There are no conventions, movies, television shows or museums devoted to Major Matt Mason. There are few (relatively speaking) web sites to devote to him. Major Matt Mason was toy manufacturer Mattel’s “Man In Space” starting in 1966 through 1970.
Major Matt Mason was the perfect toy for mostly American children who grew up during the golden age of space exploration. Unlike almost every other blip on the pop cultural horizon, Major Matt Mason has not been resurrected in any official form since the brand was discontinued. Why? What happened?
The mid 1960’s were a great time to be a kid. Some of the most iconic toys of all time were in their prime. We all know about Barbie and G.I. Joe, toys that transcended the 20th century and remain relevant in the 21st. But another that started with so much promise did not.
From a pure demographic point of view, Major Matt Mason should be a perfect collectible. But somehow, he really is not. To try and find out what happened and why, The Collectors Show host Harold Nicoll interviewed John Michlig. The interview can be heard on iTunes or at Web Talk Radio (www.webtalkradio.net).
“Growing up in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, I was a member of the Action Figure Generation,” Michlig said. “But Matt Mason did not benefit from the same corporate support as G.I. Joe and simply vanished without a trace; a forgotten toy.” Most action figures then and now were based on fantasy. Major Matt Mason was an explorer. Sent to his moon base with his sled, multi-story base, and crawler M3 was not sent to space to battle aliens. Major Matt Mason was based on the heroes of the day; NASA and the Gemini astronauts. The design of everything in the line was authentic, based on actual designs from men who worked for aerospace contractors. One such architect of M3 was Jack Ryan.
John W. “Jack” Ryan was a Yale graduate who worked for Raytheon as an engineer prior to moving to Mattel where he worked as the head of research and development. Ryan created many popular toys for Mattel. Some of these were Barbie, Chatty Cathy, Vroom and of course M3. Ryan owned over 1,000 patents for his designs. For all of his other successes the M3 was not among them. How come?
The interest in M3 waned after the actual moon landing in July 1969. The American public’s interest in the space program and beating the Soviet Union to the moon were highest in the mid-1960’s. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, launching of the Sputnik, and the orbit of the first person ever (Yuri Gagarin) the Soviets had a huge lead in the race to the moon. That the U.S. was able to catch and pass the Soviets was one of the great come from behind wins in history. But once the race was won, public interest turned elsewhere. NASA cancelled the last two moon landings based on public concern over the expense of the program and turned its full attention to manned flights that only orbited the earth. The Skylab, joint flight with the Soviets, Space Shuttle and International Space Station are all earth orbit only missions. Exploring the rest of the solar system was relegated to robotic craft, that while triumphs of technology, never captured the interest of the public the way the first manned missions to the moon did.
Major Matt Mason went away because Americans lost interest in lunar exploration, not because it was a bad toy. Why is Major Matt Mason not more collectible? Possibly because it was so short lived. Manufactured and promoted from 1966 through 1970, it did not have the longevity Barbie, Hot Wheels, or G.I. Joe did. Another reason could be the figure itself. The materials the action figure was made from did not stand up over the decades. The paint on the figure chipped and peeled off. Constructed on a wire frame, the wires would stick through the body after periods of play. Heat, the enemy of many collectibles, really took a toll on Major Matt Mason as the figure got sticky and melted, even in air-conditioned homes.
Will Major Matt Mason make a comeback? Maybe. Tom Hanks owns the rights to making a Major Matt Mason movie and was a huge fan of the toy line. But it may take the human exploration of another planet to rekindle the excitement and fun of another toy like Major Matt Mason.