MEGO MUSEUM Interview: Tory Mucaro

By Brian Heiler

We've been blessed at the Mego Museum with the ability to be able to speak with many former Mego employees in the past few years, each offering their own unique view of what it was like to work for the World's Greatest Toy company but never a story quite like Tory Mucaro's. Mego wasn't just a job for Tory, it was his first job! Tory took time out of his busy schedule to paint a picture of being a teen at Mego's research and development department.

Above: Tory provides us with a photo of the prototype for the Mego Enterprise model that he worked on.

Mego Museum: So what is your educational background?

Tory Mucaro:Well, that’s a short story. I basically graduated high school and started working right after that.

Mego Museum: Immediately at Mego?

Tory Mucaro: Yes, well actually, I worked at Mego the summer before I graduated. Between Junior and Senior high school I got a summer job at Mego.

MM: In which Department?

Tory Mucaro: Research and Development, working for [Mego director of design] John McNett. (Editor's note: John McNett and Tory's father Sal had worked together at Remco in the late 1960's before reuniting again at Mego)

MM: So what year would you say that was?

Tory Mucaro: That was the summer of 1978.

MM: So what was the big product line you were working on?

Tory Mucaro: That summer was Buck Rogers. The star fighter picture I sent was my project for most of the summer. You can’t imagine how exciting that was; this was on the heels of Star Wars coming out.

Actually what landed me the job was I had scratch built a little, maybe inch and a half long X Wing Fighter out of some scrap plastic my dad brought home and detailed it, painted it up. My dad brought it and showed it to John and he looked at it and said, “Does he want to work here next summer?” So, I was really juiced on the whole Star Wars thing, they hired me when school was out in June of ’78 and I worked the whole summer at Mego. Making minimum wage but I was learning a lot with all these great designers and model makers they had working there.

MM: So you worked the summer on the Star Fighter?

Tory Mucaro: Well not all summer but a good chunk of it. What happened was the Licensor had sent one of the Studio sized models of the Star Fighter and it came in and was just a mess. Somebody had sprayed the thing with Krylon and it was just dripping, awful.

Plus they had assembled the thing wrong, I guess at this point no publicity shots had been sent to anyone. So somebody had gotten pieces and had glued the wings on wrong. They put the wings that hung down, the landing gear skids, on the top.

So John asked me to strip it down, reassemble it and paint it properly. So my first project was doing that and once that was done they were using it for sales meetings and presentations I guess. They decided they wanted [a star fighter] to be scaled to the figures.

Above: The Buck Rogers Starfighter prototype was one of Tory Mucaro's first jobs at Mego.

MM: They had to scale that down I assume.

Tory Mucaro: Well the studio scale model was close to three feet long; it was a pretty hefty model. I think the one I ended up doing was more like 15 inches long.

MM: Mego advertised those as being taken directly from the blue prints.

Tory Mucaro: Yeah, they might have been, I remember we did have prints. I never had the foresight to save any of that stuff but a friend of mine who is a heavy science fiction collector I believe still has the blueprints for it.

MM: Those sold quite well you must have been really proud.

Tory Mucaro: Oh yeah I was so excited. I worked on the model for the later part of the Summer, the final assembly, I had most of the components done and I had to go back to school, one of the model makers Buddy Vitola took all the stuff I had made up the fuselage, the canopy, the wings everything and he was the one who did the final assembly.

Basically at that point it was like putting an easy model kit together. Seeing it go into production was marvelous,

I also worked on a little jobs over the summer, they took the speed burner motors without any wheels and put them into little ladybug characters. They were called doodlebugs or something like that, seeing those in the stores the following spring was kind of exciting.

MM: So the following year you got in Mego full time?

Tory Mucaro: Actually I worked toy fair, I was off school winter break and I worked toy fair and worked on some projects for them at that point as well.

MM: Do you have any memories of the Mego Toy Fair presentations?

Tory Mucaro: Oh, the toy fairs? I’m sure you’ve heard before that Mego was notorious for hiring the most amazingly beautiful models to demonstrate the toys.

MM: I’ve never heard that, usually folks describe the effort they put into their showrooms.

Tory Mucaro: Oh well, I was looking at it through the eyes of an eighteen year old kid. I would come to the showroom to pick up a broken model for repairs and every station had a different gorgeous woman demonstrating it. Mego was kind of known through the industry for that.

MM: Not a bad thing to be known for.

Tory Mucaro: No, everybody wanted to get into their showroom that’s for sure but the showroom was amazing, they were on the 36th floor, the showroom was on the 37th. They had introduced the Buck Rogers line, Star Trek the Motion Picture. After Mego passed on Star Wars they picked up every sci-fi license.

MM: Do you have any memory of Logan’s Run?

