Memory Lane: Marx Jungle Animals

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Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.

I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.

Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.

Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.


21 comments on “Memory Lane: Marx Jungle Animals

  1. Unfortunately, I think, from what I see and hear, that kids today only play video games. They do not know what they are missing.

  2. It’s a real shame, what has happened. The Louis Marx company is no more, a victim of the changing times.

    What is more of a shame is that imaginative play has become all but obsolete. Toy companies in our day must take care to be politically correct and not to reinforce gender stereotypes. Check out the Wikipedia page for Hasbro, if you want to learn more.

    I had toys similar to those pictured above. In retrospect, the less detailed toys, such as these Marx Jungle Animals were much more memorable than the more complicated toys, such as the diorama I had which had a spring loaded “land mine” which blew a toy Jeep to kingdom come. It seemed fun at the time, but a lot of fine young men were badly injured or killed by land mines. I would bet that these men, and their survivors, wouldn’t think a toy land mine was all that much fun.

    But toy animals make for great imaginative play. You can stage chases, predator:prey scenarios and all sort of other things. You can organize stampedes or water holes. Much, much better than boroughing into some endless imaginary world in a video game.

    1. It grieves me that there are no more Marx toys; and those new Hasbro toys don’t appeal to me. Too gaudy. And they seem contrived.

      It would be nice if I had some great-grandchildren to leave my stuff to; but then they probably would only want video games and superhero crap.

    2. It’s sad; very sad, but the things which mattered to us, don’t matter to the current generation. It’s toys, music, cars, and romance. When I was coming of age, I built model cars and dreamed of getting a real car of my own. When I did get a car, I took specific pride in my ability to work on my own car. Perhaps this was just a form of trying to establish myself as a man, but it was important to me that I be mechanically competent. It has served me well, over the years.

      Likewise, music has been an important part of my life since childhood and it has always been part of my identity. Speaking to a friend whom teaches music, he feels that youngsters of today have less interest in music than in the past and those that are interested in music seem less inclined to really dig into the the depths of music.

      Toys: as I mentioned, model cars were important to me, but most of the toys I had were educational and stimulating to the imagination. The earliest video games came along about the time I was reaching adulthood, but even at the time they held no appeal to me, whatsoever. Other than a handful of solitaire games on the computer, I have never had any lasting interest in video games.

    3. I built model cars, too, but I never got interested in the real thing. I had a friend, though, who–like my father–was never happier than when he was tinkering with a car. He liked to acquire a real peace of junk and fix it up, even if it took all summer.

      Somehow I can’t imagine these video-game kids sitting down with an erector set.

      I thank the Lord for giving me a 1950s middle-class childhood. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    4. Come to think of it, my childhood was full of musical instruments designed for kids as toys. My father had a real trumpet, but it just made really awful noises when I tried to coax music out of it. We wound up using it for special effects in our dinosaur games.

      My sister had a delightful toy piano, it had a lovely tone, and color-coded keys so you could play the songs in the book without having to learn how to read music. I loved that toy piano.

      And my aunts had ukuleles we could play with. Apparently there was a ukulele fad just before I was born.

    5. I think that music, and by music I don’t mean a beat box, is a very good tool for early learning. I had about as short of an attention span as imaginable, but I could concentrate on music for hours. Had my parents not gotten me musical instruments there’s a very real possibility that I’d have had a much tougher time learning.

  3. Learning to play the piano was a great thing for me when I was a kid. I took a few lessons, but soon preferred playing without the lessons. My mother had a real gift for piano, and although I wasn’t ever as good as she, I still enjoyed it and playing clarinet in the school bank. Mostly, though, I was always a book-worm. I don’t think today’s kids care much for reading either. What a lot they are missing. Sad

    1. It’s truly tragic. The world I grew up in was one where many children at least tried to play music. Music is civilizationally significant. Music reflects the state of a civilization. Just look at the change of music since the mid fifties. When I was a child, Standards were still being played on the radio and the Great American Songbook was familiar to almost everyone. Compare that with what passes for music today. Just as life itself has become shallow and lacking in meaning, the music is little more than a beat and angry lyrics.

