Saturday, June 25, 2016

ONE-OF-A-KIND AURORA MONSTER MODEL PROTOTYPE SCULPTS


While the years roll inexorably along, I can still recollect with fairly vivid clarity my model building days as a Monster Kid. As mentioned in an earlier post, I laid down my hard-earned allowance money on Aurora's The Mummy, my first monster kit (before that I had painted and built The Red Knight of Vienna). I bought it at Gilbert's Toy and Hobby, our local hobby shop. It was within walking distance from our house, just down the hill, across Palos Verdes Blvd., and over to the north side of Southwood Shopping Center.


"My Old House", Torrance, CA (Photo from Google Earth)


I walked down this hill to get to Southwood Shopping Center.

This was the same stretch of early strip mall where my Dad tended bar part-time at a restaurant and cocktail lounge just a few doors down from Gilbert's. Ronn's Liquor & Delicatessen was at the opposite end -- the spot where, among the Stags and Bluebooks on the news rack, monster magazines were sold! I must also mentioned that, about midway down the mall was Angelo Revel Brothers Bakery, who easily rivaled the Helm's Bakery home delivery truck for mouthwatering glazed donuts and ├ęclairs. Without fail, when you first walked through those doors, the fragrance of fresh-baked bread assailed your nostrils, evoking an immediate hunger response.


A few vintage shots of the Helms Bakery trucks.




Olympic Bread and some of the world's best donuts were sold
out of the back of these trucks!


Much like the UPS signs of today, this cardboard sign was put up
in windows to signal the Helms Bakery truck driver
to stop. I still have ours!
Forgive me for momentarily waxing nostalgic --- anyway, Gilbert's Toy and Hobby was a kid's dream store. Model rockets (the kind propelled by CO2 cartridges), kites, balsa wood airplanes, an HO track (you'd pay so much per 15 minutes to run your cars on it), train sets -- you name it -- Gilbert's had it all.

Oh, and did I mention they sold Aurora monster models? Delvin and Arnette Rice, the proprietors, like hundreds of other hobby shop owners, also participated in the great Master Monster Maker Contest of 1964, sponsored by Aurora Plastics and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The banner sign in their window "daring" kids to enter was proof positive.


The proprietors of Gilbert Toy and Hobby Shop.


A local business listing in the Torrance Herald 1961.

After hearing of this, I spent many hours at our newspaper-draped kitchen table, assembling and "customizing" my Mummy model kit. I had my Testor's gloss enamel paints, my toluene-laden, headache-inducing tube of glue, and a supply of mineral spirits, aka "paint thinner". But what to do to make my Mummy stand out from the rest in the contest?

I noticed that my jar of thinner was getting pretty dirty from the gray paint I was using for Kharis (this was the Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy version, not the Boris Karloff Im-ho-tep Mummy, you see). Then it hit me like a gallon of tea infused with nine Tana leaves! I called out: "Mom, do we have any old t-shirts?" Like most any other Mom of the era, she didn't throw anything away that wasn't otherwise dead, dangerous, or decaying.

I tore thin strips of the cotton shirt, "painted" them with the thinner that was dirty with rinsing brushes, and -- voila! -- I had my "mummy wrappings". I also brushed the same material onto the broken down temple pillars that were a part of the model base, giving them a nice "antique" appearance.

All in all, I had tons of fun on this kit as I recall fondly, and it was a very exciting few hours -- just what the folks at Aurora were banking on. Unfortunately though, I was a day late and a dollar short as they say, because I missed the deadline to enter my model in the Gilbert's Master Monster Maker Contest! But this minor disappointment didn't dampen my enthusiasm for making monster models and, like a loyal Monster Kid, bought and built each new Aurora kit as they came out over the years.

A Captain Company ad shown in the back pages of
FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #26 (Jan 1964) showing the
newly-introduced Phantom of the Opera model kit.

