20 December 2012

What Child Is This (Playing with a Rom Action Figure)?

The photo at right, of an elementary school-aged girl posing with a Rom action figure holding his Translator, comes from the November 21, 1979 edition of The (Owosso, Michigan) Argus-Press. It was printed with an article picking some highlights of character dolls in the history of the toy industry, starting with the teddy bear (named for President Theodore Roosevelt with his permission). Titled "Toy industry dates from 1903", the article itself makes no mention of Rom, but does mention electronic games in the final paragraph.

The article was published in several newspapers and has no byline, but in one newspaper is marked "NEA," meaning it was distributed by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, a newspaper syndicate of the day. I found five others in the Google News Archive, but only one of them also included this photo. That was the Merced (California) Sun-Star's November 22, 1979 edition, where it was published as "Children of today the same but toys are changing."

I'd love to know more about this photo and the girl featured in it. In particular because this is one of two photos featuring her and Rom! The other appeared in an article called "Choose Toys, Games that Outlast Holidays." In this photo, however, it's a blond boy who's holding Rom while he plays the Mad Magazine Game with the girl in the first photo. Unfortunately, this article not only lacks a byline, it also doesn't list a syndicate, so there's no indication at all of its origins.

I've found copies of this story in seven papers in the Google News Archive. Again, not all include this photo with the article, but most do. The most interesting thing is the range of dates this article printed. Most were published between November 21 and December 24, 1979, however The Day of New London, Connecticut published it a year later, in November 1980. That was without the photo, but the article still has the part about Rom in it. (According to my somewhat anecdotal research, the Rom action figure was marked down to half-price in 1980 from his 1979 debut.) The prize, however, goes to The Rockmart (Georgia) Journal, which published the article in December 1983, complete with references to TV shows that were canceled by then. Unfortunately, they cut off the article before it got to talking about the Rom action figure.

So, back to the title question: who are these children and where did the photos comes from? Based on the fact that both articles appeared on November 21, 1979, I'm going to guess both were part of a package of articles from NEA. I asked my father, who used to be a newspaper journalist, about it. He told me that, in addition to the comics, editorial cartoons, and opinion columns they syndicated, NEA "also provided packages of feature stories, which may have contained photographs provided by companies whose products were discussed." He also added, "newspapers were not required to identify the material as coming from NEA."

Therefore, my theory is that in November 1979, NEA sent its subscribing newspapers a set of stories on toys for the upcoming Christmas shopping season. I'm betting one of the stories' "sponsors" was Parker Brothers, who also provided several photos of children playing with its products. Besides Rom and the Mad Magazine Game, other Parker Brothers products appearing in either of these stories or the photos included the All the King's Men board game, Merlin electronic game, Stop Thief electronic board game, and Wildfire pinball. (And I'm willing to bet that list of toys has evoked a nostalgic response from most of you guys over 40.)

So if you happen to have a 40-something-year-old friend who did a little modeling for Parker Brothers back in the early '80s, please have them drop me a line. Parker Brothers was headquartered in Salem, Mass., but that may or may not have been where the photos were taken. I'll take any clues I can get right now.

Thanks to my dad for the information he provided about NEA.


  1. for some reason my blog role is not updating properly on my site it still says your most current posting is the trade mark update. anyways, cool find today was the perfect day to post it for obvious reasons.