LJN's Wrestling Superstars action figures are generally considered the first series of wrestling toys to be marketed to the mainstream internationally. And I'm lucky to have collected them all back in the 1980's! Each month, I'll look at one classic figure and explain what made them so special.
George "The Animal" Steele
Throughout his illustrious wrestling career - which included multiple spots on Tuesday Night Titans, WrestleMania appearances, a romantic storyline with Miss Elizabeth and even a feud with Bruno Sammartino - George "The Animal" Steele never captured a major championship. But that shouldn't really retract from his Hall of Fame-worthy LJN Wrestling Figure, which first hit store shelves in 1985.
Unlike many of the early LJN figures, George Steele was a pretty hard action figure to screw up.
I mean, you sculpt a bald-headed dude with big eyes, bushy eyebrows, a green tongue, and round it out black pants and red kneepads and boots. Done. If you're the bigwigs at LJN and you're planning out your toy line, this is probably one of the simplest (no pun intended) figures in the collection to create.
The one area where LJN kind of shit the bed was on George's trademark chest hair. Yes, they had it, but (at least with my version), they failed to color it in, looking like the poor Animal had some sort of incurable skin disease. I mean, if I were a doctor and had to diagnose whatever the hell is crawling up and down George's midsection here, I'd probably pick some unique strain of tapeworm that managed to multiply itself numerous times over while burrowing deep into his innards. No wonder buddy needed shock therapy.
Thankfully for everyone involved, alternate versions of this figure come complete with colored-in body hair. As though that should have even been OPTIONAL!
As with all of the LJN figures, George didn't have any points of articulation, so positioning his opponent for Steele's patented hammerlock was kind of a chore. Same thing with atomic drops, headlocks.... you name it.
Mind you, it wasn't as though George "The Animal" Steele was known as a technical wrestling master. You could fling him off the ropes at an opponent, and it would seem just as natural as any other type of offense Steele ever delivered.
Just to see what I could come up with here, I positioned Jake "The Snake" Roberts with Steele to see what they could put together, and a poor man's variation of the Dino Bravo side slam was about as fancy as I could get. But the vacant stare on Steele's face while executing said side slam MORE than makes up for his overall technical wrestling prowess, you know?
Besides... I find it hard to believe that anyone ever purchased the George Steele figure to have a competent, catch as catch can guy on your roster. No, you wanted Steele for the HUMAN EMOTION he evoked!
To wit: In the scene to our left, George is very seriously contemplating whether to take "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase's bribe. Will he take the cash and become DiBiase's Million Dollar Animal? Will he punch Ted in the face (unlikely, given he can't move his arms)? Will he eat the money? All options are possible here, and Steele's facial expressions aren't exactly giving the viewer any clues.
And IF Steele takes the greenbacks, would he go to a skin care clinic to get that stuff on his chest looked at?
Too specific a scenario, you say? Fine, here's one more.
Steele's sworn enemy The Warlord (actually, I'm not sure whether they crossed paths, but I could totally see that being taped as a Coliseum Home Video exclusive for a VHS cassette titled "Battle Of The Brawlers!" or somesuch) confronts The Animal in a dingy parking lot somewhere, one that's cleverly disguised as my parent's second basement.
George is confused - who wouldn't be? - and doesn't know how to react. While he contemplates how best to deal with his larger, more muscular foe.... BAM! Mr. Fuji sneaks up from behind, taps Steele on the shoulder. Just as he's about to wallop George with his patented cane, Steele takes the weapon away and threatens to dispose of The Devious One. But he's completely forgotten about The Warlord, and now he's busy getting his ass handed to him.
Why did wrestling fans love George "The Animal" Steele so much? It's possible that his simplistic and one-dimensional approach to the mat gave us fans something to root for. It could be the underdog mentality, too -- sure he was probably never going to score a date with Elizabeth, but there was always a chance... right?
To me - and I may be getting far too psychoanalytical here, especially given I'm talking about a wrestling doll - Steele represented the gut instinct in all of us that few will ever act upon. Someone hits you? You hit them back as hard as you can! Like the pretty manager? Chase that skirt! Hungry for a little turnbuckle? Eat that sumbitch to your heart's content!
George "The Animal" Steele was a great wrestling character, and an even better LJN Wrestling Figure. Welcome to the Hall, George! Who should be inducted next? Share your choice below...