Friday, January 13, 2012

View-Master! Better Than Awesome


Remember View-Master? The little stereoscopic viewer that allowed you to look at colourful picture-reels started in 1939 as a kind of travelogue picture viewer, but in 1966 (the best year ever!!!) the disk subjects expanded to include cartoon characters and popular TV shows!

When you bought the viewer (a nice, comely brown in my era, as you see by the photo), it came with a sample disk titled "What in the World Do You Want to See?". Now at that time, there were a number of things I "wanted to see", few of which are appropriate to mention here, and none of which were addressed on the free disk. What it did show, however, was a little commercial for the selection of disks you could buy that would take you "From Arizona (picture of a girl with a herd of goats in a desert) To Zanzibar!(man kneeing in front of grass hut, inspecting coffee beans). From the Depths of the Ocean (shark about to gnaw on your face), To the heights of Mt. Everest! (man on snowy cliff...could be Everest, could be the snow-bank by my school).From the Ancient Wonders (really cool picture of a model of an ancient Greek temple), To Outer Space! (picture of the model of the Saturn V rocket you wished you got for Christmas instead of those socks).

I still have our viewer, plus six original packs of disks, including Quick-Draw McGraw, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Wonders of the Deep, The Seven Wonders of the World (one disk per set of wonders) Peanuts and, my personal favorite, Prehistoric Monsters. The disks usually came with a little story book that gave you more detail than what they could fit into the tiny window above the image you were looking at. I have to admit, I don't think I ever read one of those booklets, having skimmed them and likely had been discouraged from reading further by slide titles like "Timid Mollusk" and "The Octopus, timid monster of the sea" (both "Wonders of the Deep"). I guess in my childhood innocence I was supposed to wonder what made them "timid", but all honestly, I was too busy wondering if the Yellowfin Grouper on picture #7 could swallow a diver whole to concern myself too much about underwater timidity.

I remembered all this because today I bought an old View-Master packet called "F.B.I Agent" at an antique store today ($2.00, no tax). The cover showed a picture of a stiff-looking fellow in a black suit shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover. I had hoped at least once of the reels showed J. Edgar modelling a selection of his favorite gowns, but that wasn't to be the case. Instead, we get the story of agent "Bill Brown" from his first days of training at Quantico, to his apprehension of a kidnapper through the brilliant ruse of prentending to ask him directions while two agents leap at him from behind a large red Oldsmobile. Unlike many of the later View-Master sets that used pictures of 3D models, this one featured stereoscopic photos of people dressed like agents, or maybe the Blues Brothers, posed to demonstrate the action of the story. My personal favorite is the riveting "Bob Works Late Making his Official Report" slide, # 13 on disk 2! I can't imagine any child not being thrilled beyond repair thinking of a future of late-night paperwork at the F.B.I.

Eventually View-Master came up with newer versions like the "talking" View-Master, but I'll always have a soft spot for the old brown plastic viewer. Definitely Better Than Awesome!

1 comment:

Francesca Slone said...

Wow I am quite surprised to know that the Viewmaster has been around since 1939! I used to own one in the 90’s and had a few paper disks with Disney cartoons in them. My sisters and I loved playing with it so much so we had to take turns so everyone had a chance to use it. It is definitely one of the toys I miss from my childhood.

Francesca Slone