Tory Mucaro: I was in school at that point. A friend of my Dad’s had the prototypes, he came in to visit my father and noticed them, at this point Mego had decided not to go with them so my father just gave them to him [Editor’s note: These are the same figures currently on display at the Museum] My dad started in ’77 and left in 1980, I think.

MM: A great of people seemed to leave by 1980.

Tory Mucaro: I think the writing was on the wall at that point . When I left around the summer of 1980, Bill had taken over R&D and Marty was gone. They had brought in this banker, who was calling all the shots. He was a dollar guy, they let people go and weren’t replacing the folks who were leaving.

When they announced the change, we were in a meeting in a conference room and when we got back all the designers ran to their phones calling headhunters looking for jobs. They lost a lot of good designers after that change, guys like Steve Hodges.

MM: He’s well known for his Micronauts designs.

Tory Mucaro: Steve was just a blast to work with funny, creative and mellow but man could he draw. His renderings were just amazing. I used to love to sneak out visit his cubicle and watch him render. When they were doing the additions to the Micronauts figures and they came out with Lobstros and Kronos, they were also talking about additional characters including female figures.

MM: Really?

Tory Mucaro: Yeah, Steve was doing a lot of female renderings at the time, he could draw boy, gorgeous! They had so much talent at Mego, the word got out very soon that it was a great place to work. John McNett used to really encourage freedom and creativity, that was really his thing. He had a philosophy, if he made a place great for creative people to work, you’ll attract the best people in the business.

MM: It seems to be a consensus among former Mego employees that is was a great place to work.

Tory Mucaro: This was my first job and everyone used to tell me "You’ll never have a better job than this" and I was having a blast but I had nothing to compare it to. I thought "everything is going to be like this" and it sure as hell wasn’t (laughs) [Mego] was most decide ably the most fun job I’ve ever had. You’d look forward to it, there were days when you’d be working on something exciting and five o’clock would come and you’d say "I can’t stop" and you’d stay til six just to finish up because you were enjoying it so much.

MM: So when you got made full time, what were your projects then?

Tory Mucaro: That would have been ’79, I worked on the RC Blimp.

MM: That project is somewhat infamous.

Tory Mucaro: (laughs) Yeah, when we heard we were going to be working on it, just the logistics of selling helium to the general public to fill the thing. We showed it at toy fair and it had it’s own room, we had to block off any heating and cooling ducts because any air would over power the ability for the little propellers to make it move. So, it was basically a stillroom, there could be no air movement but even the RC at the time was very sensitive to being in doors and due to the metal structure of the building the signal wasn’t always getting through. I just remember it performing really, really poorly at toy fair, just kind of floating there. It was an ambitious project.

MM: Any other memories of projects?

Tory Mucaro: The 12" Buck Rogers, all those accessories the guns, the swords, the headgear on Draco, I did all the models on those.

MM: Any idea who sculpted the 3 3/4" figures for Buck Rogers?

Tory Mucaro: Looking at the sculpts, it was either Bill Lemon or Ray Myers.

Ray was basically a similar sculptor as Bill, he would do all pattern work in acetate. Oh, I just clicked on the Star Trek page of the 1980 Catalog, those models are mine. I didn’t actually carve the models, the patterns are done by I believe, ILM and they sent us the patterns and we poured molds and assembled and painted them for the catalog for the showroom. The Vulcan and Shuttle and sled in the catalog picture is painted Krylon Beige, I remember the name I used to spray that. We didn’t have great painting abilities; we were in an office building so we’d buy Krylon rattle cans.

Above: The Star Trek: The Motion Picture Enterprise Model Prototype, photo by Tory Mucaro..

MM: Model kits were an interesting step for Mego.

Tory Mucaro: Even the star fighter, I remember John McNett saying he wanted to do it as a model kit; he had me do some sketches of part break downs of how the star fighter might be as a model kit. That was shot down pretty quickly and they decided to make it an assembled toy. Mego didn’t do well with kits. I don’t recall seeing production on those things.

MM: Do you have any recollection of working on the Star Trek Bridge Play set.

Tory Mucaro: Oh Yeah, that was all vacuform (laughs) we all looked at it and recognized it as crap when we were working on it. I said "why do we want to do this in vacuform" they said "Because it’s cheap".

MM: Mego did the Buck Rogers and Batman playsets in VacuForm that year.

Tory Mucaro: Yeah they were experimenting with inexpensive ways to do large sized play sets without tooling and injection molding but yeah I remember looking at it and thinking “this looks like hell, if the housing has to vac-form at least let’s do the seats and the consoles”. We didn’t do the patterns; the vac-form shots came in from one of the outside sources they used, which was HMS, Paramount or Product Dynamics. There was another place in Jersey Mego used to farm work out to a place called Consolidated Prototypes.

MM: Any other recollections?

