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The World's First Action Figure Museum

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 19, 2024 3:04 am

The World's First Action Figure Museum

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 19, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em - you've just got to love them. Here is a story of a unique American dream - and unexpected healing.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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My name is Kevin Stark. I am the curator and executive director of the Toy and Action Figure Museum and also the founder of the museum. And I got started, gosh, I started collecting toys a long time ago back in 1986. The girlfriend I had at the time dragged me to an antique flea market. And I didn't really want to go spend the afternoon looking at antiques, but they had all these cool toys and they were cheap. And so I came out with an arm load of toys and I said, wow, that was fun.

When are we going back? She said, well, it happens every month. And I was like, oh, cool. So I started collecting toys and I amassed this huge collection. But even as a kid, I had convinced my parents to let me clean out our basement so that that could be my private play area.

And I shared a room with two brothers. So when my brothers found out that my parents thought that was a great idea, you know, they were a little upset with me over it. But my dad said, hey, he came up with the idea and he cleaned it up, so you know, get lost. And I had gotten a job when I was like 10 years old in order for me to be able to go and buy my own toys. So I actually been collecting, you know, really since I was 10.

But I've just always been attracted to toys, always enjoyed them and liked them. And then when I'm, you know, when it became my business to actually design them all the better. In 1990, I got a call to design toys. It was actually a guy I went to school with and he calls and says, how would you like to design toys for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And I was like, you wouldn't believe what I'm sitting around right now.

So I'd already been collecting for four or five years. He didn't know I was a collector. You know, I didn't know he was a designer. And so we just got together and he said, can you be in L.A. on Monday morning at 9 a.m. for a flight to L.A.?

And I was like, you bet I can. He had been working for small toy companies. And every time the toy companies got bought out, he lost his job. So he decided to start his own company that would do design work, but mostly write copy for the action figures and toys and create the accessories that go in them. And that's a lot of what we did.

We would create sewer maps for the turtles. A lot of the extra things, you know, that went in with the toys. We worked for a lot of different toy companies that don't have an in-house design team. Big, huge companies like Mattel and Hasbro and Kenner. And so a company would come to us and say, we need this design or we need, like in the case of Toon Sylvania that we did for Spielberg and Toy Island, was like, we need you to design this line based on a cartoon series. And so that's what we did. We would look at the characters and come up with different ways that they could make toys.

Everything from plush toys to wind ups to action figures to play sets. And of course we would come up with it. You then had to send the drawings over to the company.

They would say yay or nay, or they'd make changes here and there. A lot of times we didn't have a lot of time to do it. The deadlines a lot of times were really quick and really short. One toy line in particular, the mummy we did for the Universal Studios movie, we had, I think, two weeks to design and get some sculpts done before the New York toy fair. They kind of went for a long time, no, we're not going to do toys, not going to do toys. And then two or three weeks before they said, oh, we're going to do toys.

Can you guys knock this out? And so we were working 24 hours a day taking like little cat naps on my couch in my office and, you know, getting up and doing more drawing. So sometimes it's very fast work and other times you have lots of time.

So, you know, it just varied with the project. I point out to people that come here, there are a lot of doll museums and there are a lot of toy museums, but we are really basically an action figure museum. Our focus is the design and sculpting and art of action figures. So even though we have toys too, most of them relate somehow to action figures, you know, in the way of play sets or vehicles or things like that.

So that's what makes us different. And we have over 13,000 action figures in the collection. Most of the collection, 90% of what you see in the museum is from my private collection, but we do get some things donated. You know, a funny thing is people say, oh, you must do eBay a lot. I never do eBay. I mean, very rarely have I ever picked anything up on eBay. I personally prefer to go out and see the things I'm purchasing. I like to hold it in my hand and say, is this what I want?

And purchase it like that. That's just what I prefer because to me, because to me, I like the hunt. So really I go on what I call toy safari. We got a call from a lady in Arkansas one time and I didn't talk to her, but one of our board members did. And so he calls me up and he says, you want to go on a road trip? And I was like, what are we talking about? Well, this lady said she had this toy collection.

She just wanted to donate to the museum. And I said, well, what are we talking about? He said, well, he didn't really know. He said, he tried to get her to send pictures and she didn't really know how to do that on her phone. So she only sent like three or four pictures that were of these little tiny figures on shelves.

You know? So we just hop in my Toyota 4Runner and drive all the way to Arkansas. Well, she had so much stuff that we piled it all in my car, drove back to Paul's Valley, Oklahoma, rented a huge U-Haul truck and went back, still filled that up and my car again, because we had no idea what we were getting into. It was her husband's collection and he had passed away and wanted this stuff donated to the museum. And we were like, are you sure you want to do this? Because, you know, we told her she could sell this stuff on eBay or whatever. And she said, no. She said, I'm actually a very minimalist person.

I just want all this stuff out of here. And it was funny because the whole house was packed with toys. And she here was telling me she liked to live very, you know, spartanly.

My wife and I went to a garage sale one time here in Paul's Valley and the family, the family, it was just, you know, the couple, they had a daughter and we were mostly going to the garage sale for my wife. You know, she was checking stuff out. Well, they had all these cool boy toys.

I'm talking about great stuff that was worth a lot of money. And I was just putting everything in my arms, trying to, you know, pick it all up. And my wife was clear across the way visiting with somebody. And I was like, come here, come here.

I said, we need to get this stuff. Well, it turned out that the father always wanted a little boy and he got a little girl. So he was just buying her boy toys too, you know, and I think cause he liked them. So I just picked up a lot of really great stuff for next to nothing for garage sale prices and was very happy to get them. And they're all in the museum right now. Some of my favorite exhibits in the museum deal with my favorite character, which is Batman.

In fact, we have a whole bat cave devoted to just Batman. So there are a lot of figures there. And we created a World War II display, which we had both the European campaign and the Pacific campaign all done in 12 inch tall action figures. But we built buildings and everything in order to create a diorama of these action figures and recreated the World War II scenes.

Well, the older generation of people who would come in here, they loved that because they could relate to that. And a lot of old World War II veterans. And in fact, we had one guy come in who these figures we used are not G.I.

Joe's specifically. Some of them are from other companies that are very much accurate figures from World War II. Anyway, this one figure has a shoulder patch on it, which was a paratrooper outfit, paratrooper unit. Well, that guy, that was his unit.

Okay. He couldn't believe that we had an action figure of his unit in World War II. He was just blown away. And we had a great time talking about it. Most everyone finds something that they can relate to and that they're amazed at. We have people who come in and think, why do I want to be in here?

I'm only here because my husband's here or whatever. And then they see stuff they had as a kid. And really we're less about toys and more about nostalgia, more about your childhood. People come in here, they almost always leave happy, you know, so that's always a great thing. And you've been listening to Kevin Stark and he is the founder of the Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul's Valley, Oklahoma.

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