The Marx Ben-Hur play set from 1959
What did you do if you were nine years old, and you’d already been to church or Sunday school today, and your father wasn’t going to take you to the movies–oh, and it’s 1959, or so?
Throughout the 1950s, America’s toy companies met that need with play sets. You got a big box, some kind of background you could set up, and a whole bunch of little plastic figures. If you had the Ben-Hur play set, pictured above, you could set up the arena and re-enact the chariot race from the movie.
There were all kinds of play sets. I had the dinosaur set, the farm, and a Cape Canaveral set with rockets and missiles you could send flying from spring-powered launchers, and a circus set with a tin big top.
The Cape Canaveral set (“You’ll put your eye out!”)
With all of these, you had to use your imagination. So we made up stories and acted them out with the little plastic figures–dinosaurs take over the space program, the farm animals decide to run the farm themselves, and so on. Every day was different.
Not like now, when well-meaning (we are being charitable) adults spoon-feed and control everything that a child might take into his head, completely unaware that such a thing is impossible to perform and letting a lot of really dark stuff get in that ought to be kept out.
We were better off with the play sets.