# # Strange Toys I Have Known - Marx Toy Soldier Casualties

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Strange Toys I Have Known –
Marx Toy Soldier Casualties

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I think most of us who grew up between the 50’s and the 80’s would consider the little, green plastic soldier to be one of the most ubiquitous toys of that world. I know I saw hundreds (if not thousands) of them littering the floors, toy boxes, and playgrounds of my and my peers’ youth. Among them would have to have been some Marx toy soldiers.

marx05Louis Marx and Company was an American toy manufacturer from 1919 to 1978 and responsible for a wide range of toys as simple as a yoyo or as complex as a working train set. Some of their more iconic toys include the Big Wheel tricycle, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, and the coveted Big Loo battery-operated robot toy.

marx13Marx also manufactured what I and my playmates used to refer to as “army men.” Along with companies like TimMee and MPC, Marx cranked out mountains of plastic toy soldiers – and theirs were some of the most popular and arguably the best when it came to detail and quality.

marx14By the time I rolled around – the 70’s – toys like Marx toy soldiers were largely under-appreciated as cheap bits of dime-a-dozen plastic. I can’t count how many army men I melted, burned, cut-up, allowed to float away, buried, forgot, or simply left out to be chewed by dogs. You could buy them at the Ben Franklin’s by the double handful in a thick, plastic bag with a hang-tag for less than a dollar, so who cared? With a roster of 10 or less sculpts per average assortment of 30 or more soldiers, it seemed like they all looked the same, anyway. Big deal. Cheap crap. Lame background fodder for the Star Wars figures and Shogun Warriors …

marx15Then the inevitable thief, time, comes along and slowly strips the skin of childhood from you until, one day, all that’s left are vague echoes of a past that almost seems to belong to someone else. That’s when memory pipes up, full of regret, saying: that stuff you didn’t value? That was the magic.

marx16Of course, little green army men are *not* the magic of childhood but they do embody it. Mere extras on the backlot of our play-scenes or not, they, too were imbued with our imagination.

Recently, I stumbled across another keystone to a long thread of dim memories regarding these seemingly mundane toys. Memories of something different and special out there beyond all the typical mine-sweepers, grenade-throwers, and bayonet-stabbers: a rarer and less discussed group of figure sculpts that I like to think of as the Toy Soldier Casualties.

marx17I first remembered these toys during a conversation, some recent years back, with a friend of mine who was going through a seemingly inexplicable, plastic dinosaur freak-out. The discussion set my mind to ruminating over my own childhood’s crappy plastic dinosaurs, cowboys and Indians, and army men. I voiced having once had some WWII figures that included both American GI’s and Germans. Not only that but *dead* Germans and wounded Americans. My friend was dubious of this assertion, not daring to believe that a toy company of the time would have made anything as heinous as a wounded American GI – but my mental image remained – I knew it to be true. Were they a rarity, manufactured by some weird, little company?

Within moments, the conversation moves on and the memory is filed and forgotten: I had bigger toy fish to fry.

marx18A few years later, a visit to Portland, Oregon’s amazing vintage toy-shop, Billy Galaxy, reveals the Marx Navarone Play Set. I recognize some of the accessories in the picture on the box and, more importantly, some of the same grey German soldiers I was trying to describe to my friend … but look, I don’t collect little, plastic toy soldiers. If I did, I’d be all over those HO scale Airfix sets I used to collect as a kid. Now *those* were cool. Basic, green army men? Honestly, they’re just not that important to me.

Nor were they – until a couple of weeks ago, that is, when a trip to an antique toys show in Seattle with a few friends found me walking out with a baggie of 6″ Marx WWII Marine figures.

marx01Honestly, I don’t know what compelled me to bite (beyond the $5 price-tag) – maybe it was the size. The typically posed green army man, normally unremarkable, is such a novelty at six-inches in height. I savor the detail, shocked. The expressions on some of them is of real terror or determination and I am drawn in. These aren’t just toys but testaments to soldiering and the horrors of war. My own memories of their smaller brethren are of poorly molded toys; waxy, green soldiers with rough sprue-marks, intact flashing, and wobbly bases. Were they the crap I remember or were they also this replete with detail?

marx02Aflame with new appreciation for the medium, my mind wanders back to the bizarre, toy soldier casualties from my youthful army and – finally! – I become determined to track them down.

A few creative eBay searches later and I am rewarded. There they are and more than I had remembered: the stretcher bearers with patient, the crawling wounded Marine, the injured soldier slung over a compatriot’s shoulders, the shot soldier with his flapping helmet and dropping pistol – whoa! The accessories, too, that I had forgotten: barbed wire, flat groups of trees, anti-tank mines, a floating bridge, bunkers – suddenly I see an auction for an old Marx boxed set and my brain pops with another tatter of memory: yes. That’s it. I was once gifted with a Marx Battleground playset of some sort. Oh, man.

marx08Predictably, the prices on eBay for the toys are horrendous – if I buy these here, I may as well beat the rush and start the divorce process myself (one of the Marx toy soldier casualties is going for $28, alone)! So I do some more hunting about the ‘net and – WHAM: toysoldierhq!

marx04bThanks to this awesome site, I now know that virtually all the figures that have haunted me, lo these many years, were part of a single release included in my bigger, “Battleground” set: the 2nd series “Medical” WWII GIs. Many of the figures in the set leap out at me from my memory and the site’s pages simultaneously: a Marine fighting hand-to-hand with a dagger, a Marine using his rifle as a club, a Marine running with an ammo case and pistol … all old faves from a group of toys I’d long misremembered as having no real, distinguishing characteristics or play value!

marx06My new-found respect for the detail in these toys – as well as what they were depicting – puts these old favorites of mine in a chilling new light. I appreciate them for their natty gore, from the good-humoured “what the hell were they thinking” angle, and view them with slight horror as a compassionate, non-violent adult.

marx03As a kid, these figures were a great addition to my toy box, bringing a touch of some much-needed grittiness to my play. I had no touchstone with which to more deeply appreciate the sacrifice, terror, and painful human experiences they represented: they were just “cool toys.” Now they remind me of the amazing and disturbing resin art figures, “Casualties of War,” that they, in part, inspired: little, green army men returned home to joblessness, domestic violence, disability, and suicide.

marx10As I continued to poke around the Toy Soldier HQ site, I had to laugh – Marx seemed to delight in posing “shot” figures with a hat flying off and a gun dropping from their hands – there’s a cowboy doing it, there’s a Russian – there’s a gangster! A gangster? Oh, no … And, oh, man: is that a Marx NIXON?!?

marx12I picked up one each of the figures that have, for so long, teased at the corners of my memory, as well as a set of Untouchables and a Nixon (I had to get a Nixon, right?).

Toy Soldier HQ shipped super-fast (despite their frighteningly-terrible website) and now I am finding myself kind of wanting one each of all the Marx WWII Marines, Japanese, Russian, and German soldiers they made.

Oh, brother … do I need help or what?

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2 Responses to “Strange Toys I Have Known –
Marx Toy Soldier Casualties”

  1. Roger says:

    I’m a believer!

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