At some point, I suppose it’s inevitable that one looks back upon childhood and thinks about toys. No matter your generation, your toys were much cooler than the new-fangled gizmos the current generation plays with, and darn it, I’m right about that. Because not much can compare to Marx Toys’ Navarone Play Set!
Note that this large, grey play set, displayed here in a happy moment on Christmas Day, 1976, does not seem to be officially linked to Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone action-thriller novel from 1957 nor the 1961 movie based upon the same. There’s no tie-in language on the packaging, which can be seen in a story on the Official Marx Toy Museum from the July 13, 2008, Reading Eagle, and the name of the play set from the box is “Famous World War II Battle of Navarone Giant Play Set,” not “The Guns of Navarone Play Set.”
But, um, Navarone doesn’t actually exist outside of MacLean’s fervid imagination, and there was no “Famous World War II Battle” there outside of book covers or movie theaters. I suppose IP lawyers were less active in those days. To live in simpler times . . .
The play set itself was, for a young lad, a work of beauty and genius all at once. Lots of cannons, rope ladders for scaling the face of the mountain, a working elevator in the back, and even bunk beds! And tons and tons of plastic army men—not that I didn’t have tons anyway, but more was always better. It was, in truth, sort of a Barbie house for plastic army men, though one bristled at the comparison at the time.
According to the 1976 JCPenney Christmas Catalog entry for this item (pictured above), we’re talking nine pounds of injection molded plastic fun!
Of note, there’s nothing electronic about the Navarone Play Set—no battery-powered sirens, no wind-up tanks or flashing lights, just plastic and imagination. By the time the G.I. Joe action figures came out in the early 1980s, I still had the play set, and the Joes fought Cobra where once the green army men fought the grey ones, even if it was a bit of a tight fit.
I’m not the only person to fondly remember this toy. The set fetches high prices on the auction market, and there’s even a video demonstration of the set, narrated by a lucky kid whose father is letting him play with it.
(Image courtesy of Wishbook via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike License.)
[Update September 3, 2021: Image link to the Navarone Playset in the Sears Wishbook above no longer works. A similar image can be found here.]