Remembering the classic toys of the 1970s.
In 1976, a new toy appeared on the market that quickly seized the imagination of many young boys. Kenner’s Stretch Armstrong – released in the UK by Denys Fisher – was a strangely homoerotic blonde muscle man, clad only in (removable) blue underpants, and his big selling point – apart from looking uncannily like Rocky from The Rocky Horror Picture Show – was that he could be stretched, twisted and otherwise manipulated. This might sound like a rather limited level of entertainment value – and indeed it was – but the sheer novelty of Stretch seemed to override suspicions that this might be a toy that would quickly be stuck at the back of the wardrobe, forgotten.
A couple of determined kids could stretch Stretch from his initial fifteen inches to four or five feet, thanks to his latex skin and gelled corn syrup filling. Inevitably, most Stretch Armstrongs didn’t last too long – storage at the wrong temperature or overuse (which rather negated the whole point of the toy) could result in hardening, and although puncture repair information came with the doll, few kids were able to resist the urge to carry out a stretchectomy for too long, the mystery of his internal workings being too tempting. Rumours that the filling was some sort of toxic chemical only made it all the more excitingly transgressive to cut him open.
Still, for a few years, Stretch Armstrong was a top-selling toy, and in 1977 he was joined by Stretch Monster. Billed as Stretch Armstrong’s mortal enemy, this was a green, alien-type creature that seemed to sit somewhere between The Incredible Hulk and every great comic book alien. His scaly skin, ‘devil’s eyes’ and general monstrousness (the Japanese version of Stretch Monster changed his facial design to make him less reptilian and more alien) meant that he was immediately more popular than his bodybuilding adversary – so much so in fact that your author was denied the chance of owning one as Christmas supplies ran low (I’m sure my look of disappointment at getting an Armstrong instead must’ve been obvious!). You could tie your Stretch Monster in knots, or wrap him around Armstrong to make them ‘fight’ (though these photos look more like the pair are sharing a private moment). Still, you have to love the look on that kid’s face…
Later, the Stretch family would be joined by Stretch Octopus (which perhaps makes some sense with its rubbery tentacles, but was definitely the lesser of the three characters) and Stretch X-Ray, a transparent version of Armstrong that sought to cash in on the craze for ‘visible’ toys and the mystery surrounding his internal fluid, though by the time it appeared, the craze was on its last legs. Like many a toy of the era, Stretch Armstrong had a definite shelf life before fickle kids moved on to the next big thing.
Inevitably, the nature of these toys has meant that few have survived – some estimate that over 50,000 were sold and less than 100 still survive. If you have an intact original, it’s probably worth more than your house. Stretch Armstrong has, however, been revived on a couple of occasions, so don’t get suckered by a later edition. Meanwhile, plans continue for an obviously pointless Stretch Armstrong movie – but hey, if a cinematic franchise can be squeezed out of lego bricks, why not? Fingers crossed that he gets to once again do battle with Stretch Monster!