Ask any boy who grew up in the sixties about toy soldiers and war toys and he'll probably mention the number one action figure of its time, G.I. Joe. But did you know there was a lesser-known 11" soldier who went by the name of Stonewall "Stony" Smith?
G.I. Joe arrived on toy shelves in 1964 and took America by storm. Never a man to watch an opportunity go by, Louis Marx, head of Marx Toys decreed that Marx would too have a toy soldier to compete with Joe. An industry leader in the plastic action figure market, for years Marx had pioneered the marketing of the traditional plastic toy soldiers and cowboys and Indians. Marx sold them on the back covers of comic books or in stores in large plastic bags which held, sometimes, hundreds of the little 2-3 inch figures. There were even knights and crusaders and toy animal and farm sets.
But G.I. Joe was a revolutionary idea. Taking note of the burgeoning market in Barbie dolls for girls, Hasbro which manufactured G.I. Joe, realized that a boy's doll, or "action soldier" as he was first known, with hundreds of uniforms, weapons, and other accessories could be a financial gold mine. They were proven right. Marx, however, took a different tact, providing all of Stony's accessories at once with the basic doll and for only a few cents more. The 1964 Sears Christmas catalog featured Stony for the whopping sum of $2.49 vs. the basic G.I. Joe which cost $2.32. That was a major difference, but there was another more fundamental concern that may well have proven to be Stony's downfall.
The initial Stony doll did not have articulated legs. His head moved from side to side and his arms were jointed, but his legs did not move. Unlike G.I. Joe which touted his "21 movable parts for action," Stony was, sadly, stiff. And Marx's reliance upon their plastic injection technology meant that, save for Stony's head and hands, he had a uniform drab olive green uniform molded to his body and his accessories were the same color, too. Unlike G.I. Joe which used painted plastic for his weapons, helmets, and boots and a variety of fabrics for uniforms, tents, ponchos, and even sandbags, Stony was seriously limited.
By 1965, a new and improved Stony arrived with articulated legs but he remained the same olive drab soldier. And though Stony now came in new varieties- a Stony paratrooper and even bigger playsets, to include tents, parachutes, and foot lockers, the quality of Marx's offerings compared to G.I. Joe's cornucopia of accessories was no match to what Hasbro put out. Eventually, Stony evolved by 1966 into a doll named "Buddy Charlie," later called the "All American Fighter."
Like G.I. Joe, he was sold with a completely articulated flesh-colored body and only then did accessories arrive that resembled G.I. Joe's in the marketplace. But by then it was too late to make any sort of dent in Joe's market share. Marx's line of soldier figures ended in 1968.
Stony did live on though for a few more years, in an odd sort of way. When it became apparent in 1965 that Stony was losing his fight against G.I. Joe, Marx used Stony's head to create a Western line of toy figures, starting with Johnny West. Johnny was, from the beginning, a fully articulated cowboy and though the same poly-plastic mold technology was used to create him and his line of accessories (this time in shades of brown and tan) he was a success.
This led to an entire "Best of the West" line to include Jane West (a cowgirl and presumably Johnny's wife), Jamie West (a boy...his son?), Josie West (daughter?) and a whole assortment of Indian chiefs, sheriffs, villains, horses, and cavalry soldiers which became the primary focus for Marx Toys well until the end of the company's days in the mid 1970s.
Though Stony's hold on the toy "action soldier" market was a shaky one, his appearance on the scene in 1964 supplemented this boy's G.I. Joe collection and if most kids were like me, they would have welcomed any additional replacements to the battlefields I created as a boy. When he appeared for sale recently on a popular internet auction site, I saw to it that Stony came home once again. After all, in times of war, who's going to quibble about articulated legs?
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