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1971 - 2010: Mattel Big Jim, Ken and Max Steel Dolls

Big Jim, 9 " dolls by Mattel, 1971 -1986

Mattel's Big Jim and Big Josh dolls

In 1971, the year before Mego started selling their line of 8 inch super hero dolls, Mattel began to produce their series of 9 inch Big Jim dolls. The series, based on sports and adventure themes, became very popular and lasted until 1976 with many additional dolls and accessories being offered. With the exception of Zorak (shown below), I for one don't remember ever seeing any Big Jim dolls or toys around when I was growing up in the 70s. Mego and G.I Joe were the only "dolls for boys" that I was aware of until at least the mid 1990s. Therefore, all of the Big Jim dolls I now have were found second hand at flea markets. Mattel did an excellent job on these Big Jim dolls. They each have a button on their back which moves the figure's right arm. The arms are made of rubber and a mechanism inside makes the bicep flex when the arm is bent at the elbow. How awesome is that!

A closer view of Big Jim and Big Josh to show their faces. They both use the same head mould only Big Josh has a painted on beard.

Here is Mego's 8 inch Spidey next to Big Jim for size comparison.

The figure in the green track suit above has white stripes on his arms and legs that don't show up in the picture. I think this the "Warm Up" outfit from the first series of Big Jim doll clothes sets. The bald guy in the middle is named Dr. Steel and he has a dragon tattoo on his chest but most of it has worn off. He was originally sold wearing pants and a belt instead of the red shorts, and he's supposed to have a silver/reflective "steel" right hand (I'm not sure why this one doesn't). The Big Jim on the right has a wolf logo patch on his jumpsuit and a matching tattoo on his left hand. This is the Miner outfit from the P.A.C.K. series. He's missing a chequered jacket and his accessories. This Big Jim could use a belt as his outfit is a tad revealing!

Here is Big Jim's enemy Zorak who has a spinning head. Originally Zorak was sold wearing pants, shoes and a cape with a chain across the front of his hood. The head spins when the button on the doll's back is pressed (at least it's supposed to, this one doesn't work anymore). I've shown the back view below as Zorak's button is different from the standard Big Jim doll. The other figure is a Gold Medal Big Jim which has red and blue stripes and stars painted on the front of his white briefs. This one was originally sold without any clothes. Unfortunately, the rubber arms have discoloured which is a common problem for Big Jim dolls.

Here is a closer look at Zorak's two faces.

Mattel used the Big Jim body for many different doll series, such as Tarzan, Grizzly Adams and How the West was Won. This is Old Shatterhand based on the Karl May TV series. I'm missing the proper outfit for this character. The overalls he is wearing might be from the Big Jim Sport Fishing outfit. The hands on this doll are different from standard Big Jim dolls. Here is an awesome website about the Big Jim collection:

In the 1970s it was very common for toy companies to use comic book adverstisement to promote their "dolls for boys" collections as well as smaller sized action figures. Below are some ads I found for Mattel's Big Jim series. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Page 1 of 2 page ad

Page 2 of 2 page ad
Marvel Comics, Kazar #5, Sept 1974, p.4 and 5
DC Comics, Kamandi #22, Oct 1974, p.16 and 17

Marvel Comics, Skull the Slayer #3, Jan 1976, p.9
This ad tells us that "P.A.C.K." stands for "Professional Agents / Crime Killers"

Sunshine Family, by Mattel, 1974 -1982

During the 1970s Mattel made a 9" doll series "for girls" called the Sunshine Family. Shown above is Steve, Stephie and Sweets the baby. This was a very successful toy line that was expanded to include an African American family, called The Happy Family, and a set of grandparents for each family. Here is a blog that I found about the Sunshine Family doll collection:

In 1976, two years after the Suneshine Family made their debut, Mattel used the male doll body for their Welcome Back Kotter doll series. In 1980 both the male and female doll bodies were used for the Mork and Mindy dolls. See my "TV Character Dolls page" for more info about these two collections.

Sport and Shave Ken, by Mattel, 1979
Toward the end of the Big Jim series Mattel produced this "Sport and Shave Ken" 12 inch doll. This was a new doll body for Ken that incorporated the arms from the 9 inch Big Jim doll. The left arm has one standard Big Jim open hand and the right arm has a grip hand to hold objects. The grip hand is the same one used for the Karl May TV series dolls, as seen above on the Old Shatterhand doll. Ken and Big Jim also share the same shoes.

I found this Sport and Shave Ken in the early 1990s at a second hand store and had to have it. I had never bought or owned a Ken doll before, but the 70s style rooted hair and the Big Jim arms made it impossible for me to leave him there. He also has a great face which, according to the article at the link below, is a unique head sculpt that was only used for this one version of Ken. He was sold wearing the yellow shorts shown above, but I'm missing his original shirt and shoes. I have several other Ken dolls which are shown below acording to the date they were made.

