When I was a kid in the 1970s, one company stood above the rest in terms of my affection: Mego.
Throughout the early part of the decade and in particular before the arrival of Star Wars and its Kenner toy line, Mego not only manufactured a slew of eight-inch action figures, and vehicles for them, but — best of all – huge, colorful playsets related to movie and TV characters and franchises.
Now, it’s true that these playsets were made, often, of laminated cardboard pieces, but they still looked amazingly cool, and made possible hours, if not decades, of fun.
Today, my home office is decorated with these toys, and some of the photographs in this post are from my personal collection.
Now, let’s take a look back at a handful of the most awesome Mego TV and movie playsets from the disco decade.
Batman – The Batcave (1974)
The Mego Batcave is a large-scale playset with all the crime-fighting detail a kid expects of the Caped Crusader’s subterranean lair.
The box describes the Batcave as “an all-encompassing play case built to accommodate all the bat vehicles. There is a secret entrance way for the Batmobile, a landing platform for the Batcopter, and a garage area for the Batcycle.”
“Included in the case are the Batpole and Batcomputer. Everything necessary to stimulate your child’s imagination towards bold new adventures.”
Planet of the Apes Village (1974)
The Mego Planet of the Apes Village was a “giant 3 foot play set, headquarters for all Planet of the Apes 8 inch action figures.” And as you can see, it’s pretty much a knock-off of the Batcave playset, only with different art and detailing.
The Planet of the Apes village folds into a small carry case, and also opens up into this huge diorama of Ape City as seen in the 1968 film starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. There’s a “secret entrance” to Ape City, plus plenty of accouterments. These include a “laboratory table” for dissecting humans, a flip-up “weapons bench,” a “capture net and carry pole,” a “detention pen,” “3 control sticks” and “3 rifles.”
I always liked the Apes village, but Mego produced other awesome Ape playsets too, including a Forbidden Zone Trap, a Treehouse, and a Fortress. You can see commercials for those sets below.
Star Trek (1975): U.S.S. Enterprise Action Playset
Mego’s mock-up of the U.S.S. Enterprise interior was a “giant, 24″ long command center” featuring “captain’s chair, console, two stools” plus six interchangeable “view screen scenes.”
The set comfortably housed all the Mego Star Trek figures of the era, and, while not very show-accurate in terms of design, was nonetheless an awesome toy.
The coolest aspect of this famous Mego toy is the spinning transporter chamber. Just place a landing party team member inside the chamber, spin a blue wheel, and then hit a red button to beam him down (to the outside of the playset….).
Another spin and a touch of the green button would bring him back aboard. Meanwhile, the yellow zig-zag/checkerboard details made it appear as if the crewman’s atoms were actually spinning madly about.
An additional Star Trek playset from Mego was called “Mission to Gamma,” and it offered rough approximation of the stone God Vaal from the episode “The Apple.”
The Wizard of Oz (1975): Emerald City Playset
In the year 1975, Mego acquired the license from MGM to create playsets and action figures from the classic fantasy movie The Wizard of Oz (1939). Accordingly, Mego released a varied line of Oz figures including Dorothy (w/Toto), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Glinda, The Wicked Witch, and the Wizard.
Even a few munchkins, including the Mayor, were included in the roll-out. Mego also released a witch’s castle, the mostly-movie-accurate Munchkinland and the piece de resistance, the Emerald City Playset.
This 42-inch playset could open to reveal various chambers in the city, and came complete with a throne chair, a Wizard’s curtain, a removable/fold-able yellow brick road, and an 8-inch Wizard figure. There was even a peep-hole in the door, where a sentinel could ask “who goes there?”
On the interior, you could see the booth where the Wizard worked his magic, and one window in the main chamber overlooked the poppy field.
Flash Gordon Playset (1977)
In 1977, Mego manufactured a line of toys from Flash Gordon (1936), including four 10-inch action figures (Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov), and this terrific playset/carrying case.
“The world of Mongo comes alive in this double sided playset” the box details informed kids. “One side is Ming’s Throne Room complete with Ming’s throne.”
“The other side is Dr. Zarkov’s secret laboratory with a simulated computer and (3) computer cards.”
The set also “fits all Flash Gordon figures (not included.)”
Like the Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and Wizard of Oz playsets, this Flash Gordon playset is constructed of hard cardboard, surrounded by laminated vinyl. The illustrations on this set are really quite beautiful and strongly evocative of Alex Raymond’s art work.
The three computer cards included here are double-sided, and feature images of all the characters, the city of Mongo, plus a rocket on approach. All the cards slip down through the top of the computer, into the view screen panel.
Happy Days (1977 – 1978): Fonzie’s Garage
In 1977 – 1978, Mego introduced toys based on the popular ABC TV series Happy Days (1974 – 1984), which was based, intriguingly, on nostalgia for the 1950s. The action-figure line included eight-inch-tall likenesses of Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), Potsie (Anson Williams), Ralph the Malph (Donny Most) and the show’s break-out character: the Fonz (Henry Winkler).
Also released and marketed by Mego were Fonzie’s motorcycle, an old jalopy, and this great, over-sized garage playset. The art on the box reads: “AAAAY! The Fonz has a new head mechanic, and it’s you with the official Fonzie garage.”
As you can see, on the mid-1970s, Mego transported kids to Gotham City, the Planet of the Apes, the bridge of the starship Enterprise, the Emerald City, Mongo, and yes, Milwaukee of the 1950s. My holy grail, however, in terms of these toys, was the Batman Wayne Foundation toy, which today is hard-to-find and impossible to afford. It’s a giant, three-level playset, and looks absolutely amazing.
Later in the decade, Mego tried a new strategy in terms of toys, producing playsets for small, Star Wars-sized action figures in their Star Trek and Buck Rogers line. Those toys are awesome too, but never quite reached the pop culture popularity of these large figure playsets, which remain highly coveted today.