Saturday, October 06, 2007

1975 Johnson Smith Co. Catalog Corners Realistic Rubber Mask Market

In 1974 I ordered a huge Bela Lugosi poster from the Johnson Smith Company, which got me on their mailing list, such as it was. The Johnson Smith catalog was a kids dream. It was all the crappy stuff advertised in comic books and so much more. You could buy magic tricks, karate technique books, black light posters, fake vampire blood, ventriloquist dummies, and many other strange and wonderful things.

I always wanted to buy some of their Halloween masks, but it was next to impossible since I went through my allowance within a day. Plus with an allowance of fifty cents, there was no way for me to snag the three dollar and ninety five cent gorilla mask. I guess it's a good thing since I suspect that the masks were not as life-like as the drawings in the ad. (Yes, I said DRAWINGS!? They didn't even dare to show them to kids, how good could they be?!)

What a fine selection of masks, you admiringly say. But may I advise you to take a closer look? The Bridal Skull mask always creeped me out, what with the upsidedown cupcake baking cup on her head. And what about Frankenstein? His expression looks like your best friend's chain smoking mom when she was mad about him tracking mud all over the freshly cleaned linoleum floor. But worst of all is the pathetic vampire on the far right. First off, he appears to have a very nasty head wound. Second, there's nothing scary about a vampire who's facial expression and slack jaw make him appear to have the intellect of an inbred hillbilly. Third, he looks extremely tired, as if when you ran away, he'd have to sit down, hold his side, and catch his breath. Lastly, he reminds me of Don Rickles, and there ain't nothing scary about Don - I'm talking Vegas Rickles, not mobster or vampire Rickles here.

These masks boastfully claim to be made by European craftsmen and look like a professional Hollywood makeup job. Supposedly you can eat, laugh, and talk while wearing these. What kid wouldn't want to be a dirty old man or dirty old woman? My friends and I used to beg, kick, and scream for our parents to buy us the super old grizzled grandparent masks. But every year we had to be monsters, superheros, and pirates. What a ripoff!

When I was a kid, I always wanted a bald head wig. I'm not sure why, it just seemed really funny. But this is one wig that I found creep-o-liciously disturbing. It claims to be undetectable without a close look. Uh, yeah, okay. I hate to be the one to tell them, but adding ginormous oversized ears -that they refer to as cauliflower but look more like Spock - and strange scraggly hair to a bald wig does not make for a very realistic sight. And while it claims to cover sideburns, we can clearly see the guy's not so long side burns sticking out from under part of the wig. The shame! Run away! Run away!

These are a product I always wanted to own. Can you imagine walking around with gorrilla hands and feet? And the feet slip on over your shoes!! That would certainly make you look very strange as you padded along the street, all gorrilla like, grabbing things with your big oversized rubbery go-rilla hands. Although I am a bit concerned with the description as it states that the hands and feet "never fail to incite most violent reaction." All I can picture is someone ripping my gorilla hands and feet off, and beating me insanely about the cranium with them. There that'll show you, you damn dirty ape!

Speaking of damn dirty apes, as a kid who was a major fan of the Planet of the Apes tv show, I really wanted this realistic deluxe ape mask, with real ape hair. They killed millions of apes just to make these masks. Johnson Smith calls it the finest ape mask they've ever seen, which makes me assume that they made it a point to never look at any other ape masks, ever! Because unlike their view that this realistic ape mask could be used in Hollywood, it looks to me like it should be called the dead grandpa ape mask, and is for those who want to pretend to be a mentally challenged ape or those who would like to pretend to be doctors performing ape autopsies.

Hey kids, isn't it funny to pretend to have a disfiguring accident? What is truly disturbing is that one of the recommended uses is wearing it while driving a car! How can you see out of the disfiguring accident mask? Isn't it a bit prophetic to drive while wearing it? Little Jimmy was wearing his Horrible Accident Disguise, when his car sailed off the road, burst into flames, and landed in the McGillicuddy's backyard during their barbeque for local orphans. Hilarity ensued.