The article at this link talks about all of the "Shaving" Kens that have been made over the years, and speculates that Mattel had subtly marketed Sport and Shave Ken to boys as well as to girls.

Real Men, by Mattel, 1986

Another Mattel toy to make use of Big Jim parts was the Real Men finger puppets series form 1986. Big Jim heads were reused for the Soccer and Football players (see close up of heads below). I received the Soccer set for Christmas in the mid 80s and have cherished it ever since, making sure not to loose any of the pieces. Shown here is the complete set with the box. The instruction booklet includes the rules for both the football and soccer sets, and shows the football set on the cover. Each figure has a fabric glove attached allowing your fingers to become the characters legs. According to Tomart's Price Guide a Boxer, Cheerleader, and Skateboarder were made for this series as well.

Ken outfit from "Barbie and the Rockers", by Mattel, 1986

In 1986 Mattel released their "Barbie and the Rockers" series to compete against Hasbro's popular Jem and Misfits dolls. Ken was given a new head sculpt that had rooted doll hair in the longer style of the mid 1980s. Above is his outfit, but I'm missing his socks, shoes, glove, neck sash, and his guitar....and the doll!

Tom Comet, 12 inch doll by Mattel, 1987

In 1987 Mattel produced a fashion doll series called Spectra based on a sci-fi outer space theme. The tag line for the series is "Lacy... Spacy...Out of this World!" There were five dolls in the set with Tom Comet as the only male character from the collection. He's the "Galactic sports fan and fix-it man!". Spectra, Tom and friends are Shimmerons from the Planet Shimmeron. The doll body is made with a different type of hard plastic than other Ken type dolls, and has a reflective mirror-like surface. Tom's doll body mold is the same one that was later used for the Harley Davidson Ken doll, shown below. The pants for this doll are made out of a crinkly, paper-like material.

Ken Fashions, by Mattel, 1998 - 2000
Athough Ken has appeared as popular characters from TV shows and films such as Star Trek, X-Files, Wizard of Oz, and many, many others, he is best known as a fashion doll and boyfriend to Barbie. With several decades of doll clothes to chose from, and new styles being produced endlessly, Ken now has a wardrobe that would fill a warehouse or two, or three. Here are a few of the Ken doll clothes that I thought were interesting to keep in my collection, though this is really just a very small sample of what is available to collectors.   

I bought these Ken clothes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Each of these fashions were sold separately without a doll. Above is my 1970s Ken wearing a 70s style shirt and "leather" pants. He's one of the few Kens that can actualy hold onto stuff such as this Ken sized ghetto-blaster. These clothes came with an awesome pair of cowboy boots, shown below. The blond hippy dude above is actually the Prince from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I thought his long hair made him a suitable match to this Ken scuba suit. The outfit came with blue plastic flippers, shown below, rather than the blue sandles he's wearing. These outfits were originally sold in thin boxes for about $10 each. Boxes are dated 2000.

Here is the 1980s and 1990s version of Ken wearing a purple housecoat. It came with slippers, reading glasses and a newspaper, which I've shown below, and was sold in a box. The yellow striped pyjamas are original vintage Ken clothes from the 1970s that I picked up at a flea market. The shirt has a metal snap at the front to keep it closed. The last outfit is a jacket with shorts and white Big Jim/Welcome Back Kotter style skeekers. A pair of binoculars were also included. I believe this outfit was also sold in a box.

Here are some basic outfits that include a shirt, shorts and a pair of shoes. The blue shirt and yellow shorts came with the blue sandals that the surfer dude is wearing (shown above). I forget what shoes the striped shirt outfit came with, and it seems that I've lost them. The black shorts have a red stripe down each side, which doesn't show in the picture. All of these outfits were originaly sold on cards dated 1999, for about $8 each.
Here are two more outfits that were sold in boxes. I can't recal if the vest came with that outfit or not. The picture is quite dark, but the vest is borown and the pants are blue cordroy. The second picture shows a "leather" jacket with an actual working zipper. The outfit came with a big pair of boots.
The package of extra Ken shoes is dated 1998. A white pair of Big Jim shoes is included along with sandals, boots, dress shoes, and sneekers.

Harley Davidson Ken, by Mattel, 1999
During the 1990s Ken went through a major transformation. Rather than simply being an accessory to Barbie, Mattel had begun to market Ken separately to collectors who are not the least bit interested in owning a Barbie. An example of this is the Harley Davidson Ken dolls. Below is the second Harley Davidson Ken to be offered. He's all decked out in his motorcycle riding gear. Mattel did an awesome job on this doll and added lots of detail, including a Harley Davidson belt buckle and a printed Harley logo bandana.

