Without question, the best toy I had as a child was Major Matt Mason. For those who don’t know, Mason was the lead character in a team of astronauts (actually, action figures from Mattel) who lived on and explored the Moon. For about a five-year period surrounding the Apollo 11 landing, Major Matt and his crew were the coolest way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.
The reason for my enthusaism was obvious: Major Matt Mason represented my future. When I pretended to be him, I was role playing for my anticipated adult life as a scientist on the Moon.
Johnny West, a popular cowboy toy at the time, was for playing “Old West” and the stalwart G.I. Joe was for playing “war” — a hard sell to a 7-year-old like me who knew about the My Lai massacre. But Major Matt Mason (my friends and I always said the entire name) was for playing “space”. Now that was a prospective profession I could embrace.
The toy line was released during the excitement of NASA’s Gemini program in 1966. It featured three military officers and a civilian (pictured in the header) — including a black astronaut 17 years before Guion Bluford Jr. became the first African-American in space. Eventually, a woman also joined their ranks. Everyone was invited to this future.
“Meet Major Matt Mason, Mattel’s Man in Space, and the bravest astronaut yet!
He lives on the Moon, we may all be there soon!”
Bad poetry aside… the above television commercial, from 1968, shows that just two years later Mattel was already hedging its bets by adding preposterous science-fiction elements to the product mix. Captain Lazer, the giant from Mars?
But the ad does transport you to another time — an innocent time when kids played under the Moon in the backyard, while their parents enjoyed a festive cocktail party in the house. Straight from the Mad Men Parenting Handbook, I guess.
Fantasy was not the reason MMM was my favorite toy. I ignored the later sci-fi additions to the cast — like the green Jovian, Callisto. For me, Major Matt was about reality. Neil and Buzz could only spend a few days on the Moon, but my guy had a permanent base there (just like it would be in the future, in the 1980s).
Of course, we know that didn’t happen. The Moon is the same distance from the Earth as when I was a child, but it feels much farther away. But, looking back on Major Matt Mason — and those many hours spent on the concrete floor of the basement, pretending it was the lunar surface — I can remember what it felt like to know I was destined to travel to the stars.
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