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Baby boomers savor memories of low-tech toys

December 13, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Mr. Potato Head. Slinky. Lincoln Logs.

They may lack the electronic dazzle of today’s toys, but these relics of an earlier era still grab the imaginations of baby boomers.

``The quality’s a lot better today than it was then, but who noticed?″ said Joe Kravec, 43, of the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon.

Kravec and other adults recalled the simpler pleasures of the playthings of Christmases Past recently at ``Toy Bop,″ an exhibit of toys from the 1950s and 1960s at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.

While there wasn’t a computer screen or a joy stick in sight, the vintage toys seemed to appeal to more than a dozen youngsters.

Five girls stretched out a Slinky and used it to jump rope. Other children built a Lincoln Log house, created Cootie insects and jammed interchangeable eyes, ears and noses into a hollow plastic tuber known as Mr. Potato Head.

For fourth-grade teacher Linda Kleeb, the nearly 150 toys and games on display were as evocative as songs from a rock ‘n’ roll oldies radio station.

``Mr. Machine, he’s my absolute favorite,″ said Ms. Kleeb, referring to a see-through, windup toy figure with a red top hat. ``I didn’t have a Betsy Wetsy. I didn’t have a Barbie. I liked things that go,″ she said.

The exhibit, which ends Jan. 6, has both of those popular dolls, together with a Charmin’ Chatty, an Easy Bake Oven and other accessories in a collection called the Girls’ Clubhouse.

In The Boys’ Clubhouse, Davy Crockett wears a coonskin cap next to S-4 Space Bombs, a Superior Gas Station, and a host of pirates, spacemen and dinosaurs.

``There was such a lack of technology,″ Kravec said of the toys. ``Today they’re all computerized with sound, and they move, and they look like the real thing.″

His wife, Linda Kravec, 47, said their generation’s toys required more from a child’s imagination.

There are also popular TV characters filling plastic dioramas shaped like televisions: the ``Lost in Space″ robot; Mr. Ed, the talking horse; zthe Lone Ranger and Tonto; Deputy Dawg, and Zorro.

Facing the make-believe televisions is, naturally, a couch holding a family of Potato Heads.

``Howdy Doody is my favorite,″ Kravec said, admiring a Howdy Doody TV Game. ``He was a character I grew up with, the first guy on TV, the first thing that moved in a box.″

Nearby, visitors can see a sampling of early promotional films and nearly forgotten commercials of such toy manufacturers as Mattel Inc. A blond-haired boy wearing a cowboy hat and a six-shooter chants a familiar mantra:

``You can tell it’s Mattel. It’s swell.″

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