Grand Ole Opry Ken, by Mattel, 1999
The same year that the second Harley Davidson Ken was available Mattel offered this Grand Ole Opry Ken doll. Unfortunately he was sold in a two pack set with Barbie. I thought this Ken was interesting enough to get anyways, and I gave the Barbie to my sister. I didn't bother to keep the box either, I just wanted the Ken. Once again Mattel did an awesome job with the detail such as a headset microphone and a flocked cowboy hat. Ken's guitar even has separately attached strings.

Hawaii Ken, by Mattel, 1999

A basic Ken doll is sold wearing only shorts in order to ecourage kids (and adults) to collect the doll clothes that are sold separately. Additionally, these Ken dolls retail for considerably less than fully outfited dolls. As beach themes are often used for these dolls, Ken has travled all over the world in order to go for a swim. This Hawaii Ken has the same hair style and face as the Ken shown above in the purple housecost, but the hair is sculpted shorter behind his neck and painted yellow instead of brown.

Surf City Ken, by Mattel, 2000

This is another basic Ken doll with the same doll body as the Hawaii Ken, as shown below. This doll body was first introduced in the late 1960s, and has been in use ever since. This is why every new Ken doll that was made with this specific body over the last four decades is marked 1968 on the lower back. Surf City Ken comes with a cardboard sufboard and small blue shorts with yellow stripes on the sides. he has a different hair style on the top of his head than Hawaii Ken, but the same face.

Here are some of the variations of Ken heads used in the 1980s and 1990s. All three Ken's have the same face and body, but slightly different hair sculpting.

Max Steel, by Mattel, 2000
From the mid 1980s to the early 1990s this style of "doll for boys" fell out of vogue in favour of standard action figures. But in the mid 1990s 12 inch dolls such as G.I Joe were starting to make a comeback. By 2000 they were back in demand and a new battle between toy companies to create the best 12" action figure doll series was in full swing. Hasbro produced G.I Joe and Action Man assortments while Mattel introduced their new 12 inch hero...Max Steel!

Here are the four Max Steel figures from my collection. I found the scuba diver second hand and bought the others new at the store. I worked in the toy department of The Bay department store at the time that these were introduced and had the pleasure of unpacking shipping boxes of Max Steel toys. I had fun arranging them for sale on pegs and shelving and got paid for it too! I even saved an empty Max Steel shipping box for my collection!

Here is the Mountain Attack Max Steel which was the deluxe version of the doll for the first series. It was sold at a higher price point than the carded figures and came with mountain climbing gear and accessories. He's wearing two separate pairs of shorts. The gray shorts are on top of a navy blue pair of cycling style shorts. This Max Steel also has a unique arm that shows his robotic bicep rotate when the arm is bent. Mattel seems to have a thing for movable biceps on these types of toys!

Here is the back of the box for Mountain Attack Max Steel. Below is a closer look at the picture showing the first series assortment. Click on the image to see a larger version.

This is the Super Agent Max Steel. He's a buff little guy with mighty abs! The carded Max Steel assortment was the lower priced "standard" figures for this series. This figure is seen driving the car in the assortment photo shown above. He came with a gun, holster and sunglasses. I find it amusing that his chest harness has no practical function; he's just wearing it for looks! Apparently he doesn't have any shirts that match. Below is the back of the card.

Here is Panther Combat Max Steel from the second batch of figures. Mattel gave this Max a different head than the others, which I think was an improvement. This is my favourite Max Steel figure from the four that I have. Unfortunately his panther claw accessory is now broken. Below is the back of the card.

Here is the second assortment as shown on the back of the card. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Here's a closer look at the different head sculpt for the Panther Combat Max Steel as compared with the original head sculpt, below.

My Scene, 12 inch doll by Mattel, 2003

My Scene is a fashion doll series that Mattel produced to compete with the popular Bratz dolls made by MGA. Shown above is Bryant. Unlike Mattel's past fashion dolls, these dolls had larger heads, hands and feet, similar to Bratz dolls, but used the Ken doll body with articulated joints (the same body used for special collector's edition Ken dolls such as the Harley Davidson Ken and Grand Ole Opry Ken shown above). Although there are four male dolls in this collection I only bought this one as an example.

The Bryant doll has a curly hairstyle that was made popular in 2002 by Justin Guarini, who was the first runner up next to Kelly Clarkson on season one of American Idol. (Clarkson was named the winner.) Mattel was very clever in their marketing to use the same light brown hairstyle as Justin on a generic fashion doll, rather than paying the required licensing fees to make an official American Idol doll of him. The photo of Justin shown above is from this site:,,20312226_448186,00.html
The back of the box shows illustrations of the four male dolls in the series, which in addition to Byant includes Sutton, Hudson and River.

