Gord Wilson (This
article was originally slated for Model Toy and Collector magazine,
out of print before it could appear).
remember the November day in 1963 that a huge box arrived from a
department store downtown. I was nine years old. The brown-suited
delivery man set it down in the living room, much to my mom’s chagrin,
foiling her plan to hide the box away until the holidays. Christmas
morning confirmed my best hope as I eagerly tore the wrapping off to
reveal the outlandish, three foot tall, green and gold dream of every
space-minded kid in 1963: ‘Your Friend From the Moon,” Big Loo by Marx.
This isn't me getting Big Loo for
Christmas; it's Paul Reinoehl
from his website. I don't have a picture of me at that happy moment,
Paul has the same expression of happy amazement that I did. It's the
fraternity of all Big Loo owners. Link to Paul's site at
R: Mac, the first robot I
ever made. Being made of cardboard boxes and
a carpet sweeper, he fell over a lot. His first upgrade was to wooden
legs on roller skates (one leg is shown in the background). Then he
didn't fall over as much.
dutifully took his place among my line-up of robots and
space toys. Great as he was, I couldn’t say he was my favorite robot.
But consider the contenders for that title:1961 had brought Robot
by Ideal. Although the voice command remote control malfunctioned the
day after Christmas, he still hurled balls, shot missiles out of his
head and crawled across the floor with his eyes rolling in crazy, dizzy
spirals. The big blue robot performed guard duty for Ideal’s Astro Base
and Deluxe Reading’s Operation X-500 Command Center, both from 1960,
though he was all out of proportion to the red plastic spaceports.
Robot Commando by Ideal. R: Smoking Spaceman on a European robot
book. His distinctive barber pole top lamp is not shown.
parent’s favorite robot was the gray tin Yonezawa/ Linemar Smoking
Spaceman, which from an early age I found unnerving. I’d shut the
lights off, jump into bed, and watch his eerie red eyes shining in the
the spectrum changing on his barber pole top dome, smell the pungent,
wafting smoke from his mouth grille, hear his mechanical clanking,
sound. Probably my favorite was the shining white metal Chief Robot
if only because my sister gave him to me. He also seemed the most
He’d stop, flash his eyes and top dome while turning his head with a
metallic, grinding sound, and I never tired of his mysterious
Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics
One: A robot may not injure a human being
or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
Two: A robot must obey the orders given it by
human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First
Three: A robot must protect its own existence, as
long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
occurred to me to have the robots fight. They shared a
peaceful world with the dinosaurs in my toy box. The only bruises they
sustained came when a neighbor kid one day declared war and smashed
together. Long before I learned Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics,
however, my robot family had heroic and helpful role models in Rosey on
The Jetsons and Astroboy, both arriving on TV shortly before Big Loo.
shows were part of the emerging space awareness engendered after the
launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, and America quickly followed with Explorer
in 1958. President Kennedy only increased robot mania when he called
America to support the burgeoning space program, and toy makers rose to
occasion, with an eye-popping array of science-fiction themed toys and
Chief Robot Man. C: Astro Base by Ideal. This was an incomplete set
being sold through eBay. What's missing is the moon car. After
was lowered by a crane into the moon car from the side of the Base, the
car could be driven from the Base by remote control. Whichever
the car's antenna pointed was the direction the car would go. An
creation from Ideal toys.
R: Smoking Spaceman. Yonezawa's
oft-copied design became a robot icon.
force guarded its own little model of Cape Canaveral and all the
science-fiction toys my allowance could buy. Remote controlled Mr.
Mercury stood watch by Marx’s Mystery Space Ship, a yellow plastic
gyroscope which could be cranked up to “hover” on its platform or
on a string. The Space Ranger Orbiting Space Ship, another Marx
whipped around on a pole while the propeller-driven ship swooped and
maneuvering to rescue tiny astronauts trapped on the lunar surface.
Mr. Mercury. This gold version was for sale at a toy show. R: Marx's
Mystery Space Ship was really a large gyro you wound up with a crank.
It could balance on a string and do other amazing feats.
many other junior astronauts of the era, every night I’d retreat to my
bedroom and its science-fiction world of progress and peace. But the
harmony, alas, was not to last, and my next act was one for which robot
collectors may feel I should do penance. To my young mind, the insides
of my robots seemed more fascinating than the outsides, and I took them
apart. The parts found their way into the home-built robots I daily
tried to construct, none of which matched the ingenuity of the
tin toys that remained in my collection survived because my mom hid
them away. Even in those halcyon years when each new Sears toy
catalog brought fresh worlds of enchantment, she sensed that the days
the great robots were numbered. Over the years I have begun collecting
robots again, but I will never forget what my “friend from the moon,”
and the other metal and plastic inhabitants of that science-fiction
wonderland meant to a nine year old kid growing up in the space age.
© copyright Gord Wilson.