The Godzilla and King Kong model kits are advertised for the first time in
FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND (Issue #29 July 1964)

One thing that never came to my mind all that time was just exactly how did they actually make these models from start to finish? While I know the parts were cranked out by machine on "parts trees" (technically called "sprue") as they came in the Bama-painted box, I never really considered how they got to that point.

It wasn't until years later (and with the help of the Internet) that the secrets of model making were slowly revealed. Intrepid and loyal Aurora fans even went so far as to track down the producers of these kits, including the sculptors who were responsible for the creation of the figures and how they would look as a finished product.

Aurora Plastics is long gone, but thanks to other model companies like Polar Lights, Playing Mantis and Moebius the original Aurora monster model line was resurrected as well as introducing a few new kits to boot. They are also largely responsible for rekindling the art and craft of model making to a whole new generation of Monster Millennials.

Now at auction are two examples of the earliest steps in the making of the classic Aurora monster models. The prototypes are sculpts done in solid acetate plastic by Larry Ehling. An excellent description of the process is offered by the seller. As of this writing, the bid on the King Kong prototype is $1000 and the bid on the Phantom of the Opera prototype is $500.

Description of King Kong model prototype auction Lot #2301:

9.25" tall hand-carved solid acetate plastic master pattern for Aurora's King Kong model kit. HMS Associates (a product development company) of Willow Grove, PA, was hired by Aurora to create master patterns for two new kits in their expanding line of Universal Monster models (Phantom of the Opera and King Kong), which were introduced in 1964. Both monsters were hand-carved out of solid blocks of acetate plastic by well-known sculptor Larry Ehling, who was then sub-contracting w/HMS. Ehling would carve each piece, then precisely cut it along the "break line," the seams where pieces fit together. After the sculptures were completed (each took between 2-3 weeks to finish and cost $2,000-$3,000), the pieces were sent to another specialty company, Ferriot Brothers, who created the beryllium copper molds by using a pantograph machine which traced over the acetate pieces while a cutter on the other end carved the mold cavity. When completed, both the sculptures and the molds were shipped to Aurora. There, the molds were inserted into injection molding machines and the production process began. Meanwhile, these master patterns were assembled and painted by staff members, then used for catalog photography and other promotional purposes. Offered here is the master pattern prototype for Aurora's King Kong model kit. Underside of base has faint "33353" in black marker. Base has holes for the "King Kong" name plaque and broken trees, etc., but these separate pieces are not included. Kong's mouth is included, but a separate piece made from the same pattern material as the rest of this piece and was painted, just never put in place. Mouth cannot be inserted into opening as Kong's fangs prevent placement. Kong has interesting orange overspray paint job as does the separate small figure of the woman in his hand. This female figure shows a more heavily concentrated orange coating, w/one arm and legs having moderate flaking. Kong figure has some scattered small spots of paint wear, as does base. Still displays VF. A one of a kind piece for the Aurora collector. We sold this in our July 2014 auction for $3,233 and it has been re-consigned to us.












Description of Phantom of the Opera model prototype auction Lot #2302:

Offered here is the 9.25" tall master pattern prototype for Aurora's Phantom of the Opera model kit. Base is complete w/"The Phantom Of The Opera" name plaque, rat, lizard and prisoner behind bars. The Phantom's professional paint job closely matches Aurora's box art, though w/a healthier skin tone than the green-tinted box version. Model is complete w/separate mask but is missing right hand, however still holds mask (if carefully placed) for display purposes and a replacement hand could be easily substituted from a production model. Figure has scattered paint wear, mainly to shirt and on cape at shoulders. Still displays Fine, w/detailed eyes looking terrifying when mask is in place on Phantom's face. A one-of-a-kind piece for the Aurora collector. We sold this in our Nov. 2014 auction for $1,589 and it has been re-consigned to us.









Come back to MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD next week for more Aurora monster model history and nostalgia!

1 comment:

Dr. Theda said...

Impressive and informative post !!

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