I thought it might be interesting to share a few newspaper stories I found covering the brand new Masters of the Universe line in the year of its launch, 1982.
Recently there has been some celebration of He-Man’s birthday, particularly on this year, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Masters of the Universe. The date picked for his birthday is October 12, 1982. This is apparently based on a document found by a former Mattel brand manager indicating that the line had possibly launched on that date. Those who follow my blog know that’s not true – He-Man debuted February 17, 1982 at Toy Fair, and was available in stores no later than May – the earliest newspaper ad I’ve found that shows MOTU figures for sale (on sale, no less) dates from May 13, 1982. A rebate offer found in the first minicomics indicates figures might have been in stores as early as March 1, 1982. May 1982 is a safe earliest date for when the line was definitely available in stores.
Update: I found this statement by former Mattel SVP Joe Morrison, who indicated a May 1982 release for the line:
“When we got the go-ahead from management to do the original toy line, we put in an estimate of, like, $12 million in sales. Well, we didn’t even release the toy until May of that year and we wound up doing $32 million. These were significant numbers in 1982.”– Joe Morrison
So that got me thinking about what else was going on in 1982 with the line, and I decided to do a search for newspaper articles that mention Masters of the Universe published in 1982.
This article will only cover newspaper stories – I understand that there was some trade publication coverage of the line as well, but I don’t have access to that material at this time.
March 30, 1982
The earliest article I found comes from The Atlanta Constitution from March 30, 1982. In an article called “His & Her Christmas” (which overall leans heavily on traditional gender divisions between boys’ and girls’ toys), we get a brief snippet toward the end about the new MOTU line:
“A hazard of going too far into the future is getting caught in a time warp and finding yourself back in Medieval times. From that period, Mattel brings us “Masters of the Universe.” Good guys in this series are He-Man, Man-at-Arms and Teela, the warrior goddess. Villains are Skeletor and Beast Man. Figures, vehicles and a setting — Castle Grayskull — complete the series.”– Gayle White
The above time warp plot line is interesting. It wasn’t the actual canonical story for the series, but something similar to this did appear in the earliest minicomic treatment for the series, written by Don Glut, back when the line was call The Fighting Foe Men. More on that here. In a separate interview, Derek Gable mentioned that time travel was originally going to be a part of the line to allow characters to move to different situations and scenarios.
“Mattel also hopes to introduce a 30-minute cartoon show this fall featuring the eternal battle between Good and Evil as fought by these Mattel characters.”– Gayle White
The cartoon of course wouldn’t appear until the fall of 1983. Mark Ellis was the marketing director at Mattel, and from my interview with him (which appears in Pixel Dan’s The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe published by Dark Horse) he was charged with getting the toyline into animation. He really didn’t know anything about animation, and had to learn on the fly during his conversations with Hanna Barbara and Filmation. I’m sure Mattel underestimated the time it would take to bring a new cartoon to market.
April 14, 1982
The next article I found comes from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Published April 14, 1982, in an article called “Toy makers fight for kids’ dollars.”
The new small scale G.I. Joe line gets most of the focus, but again, Masters is mentioned toward the end:
“The space theme continues with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line. The Man at Arms, Beast Man and Battle cat (the fighting tiger with saddle and armor) characters are a juxtaposition of space and mythology.”– Pat Zajac
Almost no detail is given in this one, and the main characters of He-Man and Skeletor are omitted, not to mention missing capitalization and hyphens in the character names.
August 28, 1982
The next article is really just a human interest piece about a child who gets a $1 loan from a bank with the purpose of buying a He-Man figure for a friend (although he then discovered that it wasn’t enough to buy a figure). It appears August 28, 1982 in the Record Searchlight:
October 1, 1982
The next story appears in the October 1, 1982 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald, about hot new toys on the market. The focus is E.T., but it has this to say about Masters of the Universe:
Another of the new additions to the toy market is Masters of the Universe, a space fantasy toy based on a futuristic garrison, Castle Greyskull. All major department stores predict it will be a winner. Accessories will also be available but stocks are limited.
Interesting that it’s characterized as a “futuristic garrison” and a space fantasy toy. That’s of course part of it but it misses the barbarian fantasy aspects of the property.
October 20, 1982
The next article is again focusing on E.T. toys (or their unavailability in time for Christmas), but also mentions He-Man. From The Atlanta Constitution, October 20, 1982:
Mattel’s best sellers for this Christmas have been Pink and Pretty Barbie, a fluffly, ultra-feminine version of the company’s long-established fashion doll, and Masters of the Universe, an action set featuring the brawny He-Man, “strongest man in the universe.”
He-Man is getting tough competition from that defender of the American way, G.I. Joe…
Of interest here is “strongest man in the universe” and not “most powerful man in the universe.” The former title appears in some very early giftset packaging. More on that here.
October 23, 1982
Next up we have The Wichita Eagle Beacon, October 23, 1982:
MOTU gets a brief, one-line mention:
Another item high on shopping lists — “Masters of the Universe” figures, released by Mattel this summer.
We know of course the MOTU was available at least by early May, which I suppose is almost summer.
October 25, 1982
Next up from Newsday, October 25, 1982, we get a very brief line that just states that Masters of the Universe figures are very popular:
November 7, 1982
From Asheville Citizen Times, November 7, 1982 we get another story about Christmas toys that focuses on E.T.:
However, we do get a couple of paragraphs about MOTU, or more specifically Castle Grayskull. The author I think based this bit on just a quick look at the front and back of the box Castle Grayskull came in, as she describes the figures as “tiny plastic people.”
Castle Grayskull is an adventure scene variation on the old-fashioned dollhouse. A Masters of the Universe item, it has tiny plastic people that are bought individually to go wit the castle. Castle Grayskull is a “fortress of mystery and power for He-Man and his foes,” says the box in which it comes.
It includes a “jawbridge” that opens and closes, weapons and a trapdoor over the dungeon. He-Man is billed as the “most powerful man in the universe,” and his proteges include Man-At-Arms, “master of weapons,” and Beast Man, “savage henchman.”
December 1, 1982
Finally, we have The Austin American Statesman, December 1, 1982.
The author describes MOTU as a “ripoff of Star Wars” crossed with Dungeons and Dragons. Not accurate as far as the “ripoff” comment goes, but otherwise a fair description:
Star Wars anything ranks among the top five national sellers, along with Strawberry Shortcake (Kenner), Barbie dolls (Mattel), plus E.T. in any form (a variety of producers) and something called Masters of the Universe (Mattel) which is a ripoff of the Star Wars idea coupled with the mystery of Dungeons and Dragons.