Hasbro’s flagship G. I. Joe toyline was revitalized in 1982 as G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Scaling down from 12″ to 3.75″, the line was based on a rejected pitch that comic writer Larry Hama had made for a Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD spin-off called “Fury Force“. As such, this new spin on the franchise saw the G.I. Joe team battle a group of terrorists initially inspired by Marvel’s HYDRA, swapping green for blue and renaming them Cobra.
That 1982 debut wave also featured the line’s first ever mail-away figure: sending Hasbro five proofs of purchase (plus postage) from G.I. Joe figures would get you a free action figure of the villainous leader Cobra Commander. Waves two and three would include even more new characters as mail-in offers.
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Series five added a strange new wrinkle to the mail-away figure line: a real(ish) person. Professional wrestling superstar Sgt. Slaughter, his ring persona at least, was added to the Joe team as their drill instructor. He proved a popular addition, going so far as to show up in the 1987 animated movie and remaining a regular character in the line.
This success lead Hasbro to add another real life sports figure to the G.I. Joe lineup: William ‘The Refrigerator” Perry. So nicknamed due to his truly massive size (his ring size is 25), Perry was a popular player on the Chicago Bears and part of their 1986 Super Bowl winning squad. He was chosen to be the next “real person” added to the Joes, as their Physical Training Instructor code-named “The Fridge”.
I don’t rightly know how well The Fridge sold, but I do know he didn’t end up integrated into the mythos like Sgt. Slaughter. I also know that he was the last real person added to the line, with the exception of a 2007 convention exclusive release of wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as a villainous counterpart to Sgt. Slaughter. Mail-away figures would remain a staple of the A Real American Hero line until the end, with the final 1994 wave celebrating the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary with a 3.75″ scale version of the original G.I. Joe.
Our Fridge sold at auction on eBay for $XX.XX recently, just going to show that what looks like a cheesy bit of cross promotion may in fact be a valuable collectible…as well as cheesy cross promotion. Letting the experts at Back to the Past give your old toys a look before handing them off to your kids to play with might be a good idea.
And if you want to stay “in the know” about cool stuff, come back in two weeks for a new edition of Consigned, Cool, & Collected!