The Bionic Man makes the jump to action figures!
This week’s Toy Spotlight article focuses on another action figure pioneer from the 1970’s. During that era, the toy market was changing in a big way, and really beginning to take shape. Television and movie stars, along with pop celebrities were making the big jump into the toy world. With that in mind, there was no bigger television show on the air in 1975 than the Six Million Dollar Man. It was time for the Bionic Man to crush the toy market just like Colonel Steve Austin crushed bad guys on the small screen. So this Toy Spotlight is on, Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man action figure from 1975.
In all started back in 1973 when the ABC television network decided to take a chance on a new TV series. It was based upon a book series called “Cyborg”, which was written by Martin Caidin. Instead of going with the book title, ABC decided to change it to The Six Million Dollar Man. The 90 minute pilot episode debuted on March 7, 1973. The show and its star, Lee Majors, would go on to become a smash hit and gained international success. It seemed a no brainer that a toy line would come from this hit series, and the Kenner Toy Company was the lucky one to secure that license. Kenner released their Six Million Dollar Man line in early 1975, and to say it was a huge success would be an understatement. Since the show was already an international hit, so were the toys. They sold out on toy shelves across the globe and became an instant classic.
Television and Movie action figures had certainly been done before the Six Million Dollar Man came to town. Mego made it a popular trend with their Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Wizard of Oz action figure lines. Even before that, we saw toy lines from major 1960’s brands such as Bonanza, Man From UNCLE, Batman, and even James Bond. On its own, action figures from a TV show weren’t that unique, but the Six Million Dollar Man was a Bionic Man with cybernetic parts, so he was ready made for a super cool action figure. Hasbro’s GI Joe toy line had upped their game in the early 70’s with their Adventure Team, and began producing new types of inventive figures. Kenner decided they needed to do the same by making their Six Million Dollar Man figure unique, and adding their own special features.
Any child who grew up in the 1970’s, either had this figure or wanted to have it. This was, without a doubt, one of the most iconic toys from that era. At first glance, the Steve Austin figure came with his classic two piece red jogging outfit, along with red sneakers (no socks). In case he ever forgot who he was, there was a patch on the left side of his chest with the Six Million Dollar Man logo. The head sculpt was pretty spot-on, with an excellent likeness of the actor, Lee Majors. His main included accessory was a plastic molded engine block (more on that later). All of that was well and good, but the real thing that made this figure stand out from the pack were his many special features. Among those many features was a telescoping eye that would allow you look through the back of his head, and see whatever the figure was seeing in front of him. Steve also had a super strength feature that used the car engine block accessory. This allowed Colonel Austin to lift up to two pounds by simply pushing a button on his back (note: his head needed to be turned to the right to make this happen). When the button was pushed, It even made bionic sounds! There was a thin rubber “skin sleeve” that could be rolled up on his arms that exposed the Bionic panels underneath. This was a simple but incredibly effective way to convey the bionic/cyborg part of the figure.
Two more versions of the Six Million Dollar Man figure would be released in the following years. The second version had the same Steve Austin character with red jogging suit, but he now had a Bionic Grip to clamp down on items. The third and final version featured Steve Austin in a different red outfit altogether, with a Supersonic feature, which was basically a super Karate chop. Even though these other figures were nice, they just weren’t the original OG real deal Six Million Dollar Man that all know and love. Kenner also released multiple accessories, playsets and vehicles to go along with its star toy line, along with a load of various non-action figure items such as Play-Doh sets, Movie Viewer, Give-A-Show Projector and much more.
Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man series was incredibly popular back in the 1970’s, and remains highly collectible in today’s market. From that series, the Steve Austin/Bionic Man figure stands out as one of the best examples of original ingenuity in the toy industry. The creation of this line by Kenner ushered in a new wave of creativity, and brought lots of fun to their Six Million Dollar Man line. This creativity would also carry over to other future Kenner brands, such as Star Wars. Over the course of this article, I’ve listed many reasons as to why the the Bionic Man figure stood out, and became such an iconic piece of toy nostalgia. The biggest truth as to why this figure stands out so much, was that it was just so darn to play with, and that is a formula not easily duplicated in the toy world.
Notice the Six Million Dollar Man action figure behind Lee Majors in this scene from the show!