      Music is a gift.

    2. What we have today is not music. It’s crap. Rock ‘n’ roll came along in the 50s and drowned out every other kind of music. Not that pop music of the 40s was anything to write home about…

    3. Sadly, some of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, from its earliest days, is very immoral. Gene Vincent’s music struck me as absolute crap, for one example. Train Kept A Rollin’ seems to describe a tryst during a train trip. IMO, the greatest damage of that era was bringing immoral themes into popular music. Before that, immoral music existed, but wasn’t likely to ever be broadcast to the general public.

    4. I never liked rock & roll, not even as a teenager. I wasn’t old enough to spot any immorality in the lyrics: the sound of it just annoyed me.
      But then the Andrews sisters annoyed me, too.

    5. I have mixed feeling about it. I play music as a serious hobby and I play several genres. I’ve played early Rock ‘n’ Roll, although I am very selective about which songs I play. I don’t go for the hard-edged material and I don’t care for loud, obnoxious music. For an example of Rock ‘n’ Roll I like, Del Shannon’s Runaway or Dion DiMucci’s version or Ruby Baby. Not really Hard Rock, by any means. I also play Instrumental Surf Music, in great part because it is not distorted or harsh. For example, The Ventures played instrumental music employing twangy guitars with lots of reverb, but it was fairly mellow, for the most part. Even my father, born during WW I and of very conservative tastes, found The Ventures to his liking.

      Besides such songs, I play some Roger Miller and other ‘60s Country & Western. Some Country, even ‘60s Country, is a potential quagmire as well, with lyrics which will blister the ears of anyone holding to biblical moral standards. Even with Country music, I have to be selective.

      Reconciling music with Christian standards is not always such a simple task. Even among Praise music, I have heard things that give me pause. Some of what I’ve heard sounded fairly Hard Rock to my ear and didn’t seem consistent with reverence for our God.

      Frankly, I’d be thrilled if I could play Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Eric Satie, and maybe some bespoke Jazz tunes. Sadly, if you want to find an audience for that music, you’d better invest in a mirror, ‘cause you’ll be playing for yourself, and yourself only, most of the time. The mellow Jazz musicians I listened to, while all of my peers were listening to Led Zeppelin, are mostly dead and gone at this point.

      It makes for a dilemma, because playing for an audience is important. If a person works hard to arrange and rehearse songs, playing for an audience is important feedback. Imagine writing a book that is never read. It’s the same thing. The audience lets you know if your work is successful. I’m not all that concerned with applause, but I like to look out into the audience and see whether or not I’m reaching my listeners. That is the ultimate payback for a musician. The circle only closes when the music reaches an audience.

      It’s part of the same dilemma we all face, living in the world, but not being of this world. I don’t watch television, it makes me sick at heart. I listen to virtually no contemporary music and my collection of movie DVDs is mostly older movies and documentaries. It can be very isolating, because I am not all that well oriented to the culture at large. The music I’m interested in nd feel the mot comfortable with is all but unknown these days. Maybe I’d be a star in Obann. 🙂

  4. They just might! I used to make up and act out stories with legos. I had a small castle set, with a couple of knights and horses. I built a village to go around it, and a church too. Those stories kept getting longer and more involved until I eventually made my first novel out of them. I think I still have that book gathering dust in a box somewhere in my basement. No one ever saw it but a friend or two, but that’s where my journey as a novel writer started. 🙂

    When I was even younger I used my Barbies to write/act out mysteries, and tried to get my younger step-sister to solve them, not always successfully.

    To answer your question about today’s kids, mine have made up and acted out stories too with dolls and small animals like Calico Critters, but they don’t depend on that for entertainment as we once did. Funnily enough, they’ve done the same thing with Minecraft, building worlds, adding characters, and making up stories, so video games and imaginative play are not necessarily in opposition given the right kind of game. They and a neighbor friend recorded their Minecraft story play and started a YouTube channel together, which made them happy. We wouldn’t allow them to record their faces or give out their real names, but the camera was on their Minecraft world and characters so it was ok.

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