Terrible Lizard! the Dinosaur as Plaything

By Tanner, Ron | Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Terrible Lizard! the Dinosaur as Plaything


Tanner, Ron, Journal of American & Comparative Cultures


Dinosaurs were the strangest animals that ever lived.

-Roy Chapman Andrews

Without question, the popularity of dinosaurs and dinosaur toys has never been greater than now, at the turn of the second millennium. Visit any American toy store and you will find boxes, sets, and bags of dinosaur figures by Bully, Playvisions, Safari, PlaySkool, Battat, Kenner, Resaurus, Playmates, K & M International, Galileo, and Microverse-to name only some of the manufacturers-not to mention dinosaurian plush animals, games, puzzles, stickers, mobiles, models, and so on ad infinitum. Stephen Jay Gould concludes that the key to understanding the current popularity of dinosaurs, as reflected by the landslide of dinosaur-related products, "resides in promotion, not new knowledge" (14). By all accounts, children and adults have found dinosaur remains and dinosaur representations (models, etc.) fascinating ever since the first life-sized models of dinosaurs were built in the mid-nineteenth century. Near-complete fossil skeletons were fairly common by 1900, and soon the dinosaur entered the public imagination in a big way: in popular art, in fiction, in film, even as front-page headlines in the newspapers of the day.1 And yet dinosaur toys do not appear in any significant number until after World War II. If children, during the first half of the twentieth century, were attracted to lead, celluloid, wood, and plush figures of every kind, including jungle animals, why were virtually none of these dinosaurs?

The surprisingly persistent absence of dinosaurs as playthings-long after their entrance into public education and entertainment-is a mystery worthy of investigation since, as Roland Barthes observed, "toys always mean something, and this something is . . . entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or techniques of modern adult life" (53). The acceptance of the dinosaur as a cultural artifact-a toy-was a convoluted, complicated process and, as I will show, it describes a 200-year history of cultural change in America and the Western world.

Mr. & Mrs. Popularity

During the nineteenth century, geologists-soon to be called paleontologists-dug up fossils in increasing number, especially in the American West.2 In 1912, only a few years after some of the most spectacular fossil finds, American cartoonist Winsor McCay drew, produced, and distributed one of America's first cartoon shorts, "Gertie the Dinosaur," which he also presented in a stage show. So new were dinosaurs to the public that McCay's advertisements strove to educate the audience in advance: "According to science this monster [a brontosaurus] once ruled this planet," one flyer announced. "Skeletons now being unearthed measuring from 90 ft. to 160 ft. in length. An elephant should be a mouse beside Gertie." The show's enormous success compelled McCay to release the cartoon to theaters in 1914 and then to produce a sequel, "Gertie on Tour," in 1915. Two years after McCay's first appearance with Gertie, Willis O'Brien, an experimental animator, made a novelty film that showed the claymation antics of a brontosaurus. This won him studio backing to make, in 1917, a novelty feature (of animated puppets) entitled The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, which showcased, among other things, a fight to the death between an apeman and a brontosaurus. Ultimately it was purchased and distributed by the Thomas A. Edison Company, which suggests the short's wide appeal. Other O'Brien-animated films followed, culminating in the relatively sophisticated 1925 film, The Lost World, based on Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name, which recounts the discovery of dinosaurs thriving today on a remote Amazonian plateau. Cartoons of the silent era, such as 1925's "Felix The Cat Trifles With Time," featured dinosaurs. Pulp novelists, too, found prehistoric life rich with possibilities, as did artists of pulp magazines. In short, by the mid-1920s, dinosaurs loomed large in the imagination of the American public. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Terrible Lizard! the Dinosaur as Plaything
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.