August 2, 2009
Fans share LJN wrestling figure memories
By MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
"Get a grip, get a lock, get a hold on everyone," Randy "Macho Man" Savage would sing in the WWF commercials for LJN wrestling figures. "You'll have all the thrills, all the fun, when you bring home all the action!"
SLAM! Wrestling did a story a while back about the enduring popularity of the original nine-inch sturdy rubber Wrestling Superstars dolls of the '80s. We asked our readers to send in their memories and photos of the LJN figures. And boy, did they bring home the action.
"Growing up, I cringed when people referred to my LJN WWF wrestlers as 'dolls,'" wrote Robert Finch of Hamilton, ON. "To me, they were wrestling 'figures.' After all, dolls were for girls. (Those figures bring) back so many nostalgic memories from my childhood in the '80s -- a time when wrestling ruled my world. As I write this I am reminded of the smell of new rubber whenever I opened up a new figure."
Finch's first LJN figure, he remembered, was a gift from his parents: "One night my mom and dad bought me the Iron Sheik and my brother Carl the Junkyard Dog. My brother already had Hulk Hogan. For a brief time, these three wrestlers were the only ones we had. Carl also had an old Clubber Lang/Mr T doll that we used. But, needless to say, our 'federation' was small with only four superstars."
Dave Porto of Bakersfield, California shared: "I was about 12 when I first discovered the classic LJN Wrestling Superstar figures. Much like the wrestlers, the figures themselves were larger than life. They were incredible figures with a realistic look to them and with the amount of figures in the overall series you could really create your own wrestling cards. As a huge fan of so many of the wrestlers, I loved creating my own feuds and what was nice, the LJN series allowed for that because of how many figures were produced in the over all release."
"I had many, many matches on my bed," wrote Matt Petrie of Stratford, ON. "They would often fall off the bed and when they hit the floor my dad would start yelling and screaming about the noise. He'd make me go to bed early because of it -- then he would feel bad the next day about it. To make up for all the yelling the night before, he would take me out to K-mart to buy me a new one. That's how I built up my collection."
Finch could relate: "We hit the jackpot one Easter when my brother and I each received three more wrestlers: Hillbilly Jim, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Big John Studd for me, and Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Andre the Giant, and Nikolai Volkoff for Carl. Now, we were in the big time. More and more wrestlers found their way to our house -- whether it was a present under the Christmas tree, a gift for passing to the next grade, birthdays, or for just being good kids."
C.F. Hunter, contributing writer to Pro Wrestling Illustrated wrote: "My collection of LJN figures began one summer night after eating at a Dairy Queen in London, Ontario. I was about 10 years old and had only recently discovered wrestling, like millions of other new Hulkamaniacs. There was a K-Mart in the same plaza as the Dairy Queen, and my mother begrudgingly let me wander into the toy section. That's where I spotted the Big John Studd figure, with the stars on his white tights. After much begging and whining on my part, my mother bought me the figure.
Nate Paro of Ogdensburg, NY remembered the LJN wrestling ring: "I got the ring second hand due to the fact that I came into wrestling a bit after the LJN era. I remember just being enthralled by the massive size of the thing. It had these cartoony depictions of people outside the ring including a time keeper, a guy ringing the bell, a camera man, photographer, and even a fan at ring side looking for an autograph.
"Apparently they modified the ring posts to have big circular things on them because a child impaled himself by falling on the old LJN ring. I loved the classic red white and blue ropes and the blue turnbuckle covers as well. Unfortunately I never found the steel cage to go with that ring. Now from the effects of weather, the ropes have rotted on my ring and the decals have faded and fallen off. But the plastic core still lives on and is waiting for me to get a chance to restore it."
"Even as a kid I found (the LJN ring) a bit too flimsy," wrote Finch. "One day, while roughhousing in our room I stepped on it and broke it. My dad then built us a ring out of wood and covered it with felt. It proved much stronger and way more durable. We loved it. And, we could even remove the black electrical tape used as turnbuckle padding. This was especially fun when we used George 'The Animal' Steele, who would rip open the turnbuckles."
