During the height of the monsters popularity, Aurora Plastics Corporation led the way for what is now one of the most beloved and sought after collectibles – “Aurora Monster” Kits.
We love our collectibles, toys, and memorabilia. There’s just something special about having and owning something near and dear to our interests. Boys and girls of all ages love “characters” and the more colorful, fantastic, and imaginative the better. People love their heroes and villains; those in capes and spandex but, we also love our monsters. Monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man are so universal and, to echo a statement I once previously wrote, if asked to draw one of those monsters, it’d probably be based off of our memories of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. During the great days of what is now vintage collectibles (the best kind), Aurora Plastics Corporation released “Monster Kits” and these would become some of the most cherished of classic monsters collectibles.
Founded in 1950 by an engineer and businessman in Brooklyn, New York, Joseph E. Giammarino and Abe Shikes would begin manufacturing plastic model kits geared primarily towards younger collectors. It was in 1952 after Giammarino and Shikes hired John Cuomo that their line began for hobbyists and consisted mostly of model aircrafts. Despite their success with model aircrafts and eventually automobiles, it was Aurora Plastics Corporation’s licensed figures that really took off.
Sometime in 1960, Aurora Plastics Corporation acquired the license to make models based off of Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters. It was in 1961 that Aurora released the Frankenstein Monster and according to Professor Plastik:
Retailers sold the kits almost as fast as they could stock them, and the demand prompted Aurora to keep production running 24 hours a day. The company even tooled a second set of molds, turning out three kits per minute–more than 8,000 kits each day!
One of the most exciting of Aurora’s monster models was the “Big Frankie”, released in the 60’s and standing 19″ inches tall. “Big Frankie” was the Frankenstein’s Monster toy/collectible/model to have and it’s still one of the most highly sought out of Universal Monsters collectibles to this day.
Within six years, Aurora released a total of 13 monster kits. Not including the popular “Monster Rods” and “Frightening Lightning” series of Aurora’s monster models, the initial line up of Universal based monsters consisted of:
- Dracula (1962)
- The Wolf Man (1962)
- The Mummy (1963)
- Creature from the Black Lagoon (1963)
- The Phantom of the Opera (1963)
- Mr. Hyde (1964)
- Bride of Frankenstein (date uncertain)
Aurora also released models based off of King Kong and Godzilla!
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Aurora Monster Kits was the featured art by Washington Heights, New York native James Bama. Bama, best known for his “Doc Savage” covers, created art that has now become possibly even more desired than the actual models themselves. After Aurora commissioned James Bama, they decided to go with long box packaging that measured 13 x 5 x 2″ to allow him full body renditions of some of Universal’s most iconic of monsters.
There’s no denying the immense likability of the Aurora Monster Kits and, according to Michael Thomas-Knight of Halloween Forevermore:
When I was a kid, my bedroom resembled a miniature horror museum. Getting these kits was like owning a piece of the Horror films I loved so much. Building and painting the kits to match the boxes and film made me a monster creator myself, much like Dr. Frankenstein. I had won awards for a model building contest at a local neighborhood hobby store. These kits became a huge part of my life.
For those that love the classic monsters and grew up during this time, it sure is fun to think back on the monster mania of the 60’s. Universal Studios’ classic movies were airing on television, Aurora Plastics Corporation was capitalizing on the revitalization of these properties, and Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine was the gospel of all things monsters.
It’s a little disheartening to see these times gone and especially for those that have fallen in love with the classic monsters post the 60’s and 70’s. These famous characters saw a resurgence of interest during the mid 90’s and companies like Diamond Select Toys still keep them alive through their collectibles. With The Mummy out June 2017 and a planned Universal Monster movie out once a year well into 2019, could we be looking at the start of a new day for these monsters? And could we expect a company to follow in the tradition of Aurora?
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)