Little gunslingers growing up in the 1960′s will likely remember yelling a big ol’ “Yee Haw!” every time they were able to hornswaggle more Johnny West paraphernalia from their Ma’s and Pa’s at Christmastime! Some of the more memorable cowboy characters and collectables within this saddle-back toy series included Johnny (of course!), Geronimo, Jamie, General Custer, Jane, Josie, Janice, Lightning, Thunderbolt, Pancho, Flame, and Cherokee.
Whether it was galloping into a good time of saving the pretty girl from being tied up on the train tracks or rounding up a foot stompin honky tonk tune around the campfire, little cowboys and little cowgirls were having a blast dreaming up their own adventures with their Johnny West toys.
Johnny West action toys first hit stores saddles blazing back in 1965, courtesy of Marx toy manufacturers. Founded by Louis and David Marx, Louis Marx and Company got started in business way back in 1919 in Erie, Pennsylvania. The first product they pioneered was the now-famous Marx Trains. By the time the 1950′s rolled around, Marx had not only become a well-respected household name, but the manufacturer had earned the title of king of the toy mountain in a very competitive marketplace. It is reported that Marx personally manufactured over 20% of the toys in America and in December 1955, the toy tycoon actually made the cover of Time magazine in an article entitled: “The Toy King”! It was ten years later when the Johnny West action figure line launched and became an instant success amidst the cowboy culture that continued to dominate popular culture through the television shows and movies of the day.
By the early 1960′s, the most popular shows on television were westerns like Gun Smoke and Davy Crockett. As an insightful and intuitive inventor, Louis Marx made a calculated decision to jump headfirst onto the little house bandwagon to begin marketing a line of action figures. Johnny West was to be Marx’ messiah and answer to prayer to capitalize on the demand of this marketplace. John Wayne was another western forerunner at this time, which is reportedly what inspired Marx to come up with the name Johnny West in the first place! This first issue Johnny West shipped with a variety of great western accessories and an optional horse by the name of Thunderbolt.
Virtually all the action figures shipped the year of Johnny West’s release were manufactured with plastic shoulder loops and open hands for holding various accessories and objects. These Marx toys were well-constructed to endure years of wear, tear, and rugged play. In fact, the only constructive criticism most collectors and connoisseurs would offer involves the knee joints of the action figures. Though they are quite durable, if the knee joints malfunction or break, they are typically not able to be repaired. The connection of the thigh and calf pieces carries the same maintenance concern.
Today’s toy market is again an exciting place for those wild Johnny West collectors! After more than 40 years, The Marx Toy Company successfully brought Johnny West and his famed horse Thunderbolt out of retirement to appeal to that nostalgic need and hopefully ride off into the sunset of success in the toy marketplace once again.