Kids today know nothing about lost memories or unachievable possessions. Every show that you've ever glanced at can be found on YouTube. Every toy you might want is just a PayPal payment away. But in the 1980s, that wasn't true at all.
Every time you'd head out to Child's World or Caldor, you'd see them staring back at you - Hundreds of Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik figures. Hundreds.
But how could that be when the Service Merchandise catalog clearly stated that you could find Harley Race, The British Bulldogs, and One Man Gang on shelves? Where did these figures live and how could I get them in my house. That was the end game. Get them from the store to my house.
With no Internet in 1987, you couldn't just look up the nearest shop with your favorites. Everything was a crap shoot. Sure you could call ahead and ask the store what they had, but that only works on paper. In reality it went like this:
Child's World. This is Zack,
Hi Zack. Do you have LJN Figures?
Yes we do.
Who do you have?
Who do we have?
You want me to read the names of all our wrestling action dolls to you?
They're wrestling figures, not dolls. And yes.
We have like 20 different ones.
That's fine. I have time.
Only one store in our area carried the new ones - JC Penny. At $10 a pop, they charged more than others for these rubber grapplers, but it was worth it. Then, one day, JC Penny closed their toy department.
I never went back again.
Each LJN Figure came with an exclusive poster for the wrestler you bought. These artistic versions of wrestling's favorite stars tried to mimic the classic wrestling advertisements in promising that a top star would be in action "Live Tonight!"
In some cases, the poster seemed to make sense. After all…
Andre The Giant was a favorite of many. Seeing him or Hulk Hogan at the arena would be a huge moment.
But in many others, the posters seemed to be from a bizzaro world. After all, who the hell would buy tickets to a show that only advertised…
Ted Arcidi? What an awful show that must be. When Ted Arcidi is the only name you plug before the event…that's not going to be a fun event.
Nothing against Ted Arcidi. It's just that…no, no. It is against Ted Arcidi. That show would suck, But still, someone made the poster and now I owned it. One step closer to owning every wrestling item on the market...
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about WWF LJN Figures were the smudges. That's right. Smudges. Depending on how much you played with these guys showed on their bodies. The reason - their paint smeared off all over each other.
Pristine figures were usually owned by weirdoes who just looked at them and never played.
You might know one of these people. If you happen to be one of those people, please take no offense. I was talking about those
I'll give you an idea of the personalities that did this. I once knew a kid in 8th grade that liked wrestling. I figured we could be friends based on this mutual admiration for the business. Big mistake. The first time I went to his house, he had nearly every LJN Figure lined up on his desk. They were shiny and untouched. He even had the rare Ultimate Warrior that JC Penny's didn't have. I was shocked and picked up Warrior.
"Wow," I said.
To which he replied
, "They're in order."
"Oh," I answered as I kept examining it.
At that point, he took the Ultimate One from my hand and said,
"Don't touch them!
That's the order!"
That kid was a dick. On the flipside to that, kids who played with their figured a lot ended up with half naked wrestlers without eyebrows. That's what happened. Hair peeled off. Shirts peeled off. Poor Miss Elizabeth had nearly all her dolls missing boob and butt paint as horny children rubbed her against the pavement for a glimpse of action figure nudity.
Hey. We had no Internet.
It made each guy distinctive. You could tell which was yours instantly from the black lines smeared across him. But perhaps my favorite figure of all was the Honky Tonk Man. HTM, you see, was unlike the others. His body wasn't mostly flesh colored.
Nope. It was mostly blue because of his jumpsuit. He wore it because he knew you wanted to hear the Honky Tonk figure sing. You wanted to see the Honky Tonk figure dance. You wanted to hear him sing his brand new hit "That's Alright Honky Tonk Figure Mama."
Since his body was mostly blue, LJN didn't use flesh colored rubber to make him. Instead they used a block of dark blue rubber to make him. What did that mean for us? Well, after playing with him for a week, he looked like a frostbite victim.
Yup. He's just the Honky Tonk Man. He's cool. He's cocky. He's….blue,
We Could Kill Ourselves On The Ring.
See these poles?
They look dangerous, right? Well, they were.
These poles sat around our ring and held the ropes on. It wasn't until years after I had stopped playing with it that I learned the ring had been recalled. Why?
According to the press releae, "kids impaled themselves on them."
"Impaled themselves." Yikes. Just hearing that made me picture all the near death experiences I almost had playing with this Impaler. To stop the bloodletting, LJN released an updated ring with posts topped by circular plates.
This left all the stupid kids to figure out new ways to injure themselves with toys so that we all could one day be forced to wear helmets on our bicycles. Wusses.
