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‘How Did I Ever Get Along with Five?’

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball

Another ride in the Wayback Machine, inspired by poking around the other day for the Firestone “Wheels Are Turning” television ad.

In this one, the advertising spot is fairly lame … but the product it is flogging is Just Plain Weird.

That would be the Sixfinger toy kit sold by Topper Toys and promoted heavily on TV, in the mid-1960s.

Check the video.

If you did not follow the video … the Sixfinger toy pretty much was exactly what it claimed to be — a plastic sixth finger that rested on the palm of an 8-year-old hand and produced another digit between thumb and forefinger.

Once you had your sixth finger in place, you could do all sorts of things that these days would be considered dangerous and sure to make some personal-injury lawyers rich.

If you saw the video, you know most of what Sixfinger can do. (On its packaging, it was subtitled “The most amazing toy ever” by the folks at Topper.)

–It could shoot a little dart with a cap at the head of it — which would pop when it hit the ground.

(“Caps”, for those of you too young to know this, were attached to all sorts of toy guns and contained a tiny bit of gunpowder under a blistered spot on a long tape … and produced a little “pop” after you pulled the trigger of your toy pistol. I had one. More than one. “Caps” made it all seem much more realistic.)

–It could shoot a “secret bullet”. Secret, in that it fitted into the top of your sixth finger — as did all the applications.

–It could launch a “fragmentation bomb” — which needed assembling.

–The sixth finger also produced an ink pen that could be used for writing.

–It had a bullet that could carry a message to your kiddie friends, if they happened to be standing nearby. (I think we tended to use a primitive walkie-talkie set, back then, that ran for a few hours on a couple of C batteries and had a range of maybe 75 yards.)

–Digit No. 6 also could be equipped to click out a message, presumably in Morse Code, which all Boy Scouts knew, back then. (Morse Code was big, 50 years ago; even now, more than a few people know how to “key” an SOS message. “Dot-dot-dot … dash-dash-dash … dot-dot-dot.)

So. The enthusiasm of the little boys (well, of course) using the Sixfinger toy, in the ad, is over the top. And the idea that no one would notice your sixth finger … is just silly; the toy is thinner than most real fingers, and matching skin color to toy was tricky, and keeping the sixth finger attached to your palm seems like it would be a problem.

However, listening to the audio again, the speaking track is fairly interesting. For one, it is almost as if it foreshadows the rise of hip-hop a couple of decades later.

Here is one verse:

“It looks like your finger but watch ’em flip!

“It’s a secret weapon at your fingertip!

“Just point and fire

“Sixfinger sends

“An SOS missile

“To your friends!”

Later in the one-minute ad, a gruffer voice comes on … a military guy, no doubt. Well, actually, this voice reminds me a bit of Jimmy Dean, of Big Bad John (and sausage) fame. But it isn’t Jimmy Dean.

I digress.

Another digression: The Sixfinger toy reminded me of Antonio Alfonseca, a former Major League Baseball pitcher from the Dominican, who has six digits on both his hands and feet. His nickname in Spanish, apparently, is “El Pulpo” — The Octopus. I do not recall a sixth finger being of any particular competitive advantage for Alfonseca, whose extra digit was described as “being like a small second pinky” finger. He pitched a few years on either side of the turn of the century.

So, the takeaway from Sixfinger, in 2018?

–Toys were inexpensive, 50 years ago. Sixfinger is said to be “less than two dollars”. Pretty good bargain, for the “best toy ever”.

–Dangerous toys were all over the place, in the early 1960s. One former kid said getting hit by the little bullets was painful. And getting hit in the eye …

–Weapons of destruction were common in toy stores, back then. I never was in the military, but I guess I got some training by owning an M1 rifle knockoff (complete with bolt action, but it didn’t shoot anything). I also owned, at some point, a kiddie-sized 50-caliber machine gun, with a tripod, and a battery-powered red cylinder at the tip of the muzzle that flashed when you depressed the trigger.

–“Playing war” was a thing. We would divide into two teams, each of us carrying his preferred weapon (one guy had a plastic Thompson submachine gun), and we would retire to a nearby school (this was back when schools were left open on weekends) and one side would play defense, and the other (perhaps with an extra combatant) would play offense, and the rules basically were “whoever announced he had seen the other guy first” was credited with a kill. We would be climbing around on top of buildings and in the bushes … and we could do this for hours.

Sixfinger covers some of that, perhaps with a tilt toward “spy” stuff. I am sure I never owned one; I think I would have insisted on actual toy replicas of weapons. (You know, I think we could buy toy grenades that ignited caps, too.)

If you have any interest in going further down this rabbit hole, check the eight-minute video of Topper Toys, from the 1960s. Things have changed.


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