As a young lad, my summers were split into two, roughly even, segments. The first half consisted of baseball and day camp at the YMCA. Once baseball season ended, usually in mid-July, my mom would ship me off to spend a month or so with my grandparents in central Kansas.

Her parents were farmers. They could pick up three TV stations (on a good day). Their home was small and few items from my uncles’ childhoods remained. I’d spend my time at their house either throwing a baseball against the side of the barn, going to the pool in the nearest town with my cousins, or using things from the suitcase full of books, toys, games, and baseball cards I brought along to pass the days.

My dad’s parents, though, lived up the road a bit in a small city. They had cable TV.1 There was a small zoo that I later realized was pretty sad and likely cruel to the animals. Evenings would be spent sitting on the front porch listening to the Royals game with my grandfather. But, most importantly, their basement was filled with toys left by my youngest uncle, who is just 11 years older than me. On my first day at their house, after spending the obligatory time catching up and settling into my room, I would rush downstairs and start dragging out things to play with for the next week. Prominent in that pile was my uncle’s old G.I. Joe collection.

I loved those old Joes. I lamented that the line disappeared in the late 1970s, just as I was getting old enough to really be into them. When Hasbro resurrected the line as Star Wars-sized figures a few years later, I’ll admit I spent probably a year or two longer than I should have playing with them. I had to make up for lost time, I guess.

Don Levine, the man who created the G.I. Joe, died last week.

Alex Pappademas wrote this terrific tribute to Levine and overview of the history of G.I. Joe for Grantland.

“Hasbro was the laughingstock of the toy fair in 1964 because no one assumed G.I. Joe would sell,” the company’s longtime marketing director Wayne Charness told the Chicago Tribune in the late ’80s, when sales of G.I. Joe figures and ancillary products had topped $2 billion. “The buyers thought we had a terrible idea, and they only bought a small amount, but that first year we had a monster hit. We laughed all the way into 1989, and we’re still laughing.”

In Memoriam: Pouring Out Some Heavy Water for Don Levine, the Father of G.I. Joe

Yo Joe!

  1. I watched For Your Eyes Only at least 50 times at their house in 1982.