The Figures Themselves Were Deadly Weapons
What makes LJN Wrestling Figures different from all others was the sheer size of them. The WWF LJN Monsters not only towered over any AWA or WCW counterpart, but also outweighed them by a mile.
These solid pieces of rubber were barely bendable and doubled as deadly projectiles.
Making matters worse was transporting these giant things from one room to another. As a kid, I kept all my WWF figures in a milk crate (we seemed to have an abundance of milk crates in the 1980s). Taking it from the living room to my bedroom was more of a workout than the Hulk Hogan Exercise Kit ever gave me. When Hogan himself bragged on TV about slamming "that 700 pound Andre The Giant", I'd think,
"So what? I just carried 1000 pounds of smudged rubber down a flight of stairs. Bitch."
Years later, WCW tried to duplicate the LJN success with their own brand of rubber dolls. These abominations were smaller and lighter - taking away the best selling point for toys like this. If you can't smash your friend across the face with your Ric Flair figure and send him stumbling back onto a ringpost to impale himself, what good was it?
Who the hell was this guy? Why is he ducking? Why have I never seen him on TV? Why is he three feet tall? Is he a midget pervert? A stalker? Vince McMahon? Mel Phillips' newest fan? No clue. He lived there and seemed to be intent on amplifying everything that ever happened in the ring. Good for him. You don't see dedication like that much anymore.
Oh, and while we're asking…what the hell was this dude laughing at?!
The Pictures They Advertised Looked Nothing Like The Figures You Got
For some reason, LJN was intent on teasing us with figures that they had no plans on releasing. These prototype figures were often slight variations like Adrian Adonis missing scarves, Hillbilly Jim in a different color shirt, or Ricky Steamboat with black underpants over his red tights.
But every so often, one prototype blew them all away. Take, for example, Tito Santana. This was the figure we were shown:
Looks like Tito, right? A bit. Might not be an exact likeness, but it worked.
Unfortunately, we got an old crying anorexic gypsy woman looking for a hug.
Creepy. But these SD Jones and referee shirt variations kept us wishing and hoping we'd find the holy grail. I mean, sure you had Cpl. Kirschner, but did you have all three facial hair versions? What about George Steele? Painted chest hair or unpainted? That's the question.
It made the call to Child's World even weirder.
Hi Zack. Me again. Do you have the George Steele figure with black chest hair? Not the sculpted hair, but the actual curly drawn body hair?
Stop calling here or I'm calling the police.
Hulk Hogan Had His Original Title Belt.
I always loved that the Hulk Hogan action figure didn't come with his 1986 title or the 1987 Winged Eagle. Nope. He came with the giant weird belt he beat Iron Sheik for.
There was something so awesomely old school about it, even in the 1980s.
It was a small thing, but it was a big deal…at least to me. Now I know what you're thinking. Since the first Hogan figure came out in 1984, of course he had that belt. I mean, that was the year he won it. Sure.
But then how do you explain this rare Hogan 1989 variation that came…with the same five year old title belt around his waist?
You know how I explain it? Like this - LJN Figures kick ass. That's how.
You Had To Use Your Imagination
The AWA Remco figures that preceded WWF's LJN line were fully poseable like He-Man toys. The Hasbro WWF figures that followed had things like "Punching Action" and "Jumping Action" and "Swinging Action" and…you get the point.
WWF LJN Figures had nothing. They didn't move.
They didn't have GI Joe Kung Fu Grip. They were giant pieces of rubber.
Sure, some could be maneuvered into moves and holds based on their default position. Guys with outstretched arms could perform clotheslines. Others with raised biceps could suplex. But then there were dudes like this:
What the hell do you do with this?
Shoulder blocks. Lots and lots of shoulder blocks.
Same for Vince McMahon - who bears a striking resemblance to Tom Bergeron.
No one told us how to play with these guys. That was up to us. Without being given the luxury of posing and bending the wrestlers to our choosing, we were given the freedom to do with them what we please - like smacking your friend across the face with it until he impaled himself on the ring.
I saved the best for last. I call it the best because there is no way in hell I could do this myself.
Custom figures blow my mind. People sit there for hours with paint and stencils in order to turn classic figures into other wrestling stars. It's amazing. In many cases, the new dolls look better than the originals. The Hasbro and Jakks toys have interchangeable parts, but LJN figures don't. So those customs made from our giant rubber friends have a distinct artistic aura about them. See for yourself - Check Out All The Custom Figures You Could Ever Want...
I mean - come on!
So keep your soggy Maximum Sweat guys. Save your creepy vibrating WCW toys. Me? I'll take a slap across the face with SD Jones into a sharpened ring post any day.