After a five-year furlough, Hasbro Industries' action soldier, G.I. Joe, is back on the retail shelves and is the nation's best-selling toy among those advertised on television, according to Toy and Hobby World, an industry trade magazine.
And according to Hasbro Chairman Stephen Hassenfeld, the plastic warrior will bring in between $40 million and $50 million in sales for that company when the final totals are in for 1982.
Joe's reincarnation as a smaller, more sophisticated soldier and subsequent success is part of what industry observers see as a renewed interest in military toys.
Hasbro Senior Vice President Steve Schwartz said that Joe did extremely well during his first tour from 1964 to 1976, but "the average product life of a toy is two or three years." Joe's discharge "was a question of economics," he explained.
Although Schwartz said the fading of antimilitary sentiment surrounding the war in Vietnam contributed to Hasbro's decision to reincarnate G.I. Joe, he downplayed the antiwar atmosphere's influence on Hasbro's decision to retire him in 1976.
"Joe was always the largest selling brand for Hasbro," he said, and "1973 was our biggest year and that was the height of the protests against the war.
"The press likes to point to Vietnam, but it was more a question of price." He said the dramatic increase in the price of plastic and petrochemical products after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, and increased competition from Kenner's Six Million Dollar Man and Ideal's Evel Knievel prompted the move.
"When Joe started out, he was 12 inches tall and plastic was 18 cents per pound . . . after the oil embargo it was 50 cents per pound," he said.
The original G.I. Joe was a World War II figure who fought the Germans and the Japanese.
Joe's new incarnation is as a member of a multiracial, antiterrorist team of men and women, designed to do battle with a mythical intelligence agency named Cobra.
The new Joe, 3 3/4 inches tall, is available with movable high-tech accessories, including tanks, lasers and special mobile missile systems.
Walter Kirchberger, vice president for research at Paine Webber Mitchell Hutchins, said that the new Joe is a long way from the dress-up doll designed to give young boys a G.I. issue Barbie doll.
"It's not the authentic U.S. military" figure that it used to be, he said, "it's more imaginary, like the Star Wars characters."
Tom Murn, editor of Toy and Hobby World, said Joe is showing himself "as a No. 1 contender."
Murn said that the success is the product of a more favorable public image of the military and of G.I. Joe's name recognition. He "was a known factor in the marketplace even though he'd been off the shelves for several years," he said.
"I think the whole category of military toys was adversely influenced by the American public's reaction to Vietnam," Murn said, but in time "the resentment toward the military has been defused in the public mind . . . and military has again come back into the marketplace."
Hassenfeld said Joe's reincarnation represents something more than the reintroduction of a toy line, because "toys always mirror what's going on in the real world."
As a result of the lives lost in Vietnam, "People--including myself--were too down on the military," he said.
This attitude changed after the seizure of the U.S. embassy personnel in Iran, he said. "There was a reawakening and acceptance on the part of the public that we don't have to stop defending what is worth defending."
Joe's success on the shelves has provided a cushion against the recession for Hasbro. Their string of profitable quarters now stands at 15.