2012, by Will Hoover
You gotta love vintage toy commercials. This one may be just
a tad politically incorrect by today's standards however. "Rush Captain Maddox to the rescue, along with General Custer. Who started it? Ferocious Chief Geronimo on his horse Comanche!"
Okay. We were kids back then and times were different, right? Never mind that in the commercial, "Chief"
Geronimo is decked out in a war bonnet that he most likely wouldn't have worn to any old stampede. Nor was he really a chief per
say, but an Apache medicine man (and successful leader of numerous war parties in raids against both the Mexican and US governments)
whose real name was Goyathlay, meaning "one who yawns."
Keep in mind however, that the 1:6 scale Marx Geronimo was really just one of several generic Native American figures that the Marx Toy Company sold throughout the late 1960s and early 70s, none of which were necessarily meant to be 100% historically
accurate in every way. Accordingly, most of the accessories included with Geronimo were pretty much the same as what
came with other Marx Indian offerings such as Chief Cherokee and Fighting Eagle.
It should also be noted that even though the Geronimo of pop cultural myth, legend and folklore was sometimes
portrayed as a "bad guy" in those days, when I had my very own Marx Geronimo as an especially curious
preteen, I was so fascinated by the actual historical character, that I found myself spending hours reading about him in the
local public library. For that, I honestly believe that I owe a debt of gratitude to toy industry pioneer Louis Marx and his magnificent line of historical Western action figures.
The real Apache warrior Geronimo (Goyathlay)
let's face it, the head sculpt of the Marx Geronimo action figure must certainly be considered quite good, even by today's
standards. It intrigued me enough in fact, that I distinctly remember repeatedly comparing actual photos of the famed
Apache "outlaw" to the Marx Geronimo I owned as a child.
I recall thinking back then that the
likeness was definitely there, and comparing Marx Geronimo and Goyathlay again now, I'd say it's a fair
bet that the toy company had the real deal in mind when they designed and marketed the figure.
least the Marx Geronimo looks the part more than Wes Studi did in the 1993 film Geronimo: An American Legend. Ya gotta love Wes though, so please don't get me wrong. I've just always thought that his face
was a bit long to be playing Goyathlay. Appearances aside, Studi of course made an outstanding silver screen Geronimo.
back to Marx Geronimo though.... Before judging Marx or any of their exquisitely sculpted 1:6 scale collection of "movable"
Old American West figures however, it is best to keep a few very important things in mind.
starters, the Marx company's trademark strategy was almost always to keep the production cost of its figures as low a
possible, while also making sure that the quality of the product was as high as possible.
in and of itself is no easy feat when it comes to the often costly tooling process for mass market toys. How the company's
founder Louis Marx accomplished this was to hire incredibly talented sculptors, who almost always without fail, produced
some of the most highly detailed and thoroughly researched toys of the 20th century.
How then, you may ask, would the head sculpt of an historical
figure like Geronimo end up on the body of a generic Plains Indian tribesman, AND be outfitted with pretty much the same miscellaneous
list of accessories that the other Indian toys in the Best of the west series were also packaged with?
Forever Blue - The real George Armstrong Custer in 1865 when he was yet only a Major General
commerce of course! Reproducing those beautifully sculpted accessories in different colors and repackaging them with
other Native American characters (regardless of their tribe) was just good thrifty business for Louis and his brother
The kind of good thrifty business that the Marx Toy Company excelled at, in fact. So if you can, do forgive Marx for any so-called inaccuracies in historical details in his many lines of period based
toys, won't you?
And whatever you do, please keep in mind that Marx toys certainly made this writer/toy
collector want to learn more about real life historical figures such as George Armstrong Custer and many, many others. Though I'm not certain the company's likeness of Custer in particular is all
that dead on.
the end, Louis Marx's wonderfully imaginative figures of various scales (from 2 inches in height on up to nearly 12")
actually gifted the world with many highly economical, yet thoroughly entertaining and quite durable classic action toys.
sure we could ask for more, but should we? Why of course we should! I won't expound too much (at this time)
on the history of the Marx toy company and why it's no longer in business, but suffice it to say that there have
been solid efforts to revive Marx in recent years. More importantly perhaps, there are still a number of very devoted
fans out there who continue to make sure that the Marx brand name lives proudly on.
Hopefully, in the not too distant
future, one or even several of these good folks will get together to either resurrect Marx as a corporate entity, or
an American (or foreign) made brand quite similar to it, will crop up and pay heed to the many valuable lessons left
behind by Louis Marx and company. Let's hope so anyway. Until then, here's to the future of the old
American West in the collectible toy market.