On a snowy Christmas Eve in 1962 when I was about five years old, my mom and dad called for me to look out the front window of our house. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In the middle of the street emerging from the snowfall was the man in red, the big guy—Santa! Gradually trudging to our front door and brushing the snow from his belly, he stood there, larger than life, and handed me a red toolbox, the same red toolbox I asked him for when he held court at our local ShopRite a few weeks earlier. How did he know?
There was something so mystical about Christmas morning. The presents under the tree magically appearing—seemingly out of thin air overnight. When it came to handing out gifts, my dad was Darren McGavin, the father in “The Christmas Story.” After all the presents were unwrapped, there was always a dramatic pause as my dad pointed to one last package, concealed behind the crumpled wrapping paper and the tree. “Hey Glenn, what’s that back there?” And year after year – wide-eyed and drunk from the lack of sleep—I fell for it. Like Ralphie's Red Ryder, there lay that one special gift I secretly wished Santa would bring.
I think about those toys a lot. Maybe a little too much. In my studio at home I’m surrounded by nostalgia—my very first Mighty Mouse stuffed animal, my 1968 Swinger Polaroid camera, my Beatles lunchboxes, a Huckleberry Hound bobble head and an Aurora Superman model. A few years back when I visited eBay, there they all were! All the toys that got away—the ones that didn’t last, ended up in the garbage or handed down to a neighbor—Mr. Machine, View-Master, that vibrating football game, Colorforms, Vac-U-Form and Creeple People.
Let’s face it. The 1960s were the golden age for toys. Some of the most inventive and wacky experiments were brought to market—all for just us baby boomers. The makers of these iconic toys—Hasbro, Mattel, Kenner, Ohio Art Company and Marx—were innovators who turned plastic, metal or clay into memorable stuff, alchemy that influenced an entire generation of kids raised on television and radio.
Today, most of those toys wouldn’t even pass consumer testing. Can you imagine giving an Erector Set to a kid without facing a lawsuit for endangering the welfare of a child? And what about that colored goop we used to pour into metal molds, bake and eat? These days, “Incredible Edibles” wouldn’t even survive a brainstorming session. But I think that’s what makes them all the more unforgettable. The concepts were a little zany, and we were the boomer lab rats eating it all up.
Around the holidays I become very nostalgic for those halcyon days when pleasures were simple and life was uncomplicated by so many responsibilities. I remember each and every toy I ever got for Christmas and how much fun I had assembling, building and sharing them with my friends.
So, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a happy holiday and hope you get your red toolbox this year.
Glenn John Arnowitz is Director of Global Creative Services for Pfizer and co-founder of InSource. He is a designer, musician, composer, writer, actor and speaker, always looking for new ways to scratch that insatiable creative itch. He secretly hopes Santa brings him an HO train set this year.