Tory Mucaro: I did work on Dukes of Hazzard, that's one of my favourite Mego stories. When [Mego] was doing Dukes of Hazzard, they had the figures sculpted and they wanted to do a General Lee, they didn't want to spend money at that point. I'll never forget the day they came to me with the Torino from Starsky and Hutch and asked me if I could make it look like the General Lee!

I remember after about twenty minutes of laughing I said " Are you kidding me?" and they said "No seriously, we want to see if just painting it orange and putting the flag and the numbers and the name on it is going to be good enough." I wish I had a picture of that but I don't but I went through the excercise.

MM: That's something Mego collectors ask all the time.

Tory Mucaro: Really? I remember thinking, at the time I was a real gear head, that this is stupid, it doesn't even come close. Here I had an orange Torino with a confederate flag and an 01 at the side and General Lee and it just looked like a Ford Torino to me. Eventually I guess they just patterened up a new Car.

MM:They never did a car for the 8" line, just the smaller figures.

Tory Mucaro: Oh, I thought they had. I'm here to tell you though that Mego painted the Torino and I'm the guy who did it. It went to a product development meeting and it got shot down. As far as I was concerned, it looked ridiculous but maybe a kid wouldn't have noticed.

MM: Did Mego go into Dukes knowing it was a potential hit?

Tory Mucaro: To be honest with you, I don't know. So many licenses [Mego just} grabbed, I think it was the law of averages. You take enough licenses one or two of them are likely to be a big hit but I have to believe they hoped for it to be a hit but nobody said "We know this one if going to be [big]."

Mego had the CB McHaul line, which did well while the whole trucking thing was hot and I think they wound up recycling the police car from that [for DOH].

MM: I always thought Mego would have recycled the McHaul line into BJ and the Bear.

Tory Mucaro: I think we did, it may have been for an internal meeting but I swear we painted up one of the CB McHaul trucks like BJ and the Bear, the rig that he was using. I don't know if it got any further than that.

MM: Still it seems logical that they would try.

Tory Mucaro: You have the molds and the tooling, it's almost nothing to get it into production , it's just color and deco changes.

MM: Any memories of the Block Hole?

Tory Mucaro: Oh yeah, that was fun, the only Black Hole product that I worked on was an electronics game, a little hand held unit. I worked on the photography model.

The figures I thought were really well done, I have a prototype of old B.O.B knocking around somewhere. I'm sure I have it because at that point I was dating the girl who I would eventually marry who was now my wife, I used to bring stuff home for her all the time. These were little treats for her so she saved them all these years. So these have little sentimental attachments.

MM: Mego prototypes seem to rarely surface, it seems like a lot of it was just given to children.

Tory Mucaro: Yeah, I was bringing home stuff constantly that basically being saved from the garbage. Those of us that had any interest at all would salvage what we could, I know my wife has Old B.O.B and the other thing that she saved from all these years from when we did Black Hole , at that point we had a couple of on staff sculptors, Ron Shrewby was one Jim Hughes was another and Ron had sculpted Ernest Borgnine's likeness. Once molds were made and castings were sent, the clays just laid around and I asked Ron if it was anything he wanted. He said no, so I have the original plastiline sculpt of the Ernest Borgnine head.

The likeness is spot on; that was one of the things Ron did really well was capture character likeness.

MM: Were you involved at all at the time with Moonraker?

Tory Mucaro: A little bit, the glastron boat that has a chase scene, I don't know if it got into production

MM: None of the vehicles made it to the marketplace to my knowledge.

Tory Mucaro: If you remember the movie, there was one scene they were going through South America and [James Bond] in this grey little speedboat. The boat goes over the falls and the top becomes a hang glider, they wanted to do a toy of that. We had worked on a prototype of that speedboat complete with a glider top that was scaled for the 3 3/4" figures, which I guess never materialized.

MM: I've seen images of a comic action Superman painted to look like he was in a tuxedo.

Tory Mucaro: That doesn't surprise me (laughs). [Moonraker] was something that we worked on but it was one of those licenses that we grabbed when it came available but later thought the better of it and decided not to move ahead with the product? I remember a prototype of the shuttle kicking around but I didn't work on that.

MM: Did you have any input on lines such as the Micronauts?

Tory Mucaro:The only project I worked on the Micronauts was the rocket tubes, I'm sure you've heard every story imaginable. What's sad with the roacket tubes was that the prototype came in from an inventor and it worked beautifully. It was an absolute amazing thing to watch. We all got called up to Marty Abrams office where it was set up because Marty was so excited he had the whole R & D staff run up to his office and had the inventor demonstrate it to us.

The decision was it would be great for the futuristic Micronauts. As we got into developing it, at one point, when it was the inventors item it was a tube, they decided to change it to a hexagon which is what it went into production with. The person said "Why does it have to be round" and of course, Hexagon has that futuristic look about it. The problem was on a round tube, the little inserts flying through the tubes were round so the point of contact was one point, on a hexagon the little inserts were haexagon shaped, so they were dragging on the bottom and it didn't have the power.