And what kid doesn't want a major political figure mask? And Kissinger is just the best, what with the accent, extra weight, and thick glasses. Plus it's made by European craftsmen and it's deluxe, so it's gotta be good! You know Mable, my Johnny wore the Kissinger mask on our trip to Washington DC. And the mask was so realistic, don't you know, that he held three press conferences and advised the president on the Vietnam War!

Johnson Smith claims this is the best Santa mask they've seen under $25, and that it is made by experts in West Germany. But what I really want to know is what the hell is going on with this Santa mask? Looks like old Santa's either totally plastered or has fallen face first onto the belt sander, which I suppose could have happened due to excessive alcohol consumption. I really suspect that Santa put his head too close to his plutonium powered sleigh to get this type of radiation burn.

And while this is not a mask, it certainly is a costume. The catalog says you can be "transformed into a hilarious clown in seconds." Yes, the hilarity just rolls right off this fella. Just looking at his face, I can hear the honking of his horn and the flip flap of his enormous shoes. Ow my side! I can't wait to take him to my next neighborhood meeting and watch the hijinks begin.

Hope you enjoyed Johnson Smith Co's 1975 mask offerings. Any nightmares induced by the viewing of said realistic rubber, crafted by Europeans, spooky masks means you've got some issues.


Rozum said...

Nice post. I've never seen those in color before. I'm going to add you to my links for the Halloween countdown.

Chouquette said...

Cool blog. Love the creepy old man mask.

Reggaexx said...

That is some funny stuff - I've been laughing so hard about your comments on the Horrible Accident mask that I've got tears rolling down my face! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Keep posting, Chris!

Johnson Smith said...

Just wanted to let you know that we're still around! The Johnson Smith Company now operates 6 unique websites, with it's original title under the name these days. We still carry rubber masks for Halloween, and our catalog still features all the pranks and novelties you remember - x-ray glasses, whoppee cushions, fake parking tickets, etc. - most at $.99!
Thanks for your pictures of our old items, it's neat to see all the history and how many people remember the catalog from their childhood!

Chris Jart said...

Thanks to everyone for the nice comments. I definitely appreciate them. Also glad to see Johnson Smith is still around.

Anonymous said...

I received my first Johnson Smith catalog in 1956. It was printed in black ink on the type of yellow paper used for the Yellow Pages.

I thumbed thru that catalog until I wore the ink off the pages. Then I placed an order and they kept on coming.

Those copywriters were masters of their craft.

Chris said...

Goddamn it's funny...

And I got so many sensory memories looking at it. I studied this catalog when I was a wee lad.

Leo said...

Chris, thanks for posting. Them were the days alright :-)

I have a question concerning the 1975 catalog and would greatly apreciate if you could send me an email to leo(at)

Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

Well, somehow I found you. I was a fan of this catalog growing up in NYC in the early 70's and ordered from them all the time, sending my dollar bills and coins taped to a card, then anxiously awaited the little postal truck. What is unusual was that I am a girl and while most of my friends were playing barbies, flatsy dolls and little kiddles locket dolls (I had them too)I was pining for bloody fingers with nails through them, fake vomit, smoke from your fingertips and trying to understand how a person could throw their voice. Those masks were to be envied, and I also wanted a ventriloquist doll since my sister had passed her old Jerry Mahoney doll to me, but he was broken. Ahh, memories. WHy wasn't I friends with you wnen I was a kid?

Charles said...

I bought the ventriloquist dummy for $2.98! It was very creepy looking and my brother and sister used to sneak to place it in spots where our Dad would discover it. They knew they had succeeded in terrorizing him when they heard loud cussing and the sound of that doll hitting the wall!

Chris Jart said...

Charles, that is hilarious! I always wanted to buy one of those, but it definitely would have freaked me out at night.