An earlier version of this blog post appeared on MySpace. It has been expanded and revised a bit for Hungry Tiger Talk.
All of my favorite toys were puppets, stuffed animals, and the like. I also loved movies and had a strong passion for Planet of the Apes. I devoured the movies, watched the prime-time TV series, and the animated Saturday morning cartoon. I even tracked down the Pierre Boulle novel - which I also loved. I found it especially sexy somehow that Boulle's astronaut was completely naked as Zira took him for walks around the city.
As readers of this blog know I also loved L. Frank Baum's Oz books. As I've mentioned previously, my Second Grade teacher, Mrs. Strong, at Monte Vista Elementary School, in Albuquerque, read them to us a chapter to two a day after lunch. I also discovered the MGM movie, which I came to love as well. So one can hardly overestimate my childhood joy at discovering that MEGO (a toy company) was producing 8-inch action-figures of Planet of the Apes characters, followed a bit later by Wizard of Oz characters, among many others, including another childhood obsession, Star Trek.
But back to play. I would ask my sister something like, "Do you wanna play Oz? or Apes?" And she pretty much always did. We would then go to my room and "prepare the universe". We had a couple dark furniture throws and these would be tossed over carefully arranged pillows, cushions, piles of clothes to create mountain ranges and valleys as wide as the bedroom - a terrain for the play to occur within. We would then set up the Emerald City or Ape City in our room-scape and the play would begin.
But I don't remember how we did it! We devised such elaborate plots and story lines! They often continued from day to day, too. But there was no discussion that I recall about how to do it, no set rules for who "operated" which characters. It was a seamless flow of interaction between the two of us: handing off characters, improvising dialogue, manipulating plot, creating back-story with no effort whatsoever. But I don't remember how we did it! We were just so in synch - everything worked. And we both fell into a hypnotic state where the room would fall away. Our hands, hopping the characters across the bedspread, would vanish. We did little more than channel Zira, Cornelius, and Dorothy Gale! Yes we mixed up the worlds in crossovers quite often.
It worked REALLY well, too! Sometime apes would go to Oz; and sometimes Oz characters would go to the Planet of the Apes. If you think Dr. Zaius (the ornery orangutan) freaked out when he saw a talking human you should have seen how apoplectic he got over talking lions, Tin Men, and little girls with dogs!
Sometimes Doctor Zaius went to Oz! At least once the Wicked Witch captured him and thought he was her runaway flying monkey. She could NOT understand what happened to his wings. "Curses! It's that Dorothy Gale's doing!" But then again sometimes Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would beam in at just the right moment and then all hell would break loose! The Wicked Witch would over hear Kirk talk about dancing Orion slave girls (who are green!) and the Witch would decide she could trap Kirk and Spock by stripping and dancing for them! You may recall that the Wicked Witch is green, too.
I do not know if other MEGO-loving kids did this cross-pollination thing. Sometimes I would buy duplicate action-figures to make them into additional characters. I "aged" a Cornelius with white paint and miniature glasses to make someone I called Dr. Barlow. We turned an extra Glinda the Good into Laverne DeFazio to play with my sister's Fonzie figure. A few characters I just made from scratch: a Patchwork Girl and a Sawhorse come to mind. Some ideas we never quite pulled off probably due to lack of money. I always wanted to buy a set of the Grandma and Grampa Walton dolls to become Aunt Em and Uncle Henry but I guess I just didn't feel like spending $15 to get two sort of boring characters. A couple of the Walton's daughters would have made a great Betsy and Trot; and I had my eyes on one of the Walton's boys to be Zeb Hugson.
But is was so magical, so addicting! This hypnotic-state of play occurred whenever my sister and I played with our anthropomorphic toys: puppets, stuffed animals, etc. Once on a car trip I told her that there was a miniature universe in my pants-pocket. I pulled out bits of lint and stuff from my pocket and introduced them as animals, live stock, etc. I made a tiny little woman out of a scrap of Kleenex, too. But I swear we could see "pocket-world!"
And that's what I miss! I miss my imagination being that powerful. I think I still have a strong ability for fantasy and imagination and daydreaming - but I can't quite make the real world disappear anymore - at least not with pocket lint!