"I was thrilled, and it was way better than the original. And though my dad passed away a few years back, I have it prominently displayed in my living room as a reminder of him, and those fond memories of playing with the LJN rubber figures."
"My dad and I always played with the LJN figures in the backyard," wrote Andrew Craig of Lancaster, NY. "We loved setting the ring up on the lawn, and pretended it was the famous Showdown at Shea event that featured Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. I remember us standing really far back and looking at my Hulk and Andre figures in the ring, and imagining we were high up in the stands at Shea back in 1980. Man, those are great memories, and that feud between my Hogan and Andre figures went on for years."
Finch and his brother's figures had fierce battles also, and sometimes, the figures would even wear the crimson mask: "Every once in a while some of our wrestlers engaged in bitter feuds. So, naturally, there would be 'blood' in some of these matches," wrote Finch. "We used an erasable red magic marker to mimic blood. Foreign objects were quite common, as well. I recall one match where my King Kong Bundy figure was red in magic marker blood from head to toe -- and he deserved it for breaking Hulk Hogan's ribs on Saturday Night's Main Event."
"Another favourite feud I'd have was Andre the Giant versus Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. I'd always have Studd and Bundy, along with the Bobby Heenan figure gang up on Andre. It was so much fun having Studd hold Andre down as Bundy splashed him over and over, like he did all those years ago at Maple Leaf Gardens."
"There was a persistent rumour that went around school that the manufacturers inserted a rock in the Bundy figure to add weight," Finch remembered. "All of us kids dared the each other to rip open their Bundy figure to see if this was, in fact, true. To my recollection nobody ever did. Another rumour had it that the Bundy and Steele figures were moulded from the same template. I always wondered about this one."
It was at school where C.F. Hunter expanded his LJN wrestling figure collection: "In Grade 9, a classmate brought a bunch of his LJN figures to school, and our English teacher confiscated them because they were proving a distraction in class. One lunch-hour, I snuck in and stole a few figures from the teacher's desk.
"Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to realize that the LJN figures would be worth something someday. Instead, I used them as targets once my beloved dartboard fell apart. Once the figures were full of dart-holes, I decided to play 'surgeon' by amputating their limbs and playing mix and match. I have to say, Randy Savage looked pretty funny with Junkyard Dog's arms glued onto his shoulders. All my LJN figures except for two -- George Steele and Randy Savage -- are surely in a landfill now. Thankfully I still have those two, and I confess they occasionally do battle on my living room floor, vying for the affections of an imaginary Miss Elizabeth doll."
"It took me years to find the Miss Elizabeth doll with a skirt," wrote Tucker, whose collection is nearly complete. "I'd see a used Miss Elizabeth figure from time to time at various toy collectable shows for sale, but it wasn't until I discovered eBay did I finally find a figure in good condition with the gold skirt. It also took me ages to find the Hawaiian shirt (variant) figure of S.D. Jones, which cost me an arm and a leg. I remember putting the world heavyweight title on S.D., and for some reason, it just brought be so much joy to see him with the belt."
"I always thought to myself how the likes of S.D. Jones managed to get not one but two figures (variants) and Corporal Kirchner three," wrote Finch. "Yet, no figure of Gorilla Monsoon, Pedro Morales, or Howard Finkel. It would have been cool to play with some of the women wrestlers of the era: Wendi Richter, Fabulous Moolah, or Leilani Kai. And, if Koko B. Ware gets a figure, they should have included a Tony Garea, Sivi Afi, or the Moondogs.
"When I'd set up my own 'Wrestling Classic' tournament, Adonis would always win, unlike the one that happened in real life in '85, where he was beat by The Dynamite Kid in the quarter finals."
Finch remembered setting up "blind tournaments" in his living room. "This meant that I'd close my eyes and draw two wrestlers from a pile to create matches," he wrote. "This made for some exciting rasslin', indeed. We wound up with all sorts of interesting match-ups. And. sometimes we'd spend the whole afternoon having super tournaments where every single wrestler we had participated."
"I was always a sucker for a tournament or a battle royal but this was quite difficult with the huge figures and there heftiness," wrote Paro. "I remember I used to hang a sheet for a back drop and record my matches with an old VHS camcorder."
