The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
March 15, 1987, Sunday, Bulldog Edition
Part 1; Page 2; Column 3; Advance Desk
HEADLINE: MATTEL TRIES TO STAGE A REVIVAL: FLOUNDERING HE-MAN
BROUGHT TO LIFE AND TOLD TO HIT THE ROAD
BYLINE: By TAMARA JONES, Associated Press
DATELINE: NEW YORK
was in a pickle. He'd spent all morning saving Radio City
Music Hall from the forces of evil, relying on a blunt sword
and baby-oiled biceps to massacre the Snakemen, humiliate
Beastman and even clinch the interplanetary roller derby.
was tired and He-Man was hungry, and now the unthinkable was
snooty Manhattan restaurant was refusing him service. No jacket,
no lunch. And borrowing a jacket from the house is out of
the question when you wear size 54.
embarrassing," said He-Man, Master of the Universe, as
he slunk away.
not, boys and girls. It will take more than a snub to stop
this superhero in his 245-pound tracks.
the uninformed, He-Man is the most powerful man in the universe,
leading the Masters of Good from Castle Grayskull on the planet
Eternia. The Masters of Evil answer to Skeletor and hang out
Mattel Inc. introduced the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
line of toys in 1982, sales have topped $2 billion for the
toys and myriad spin-off products, including cake pans, toothpaste
caps and underwear.
official Masters magazine boasts 750,000 readers.
is no official fan club, but the plastic hunk's appeal was
so great at one point that he even edged out Barbie in the
He-Man cartoons are beamed to between 3 million and 6 million
viewers five days a week on 101 television stations nationwide,
and He-Man has conquered the airwaves in 48 other countries.
trademark cry of "I have the power!" can be heard
in Zulu, Swahili, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Turkish.
would seem that all was dandy in the Universe.
the big numbers belie an inevitable truth: He-Man is in trouble,
facing a fate even worse than the Evil Hordes' dreaded slime
fad is dying.
an amazing rescue attempt is afoot, a mission unparalleled
have brought He-Man to life and told him to take his show
on the road, in four semi-trailers and two buses. To Memphis,
to Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, to Mobile, with a cast and
crew of almost 50 and a portable Castle Grayskull.
$3-million live-action show is an entertainment enigma: people
imitating cartoon characters imitating toys. Evolution in
have the power!" He-Man bellows in city after city before
throngs of loyal children who salute him with $5 plastic swords.
"Pint-sized groupies," sneers Skeletor, who loses
the war but gets the best lines.
Wadsworth, a 33-year-old Teamster from Alaska, seemed custom-crafted
for the role of He-Man.
has a 49-inch chest, 20-inch arms and 28-inch thighs -- a
redwood tree in search of a dinner jacket. Although blond
and bronzed with a raspy voice that suggests even his vocal
chords do bench presses, Wadsworth is humble.
think we were chosen for the parts because of our sword-fighting
ability," he explains over a plateful of meat.
includes his wife, Leslie, 25, who plays She-Ra on the tour.
couple met when playing Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja
in a show on the Universal Studios Tour in California a few
years ago. Universal offered to pick up the wedding tab if
they would exchange vows on the set. The wedding album shows
bride and bridegroom in the set's dungeon with barbarians
they don skimpy costumes, duel with villains and lip-synch
their lines to the taped voices of cartoon characters. They
will be doing it for at least 60 weeks and possibly two years.
ask us if we don't feel kind of silly," Jack volunteers.
"And the answer is yeah, we feel real silly at times."
traveling salvation show has been well-received, selling 106,078
tickets and grossing $1.2 million at Radio City alone. Souvenirs
fetched $352,311 in the two-week run.
90-minute show, co-sponsored by Mattel Toys, Pace Concerts,
MTM Presentations Ltd. and Front Row Theatre, features acrobats,
a black light circus, a roller derby, simulated explosions
and more than 100 costumes, including a few electronic ones.
the live tour, a summer movie and new toys in the line may
guarantee He-Man one last, lucrative spin around the galaxy,
the Universe may already be beyond saving.
quarterly report last September largely blamed the faltering
Masters of the Universe for a $127.3-million drop in domestic
sales over the preceding nine months.
least 30 stations have dropped the cartoon, and there are
no plans to add to the library of 130 He-Man shows, which
Group W Productions made for $250,000 per episode.
sure they thought they had another Barbie in the making,"
said Paul Valentine, a toy industry analyst with Standard
& Poor's Corp.
battery-operated water pistols, laser guns and a "more
robust" GI Joe now top the toy heap, Valentine said,
and the industry's Top 20 list no longer includes Masters
of the Universe.
F. Morrison Jr., Mattel's executive vice president of marketing,
concedes that the toys "may not be around that much longer."
have been slowing down, but the appeal of the character isn't,"
he added, pointing to the success of the road show and high
hopes for the Masters movie.
the decline of the billion-dollar beefcake did not discourage
Mattel from adding seven figures to the Masters line this
year, including He-Man's prehistoric relatives. The toys range
from about $5 for He-Man to $80 for Mt. Eternia.
and his twin, She-Ra, the Princess of Power, have been scrutinized,
analyzed, criticized and idolized. Child psychologists, college
students, market analysts, fundamentalists and parents have
all taken their best shots.
took a design group two years and 17 research studies to come
up with Masters of the Universe; the cartoons quickly followed.
show has drawn heavy criticism from groups such as the Massachusetts-based
Action for Children's Television, which complains that it
is nothing but a "program-length commercial."
we were to do Macbeth on TV and it stimulated the buying of
books, would this issue be raised?" asks Gordon Berry,
a UCLA psychologist who served as an early consultant for
the He-Man cartoon.
The underlying theme of Masters of the Universe is one of
positive thinking. He-Man is Dale Carnegie in a leather loincloth.
There is always a moral at the end of his adventure. "You
can be whatever you want to be," children are told. "You
have the power."
J. Michael Straczynski recalled the time that the writers
received a letter from the parents of a 6-year-old boy who
had recently been blinded. The child would perk up only while
listening to He-Man.
scriptwriters sent a personalized episode to the boy, with
He-Man telling him never to give up hope.
Rogers, a Staten Island, N. Y., fan, brought her son and nephews
to the live show.
like Superman," she said. "Everybody likes it. It's
Good versus Evil."
the good is calculated. As the first act ends, Skeletor is
threatening to wipe out the Masters of Good and the whole
audience as well.
The good guys exhort the youngsters to help save the world
by taking the Oath of Grayskull, which requires holding up
a replica of He-Man's trusty sword.
thinking," She-Ra exclaims. "With their powerswords,
they'll be able to help us keep Skeletor's army from ruining
without a sword are invited to raise their hands.
audience rises for the Eternian national anthem. At Radio
City, a grown man was seen placing a hand reverently over
his heart, mouthing the words.
take the oath, shamelessly cribbed from the Boy Scouts, swearing
to be loyal, brave and honest. And, of course, "protect
my country from Skeletor's wrath."
masse, the children scream, "I have the power!"