Cold War Toys

In my last post, I talked about the bomb shelter my father built in our basement.  Every time I walked down the wood plank steps to our basement, I slammed right into the Cold War because the closed door to the shelter was located at the bottom of the stairs.

During this time, the majority of television shows I watched were some form of Western.  Cowboy shows.

You know what that means.  Guns on TV and toy guns in the neighborhood, the stores, and yes, my house.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Cold War and guns went together.  It seemed acceptable that the cowboys had guns to protect themselves against the bad guys who also had guns.  And it seemed imperative that the homesteaders had guns to protect their families and property, just like we had the Bomb Shelter in our basement with the shotgun and . . . oops, I guess I forgot to mention that in the last post.

According to Shadows of the Past website, from the 1940s to the 1990s there were 145 different Western shows on TV.  An enormous number of these were in the 50s and 60s.

Clayton Moore

Clayton Moore (Photo credit: twm1340)

My early favorite was The Lone Ranger (I suggest you read the section in this Wikipedia article about the code of conduct by Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels) which I eagerly awaited in reruns every Saturday.  However, there was another show which began the same year (1949) and didn’t last as long, but had an enormous influence on early fifties culture.  That was Hopalong Cassidy, a “good” cowboy who dressed all in black, giving the lie to the popular notion that only the bad guys wore black.

According to Wikipedia:

The enormous success of the television series made [William] Boyd a star. . . .  The series and character were so popular that Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the cover of national magazines, such as LookLife, and Time.[2] Boyd earned millions as Hopalong ($800,000 in 1950 alone),[2] mostly from merchandise licensing and endorsement deals. In 1950, Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the first lunchbox to bear an image, causing sales for Aladdin Industries to jump from 50,000 units to 600,000 units in just one year. In stores, more than 100 companies in 1950 manufactured $70 million of Hopalong Cassidy products,[2] including children’s dinnerware, pillows, roller skates, soap, wristwatches, and jackknives.[5]

Like other children of the fifties, I had a Hopalong Cassidy costume.  Mine was a cowgirl outfit, all in black with white plastic fringe.  It came with a cowboy hat and a hip holster and pistol.  I cannot remember if the holster was doubled sided for two guns or was only one-sided.  I don’t know where the costume came from as I remember it being an important part of my play attire from my earliest memories.  I regularly wore it for play until it eventually wore out.

I had a feeling that my parents were hoarding photos of me in this costume, and I was contenting myself with snooping online for other kids in their Hopalong Cassidy costumes (I found two young cowgirls), when I happened upon a photo of me in my costume.  And it’s exactly the way I remembered it.

The jack o'lantern in my hands confirms that I got this costume for Halloween

The jack o’lantern in my hands confirms that I got this costume for Halloween

I’m not cropping the above photo because I want to keep it for interior details about the period.

My friend Mark who lived next door used to play Cowboys and Indians with me.  We argued over who had to be the Indian because everybody knew the Indian couldn’t be allowed to win (me being sarcastic).  I had an edge because of my fringe, my brimmed hat with chin string that could be tightened, and my six-shooter.

A change that occurred . . .

Item by item, my Hopalong Cassidy outfit wore out and disappeared from my life.  As it did, I grew a little older and wasn’t as fascinated by the Cowboys and Indians game as I once was.  However, when I was with my cousins, who were younger, we did play.  I remember by then wanting to be the Indian because I could be “different” and use a bow and arrow.

My "bible"

My “bible”

By the time I was nine, playing at being an “Indian brave”* had become an obsession, resulting in me studying my “bible,” the Grey Owl catalog of “Indian supplies,” and spending my extremely limited spending money, earned by doing chores,  on  beads and a purse craft kit and “oxblood” skin paint.

By then the dark and dank feel of the Cold War had become for me the shining Space Race.

* Note: yep, I’m aware of the pitfalls here of using the terms “Indian brave” and “Indian” by today’s standards.  But I’m talking about 1957-1964.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing

19 responses to “Cold War Toys

  1. I love your use of cool pictures. They are priceless and enhance the story. Thanks!

    • lucewriter

      Ah, thank you so much, lennonsundance! I love all those Ns in your name, too; my tongue is still vibrating saying lennonsundance out loud!

  2. I enjoyed reading about this aspect of your youth. Having seen a few photos of you as a small child, I would hazard a guess that one or both of your parents had a theatrical bent–almost as if they were dressing you to play a role or roles and documenting the results with photos. Is this way off base or what? I love the photos, by the way.They are precious to the reader. The whole cowboy scene is part of my past too, with lots of Saturday morning viewing. There was also Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, easy-going musical cow-folks.

    • lucewriter

      Hahaha, I am laughing at your comment about the theatrical bent. My mother probably dressed and posed me and was a completely behind the scenes person. Maybe she’s got stage manager tendencies ;). Of course, my father liked to be the center of attention, but as the first grandchild on both sides of the family (great grandchild too?), I did get a lot of attention from adults. Yes, wonderful Saturday morning TV!

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  4. I love any glimpse into the past. Thanks for sharing. Such a beautiful little girl…with an awesome costume!!! 🙂

    ~ O

    • lucewriter

      Thanks, Olivia! Haha, hard to see myself as a “beautiful” kid, but it was definitely a wonderful costume that gave me hours of good times! It would be frowned on today, I think.

  5. Love it! I loved the Lone Ranger!

  6. I loved your piece, lucewriter. It brings back memories. I remember the Lone Ranger from the early 60s, while a young boy growing up in the military in Germany. An episode of that show used to always play before the start of the main feature in our base theater. In my early teens, I was a member of an Indian dance team while living in Korea. The Grey Owl catalog was my bible as well; I ordered a lot of supplies and built my own costumes. Thanks for the reminder… 🙂

    • lucewriter

      Oh wow, I remember reading this great comment and didn’t realize I hadn’t replied! You are the first person I’ve met who loved that Grey Owl catalog, too! What fun!! Thanks for reading, danishdude!

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  8. mary lewis

    I’ve been trying to find a pic of my early 50’s cowgirl outfit. Mine was black with white plastic trim, gun with holster and hat. Loved it but was embarrased to wear to school because I did’t have cowgirl boots. Also loved the lamp in the background. The folks had one just like it! Just watched an old Roy and Dale show on tv and brought back so many memories.

    • Luanne

      I hope you find the photo! I wonder if it was a Hopalong Cassidy since he was the black hatted cowboy! I miss the old westerns a lot! Thanks for reading, Mary!

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