California Boy Blaine, by Mattel, 2004

Poor Ken was dumped by Barbie in 2004 for the new fashion doll in town, Blaine. The above doll is either the first or second version of Blaine, I forget which. California Boy Blaine is scented to smell like sun tan lotion, and the side of the box near his left shoulder has three holes in it so that you can smell him. The doll is made with a very deep tan coloured plastic, and also comes with a small pretend bottle of lotion, shown below. A cardboard surfboard is included as well. Blaine has rooted doll hair that has been glued and sculpted into postion, and then hardened so that it can't get messy. Maybe it's like that because of all the lotion he uses? :) 

The right side of the box shows a large picture of Blaine and the back shows the assortment of dolls that were available in the set. The doll body used for Blaine is the same 1968 body that was used for the Hawaii Ken and Surf City Ken dolls, shown above, but his legs have been altered slighlty so that he stands with his feet wider appart. California Boy Blaine also comes with a doll stand that is sculpted to look like a sandy beach.

Big Bad Wolf, 7 inch doll by Mattel, 2008

I found this 7 inch Big Bad Wolf doll at a thrift store. Unfortunately he's missing his boots. I've shown him next to an 8 inch Mego Spider-Man for size comparison. It turns out this wolf is from a special edition Little Red Riding Hood Barbie gift set made by Mattel in 2008. The wolf clothes are sewn onto the doll, but I had to see how the doll body was made (as it's very Mego-like) so I unstiched the seam at the back. The body is actually a young female doll body so Mr. Wolf is actually Ms. Wolf. The doll's midsection is made the same way that Mego made thier 8 inch female dolls. The hands are typical extra small "female doll" hands that are not articulated at the wrists, but otherwise the doll is jointed just like a Mego. The copyright date on the doll's back says 1995, so Mattel likely used this doll body previously to make other dolls and simply recycled it for this wolf character. I really like the head sculpt on this doll. A side view is shown below.

Ken Riviera!, by Mattel, 2008

Luckily for Ken, Barbie's fling with Blaine didn't last and was just a publicity gimmic to sell more dolls. I don't know exactly when Ken made his return, but when he did he had a completely new look. I'm not just talking about his fashions. The guy was given a new face! No more cheesy plastic smiles, Ken was now a boyish yet handsome cutie-pa-tootie. This Ken Riviera doll has sculpted hair and uses the same wide-leg stance body as California Boy Blaine, though without the deep tan.

Ken Fashionistas: Hottie, by Mattel, 2009

The following year, in 2009, Ken moved up from cutie-pa-tootie status to become an official hottie. The doll body used for the Fashionistas "Hottie" Ken above uses doll body parts from the Harley Davidson Ken doll shown above. The upper arm was modified to have thicker bicepts, and the legs are a bit longer than the previous Kens. The face for this doll is the same as the Riviera! Ken, but instead of sculpted hair it has rooted doll hair that has been styled and glued into position. Several Ken dolls were made for this Ken Fashionistas series. In addition to "Hottie" Ken there were two different "Sporty" Kens and a "Cutie" Ken. These have since been followed by at least six more Fashionistas Ken dolls.

Ken: A Fashion Fairytale, by Mattel, 2009

Also in 2009 "A Fashion Fairytale" Ken was sold to promote a DVD of the same name. A small hang tag on the front of the box explains that the DVD would be released in the Fall of 2010. I've decided to leave this Ken in the box unopened, so I'm not sure what type of doll body was used. His hands are shaped differently from any of the above Ken dolls, and he is a bit shorter than the Fashionista "Hottie" Ken. Once again the same face as the Riviera Ken was used, but with the rooted doll hair that is glued into position. I think this Ken really looks sharp! Mattel did an awesome job on this Ken doll.

Ken, by Mattel, 2010

Here is a very basic Ken doll with a newly sculpted doll body marked 2009 on the lower back, but the package is marked 2010. This doll is sold at a very low price point and although it's a nice looking doll I find it to be very cheeply made compaired to all the other Ken dolls. The doll body itself seems to be hollow (arms, torso and legs) and the knees are not bendable which is odd for a modern Ken doll. This Ken doll also does not stand up very well because of how close the feet are, but the legs can't be adjusted as the doll is sculpted in this position. I find it interesting that the giant Barbie head on the front of the package covers up Ken's legs. The legs are also obstructed from view in the picture on the back of the package, shown below.

This Ken has a slightly modified face from the Riviera Ken face. The sides of the mouth smile more and the chin is fuller. The rooted, glued hair is back again too. This doll has a ball joint at the neck which I find is very odd because of the cheepness of the doll's body. Usually a ball joint neck is only found on special, more elaborate Ken type dolls. Another interesting note about this Ken is that the packaging does not say Ken on it anywhere, and there is no series title (such as Hawaii or Riviera). However, the new doll body has briefs molded onto the doll with a label on the front that says Ken.

Text and Photographs © Mike Artelle

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