Craig agreed: "Those rubber figures were heavy duty, and they weighed a ton when you had them all in the ring at the same time. I remember one of my favourite things to do was set up these interview segments before the matches. I cut out a WWF logo from a magazine and built a studio set, then ask my dad to take these black-and-white photos of the wrestlers being interviewed by Vince McMahon or Mean Gene Okerlund. I'd use cardboard under the figures' feet to adjust their height to make things more accurate for the photos. I guess I was pretty obsessive."
Finch could relate: "My obsessive-compulsive nature showed even in those days as there were some things just not right about some of the figures... things that drove me nuts," he wrote. "I found some of the height and weight proportions were sometimes off. For instance, Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine was too tall -- especially when pitted against Andre. It bugged me when some wrestlers -- such as Honky Tonk Man -- were dressed in their full entrance costume rather than their in-ring attire. And surely, they could have come up with better poses for the likes of Ravishing Rick Rude, Cowboy Bob Orton, and Demolition Ax -- and whatever happened to Smash?"
Daly wrote: "They were virtually unplayable, however, because they had no moving parts. The only move I could pull off with any of them was a vertical suplex. But I really liked the LJN line, mostly for their appearance."
"I remember when my brother got angry and threw (an LJN figure) at his bedroom door," wrote Paro. "It was Big John Studd and it left a red and white streak on the door. Ah, the joy of rubber wrestlers."
"I especially remember the paint rubbing off," wrote Dave Peltz of Dearborn, MI. "I had a friend who used to repaint them when that happened. He also had some special customs, like Hogan and Savage as the MegaPowers. What I remember the most though, was babysitting for my mom's friend's son -- this kid had every figure. I only had about half of series 4 and I was very jealous of his series 5 and 6, especially Bam Bam Bigelow and the Ultimate Warrior. I think my favourites had to be the British Bulldogs and Kamala. Sadly, I don't have them anymore, my collection was sold at a garage sale years ago."
"At one time, I had the complete set," Porto recalled. "One thing that really attracted me to the figures was the cut-out trading card on the back which has lead to my current hobby -- collecting wrestling trading cards. It is because of LJN figures cards that a friend and I started WrestlingTradingCards.com."
A few years back, Daly sold off his LJN wrestling figure collection so he could buy a mini-van for his family: "I didn't get into actual wrestling figure collecting until much later in life -- around the late 1990s," he wrote. "Back then, eBay was starting to draw the attention of a lot of collectors, but still had relatively few sellers. So, the handful of sellers who were posting the LJN figures were making an absolute killing. Demand was quickly increasing, but the supply was short. Starting an LJN collection was fairly expensive, especially if you were interested in the figures still in their original packages, which I was. It didn't take me long to figure out that acquiring the entire line would not be an easy thing. There are several rare figures including numerous variants and the infamous 'black card' line which was released in very short stock.
"Selling my collection off to fellow collectors who still felt the passion was actually somewhat rewarding in itself, and not just from a lucrative standpoint. In the end, I felt satisfied with just owning most of them."
"Today, as chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, I spend my time wrestling with republicans rather than with rubber figures. But, I still cherish those childhood memories of Hogan and Andre, Hillbilly and Piper, or Studd and Snuka. And, I will always remember the excitement of playing with a newly opened, paint-intact, fresh-smelling LJN rubber wrestler."
"For me, those LJN figures are a reminder of WWF Maple Leaf Wrestling -- it was so tremendous," Jake Hamar concluded. "I used to watch that as a kid on TSN when we had satellite. I loved Norm Kimber calling the matches, and Billy Red Lyons with his trademark 'Don't ya dare miss it!' Those LJN figures brought me a lot of happiness as a child, and were pretty much a babysitter in their own right. Playing with those figures put me into my own Disneyland, and they truly take me back to a time we can never go back to."
Marshall Ward is a proud collector of the LJN line, and has them prominently displayed behind glass in his living room. Occasionally, he even lets his young daughters handle them, provided their hands are clean and they respect the figures. Email is welcome at email@example.com.