Did you know Matt Mason was the first man in space?
Well before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969 came Mattel’s Major Matt Mason, the Man in Space
Do you remember being a kid in the 60’s and 70’s?
Every kid on the block wanted to be an astronaut.
Well Mattel made that possible, without your ever needing to leave Earth!
Kids were fascinated by space in the 60’s and 70’s and dreamed of becoming astronauts and Mattel answered those dreams so these figures proved to be very popular until the mid 70’s when interest in NASA’s Space Program began to wane.
Mattel’s Man in Space, Major Mat Mason was originally released in 1966 based on design information found in Life Magazine, Air Force Magazine, Jane's, and other aviation- and space-interest periodicals.
In fact if you look through a Mattel catalog is incredible how accurate some of the playsets and vehicles were considering a lot of them were released before the first ever moon landing, they even had a Space Shuttle!
He worked and lived on the moon along with the “Men in Space”: Sgt Storm, his army buddy; Doug Davis, Space Scientist-Radiology and Jeff Long, Space Scientist-Rocketry.
These figures were “bendies” rather than traditional articulated action figures but this worked well for this concept. They were made of a rubber-like material called "Plastizol" which was molded over a wire armature, which gave them excellent flexibility, movement and poseability but over the they were prone to metal fatigue due to the excessive bending of the frames causing them to break at the joints and making mint and unbroken figures difficult to find.
Another problem with these was that the paint didn’t “stick” to the molds very well and often peeled off to reveal the molding underneath. The initial molds used white Plastizol but due to complaints and production problems this was later changed to black Plastizol.
As with the G.I. Joe and Action Man figures this line relied heavily on the accessories and outfits for its popularity which were all space orientated vehicles, space suites and flight suites which drew their inspiration from the official NASA Space Program.
Despite having common body molds each character featured different head molds and body paint: Mason had a dark brown crew cut and a white space suit, Sgt. Storm had blond hair and a red suit; civilian astronaut Doug Davis had a yellow suit and brown hair; Lt. Jeff Long was African-American, with a blue suit.
The line included two alien figures; Callisto, who was an ally and Scorpio, who was the line’s protagonist. Callisto was a Jovian alien from the planet Jupiter with superior mental abilities which were represented by his transparent green head. There are three known variations of Callisto known to exist: the first of these had taller boots and a white spot painted on its chest; a second with without the white spot and the third with shorter boots.
However all heroes need an enemy to fight and his was Scorpio, an evil looking insect like creature with a large mouth and eyes that glowed yellow. This figure was released towards the end of the line so had limited distribution. He came with small Styrofoam “search globe” balls in a small plastic bag, which are often missing. The lite up effect on the mouth and eyes were powered by a AA battery in his chest cavity. There was also a Mexican version of this figure released that used the same mold but different colouring.
As well as these figures a 12-inch Capt Lazer figure was released who was advertised as “Major Matt Mason’s friend from Outer Space” but many collectors think he was originally produced for his own toy line as he towered above the other 6-ich figures in the line.
The captain came with several gun attachments as well as other features including glowing red eyes, a glowing breastplate, and a laser pistol permanently attached to his hand. etc. A little known fact is that the tooling for the Captain Lazer body was later used to make large-size Battlestar Galactica action figures, including Colonial Warrior and the Cylon Centurion.
As well as the Astronaut and Aliens released Mattel also released several accessories and play sets. Many of these were based on actual NASA concepts and the "Moon Suit", "Space Station” and "Jet Pack" were actually seen as concept drawings in such magazines as Look and Life.
These figures have become prominent collectibles over the years and are eagerly sought after by collectors of both action figures and space memorabilia.
Some of the items featured in Mattel’s catolgues remain elusive with many collectors still searching them out along with the many variations and prototypes still thought to exist somewhere.
Man of the figures and items also received dubious distribution and then add to the mix the foreign releases and bootlegs etc trying to track them down is no easy task and as such genuine figures and accessories fetch premium prices and are the mainstay of many collections.
The Major Matt Mason figure and accessories are hugely popular among collectors and mint, MOC or MIB items are extremely hard to find, this is mainly due to the metal fatigue many of the figures suffered and the chipping of the paint and disintegrating of the rubber over the decades.
This has resulted in the prices of these sky rocketing over the years with the 1970 Scorpio figure selling for as much as $1,000 up.
The carded paks generally sell for between $20-$100 and the playsets for around $150 up. The figuers start from around $200 but a pristine mint condition figure can go for as much as $1000 or more.
The most popular, or expensive of them (at this time), seems to be the 1970 Scrpio figure.
One of the best sources of information I found for these figures and toys was Wildtoys.com, particularly their listings for the play sets and accessories with excellent images and information on the various variants etc.
• The Official Guide to Action Figures – Second Ed Stuart W.Wells III and Jim Main
• Toyfare Magazine