So when we started developing the prototypes, they weren't moving so [someone] in defense bought an industrial strength blower and said "See it works". It works but we can't do that in production, it's a $150 machine hooked up to it. For some reason we decided to go ahead with it and it just never worked.

I had made up a couple of prototype vehicles of vehicles that were going to through and then of course, the idea was to make a vehicle that could put a micronaut inside but the weight was too much so they made a character.

It was a comedy of errors, it mas a mistake to go with the hexagon shape, it was another bad decision to not have it extruded, to just have it two pieces of injection molded plastic clamped together.

MM: The box was very fragile as well.

Tory Mucaro: Yeah, a lot of the product was being damaged in stores but the original model, I remember working beautifuly and all it was was two disks connected to a rod, it looked like a spindle. Those disks flew through those tubes, it was sight to behold and unfortunately it never made it to production.

MM:The commerical for Rocket Tubes is fantastic.

Tory Mucaro: Well, I think they used that industrial strength blower in the commercial to make them float.

MM: Did you have any input on the Pocket Superheroes Line?

Tory Mucaro: No, none whatsoever. I didn't get involved too much in any of the Superheroes, the only superhero project I worked on a little bit was when they were going to do diecast superheroes.

MM: They did come out with those.

Tory Mucaro: I remember them they did Spider-man, Hulk, they never went ahead with the Captain America right?

MM: I didn't even know about that.

Tory Mucaro: Yeah, up until a few years ago I had a casting laying around. I misplaced it and haven't found it since. The patterns came in and one of my jobs was to pour rubber molds and make castings to be painted for samples. We did do a Captain America but I guess it never went into production, one was definitely sculpted.

MM: That's too bad, do you know who sculpted those?

Tory Mucaro: I think those are either Bill Lemon or Ray Myers, I'm pretty sure those came in as acetates.

MM: They were really well done figures.

Tory Mucaro: Well those two guys, they are famous for all the work they did for Aurora years before, all the superheroes and monster kits. They were pretty well established by the time they were at Mego. Infact, I was looking around your website and the radio control car Mego did?

MM: The Dune Machine.

Tory Mucaro: Yes the Dune Machine, the figure in that car was sculpted by Bill Lemon. I remember that acetate coming in. That was neat because it had the pnumatic tires which was something new and the speaker to make real car sounds.

I remember the engineer that worked on it, Guy Von Tempe, he was a character. If you talk to designers, they'll tell you some funny stories about Guy. He was this Italian engineer but he worked in R &D and he had done a lot of the work for the dune machine. He at one time claimed to be a race car driver for Ferrari, we were never able to verify it. He was fun to listen to with his heavy accent and his flamboyant ways.

For the speed burner line, they came up with a parking garage play set. It basically a spiral and it had an elevator in the middle, it was consumer assembled. We got a letter from an irrate father, we had it hanging in R&D. This poor soul talked about how he bought one for his kid and spent all of Christmas Eve, into the night trying to assemble this piece of crap, although I think he used harsher language than that. I remember a lot of "F Bombs" in that letter, you had to feel sorry for the guy but it was just so funny how angry he was to have taken the time to sit down and type out a letter and mail it in with his anger and frustration.

MM: Did they take care of him?

Tory Mucaro: I have to believe, the letter came through customer service. They must have sent as much as they could to make him happy. It was a terrible piece of junk that play set. Even a lot of the micronaut stuff I remember some of the engineering on it was pretty flimsy.

MM: The Mego made stuff I'm assuming.

Tory Mucaro: The Takara stuff was well done, once we started doing our own stuff. Again, everything kind of got cheapened out toward the end.

MM: Do you remember anything about the Micronaut pieces with the Superhero logos on them.

Tory Mucaro: No, it doesn't ring a bell.

MM: I'm under the assumption that these were things Lion Rock did on their own.

Tory Mucaro: It's possible, they had their own thing going on.

MM: Are you surprised about how collectible Mego has become?

Tory Mucaro: Yes, I'm as surprised as anybody who worked there at the time. I guess it's a cyclical thing, people who this stuff as kids eventually become nostalgic and eventually want to relive their childhood. I wish I had saved more of the stuff I had, I never thought it would be worth anything. I'm sure other people that worked in those places feel that way too. Nobody ever really saw the writing on the wall.

MM: Did you keep anything?

Tory Mucaro: Not really, maybe the odd Black Hole figure, for some reason I thought those might be collectible because the movie was such a terrible flop. We didn't make a lot of them, they didn't sell very well, I'm sure most of them were dumped.

After Mego, Tory Mucaro continues his work in the toy industry and now resides at Fisher Price, now a division of Mattel.