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Toy Fads: The Saga of the Lost He-Man Action Figure

July 18, 2013

It’s the rarest action figure of all time…because it didn’t exist.

he-manHe-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the bestselling “action figure” line of the 1980s. From 1982 to 1988, when the toys were produced in conjunction with the Masters of the Universe cartoon series, Mattel sold $1.2 billion worth of “He-Man,” “Skeletor” and dozens of other MOTU action figures. But apparently there was room for more. In 1986, the Masters of the Universe Magazine held a “Create-a-Character” contest. The magazine’s editors would chose five semi-finalists and readers would vote on the winner. The grand prize: a $100,000 scholarship, a trip to Disneyland, and, perhaps best of all, Mattel would make the winning character into an action figure.

The contest winner was 12-year-old Nathan Bitner for his character, “Fearless Photog.” Photog had a camera for a head and used his camera-head to take “photos” of his enemies, which would drain their strength and transfer their image to his chest plate. Bitner got his scholarship and his Disney vacation, but unfortunately, Mattel never followed through with the rest of the bargain. Fearless Photog was never manufactured. (Interestingly, Bitner went on to design other sci-fi characters—in the 1990s, he worked at Bungie, the video game company that developed the five-million-selling Halo.)

The Masters of the Universe line of toys and the He-Man cartoon show celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2012. To commemorate the occasion, Mattel produced a “Masters of the Universe Classics 30th Anniversary” series, a brand new line of action figures based on old characters. But there were two new entries in the series. One was the winner of a brand-new Create-a-Character contest—Castle Grayskullman, by Daniel Benedict. (He entered a total of five characters in the contest.) And the other new one, after 26 years in the making, was Fearless Photog.

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