In Search of the "Holy Grail" of Hulk
A fanatic's story
By John "Mego Stretch Hulk" Cimino
In Christmas of 1977 I was 4 years old. I can remember my older brother Carlo opening up a present and getting this cool looking new toy called Stretch Armstrong. Then I would rip open one of my presents and it contained a creature called the Stretch Monster (Mr. Armstrong's arch-enemy). I loved how he felt and stretched, he was so much fun! These two toys left a big impression on me at this time because I really can't remember anything else that we got that day. As it turned out, these two toys didn't last very long. My older cousin Bill stretched Mr. Armstrong a tad to far and my uncle Salvator tied Mr. Monster a bit too tight (I remember crying to my father). I would soon go onto other toys, but I always remembered those stretch figures being very, very cool.
Two years later in 1979, superhero toys were everywhere you looked (this was the greatest year for toys ever IMHO). And the leader of this superhero toy revolution was Mego Corp and their "World's Greatest Superheroes" toy line. Kids went nuts for these toys and ate up everything that was put out. There were a ton of figures (Hulk, Spider-man, Superman, Thor, etc.) and accessories to choose from. All the kids in my neighborhood had at least one figure.
During this time while watching Saturday morning cartoons I came across a commercial that showed a brand new toy line out in stores by Mego Corp, the "Elastic" Superheroes! I can remember kids on the tube stretching Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Plastic man and my favorite superhero of all…the Hulk! They looked so awesome, so chubby, so cute and they stretched (years later I thought they reminded me of drawings by Jack Kirby with their soft, pudgy bodies and overall look)!! I was literally in awe by these toys! Just then, I remembered my Stretch Monster from a few years earlier and thought, WOW!! A stretch Hulk now exists?? I can't believe it! I had to have one.
I would go with my mother Orietta from time to time to department stores (Zayers, Caldors and Bradlees) and never come across them.
One day my aunt Connie came by for a visit and took my brother and myself to Osco Drugs to spoil us on some toys. When we got there, I ran down to the toy aisle in hoping to find those blasted stretch figures that seemed to elude me. And there they were (my heart began to race) the Mego Elastic figures for only 11.99; Superman, Batman, Plastic man, Spider-man and…What? No Hulk? For some reason he was the only one missing. I couldn't believe my luck, I was disappointed but I had to have one so I got a Spider-man figure.
The Spider-man stretch lasted me only about a week before he began to leak. I told my mother about this and she said that we were going to return it. She put the damaged Spidey into its box and took me back to Osco Drugs with her to exchange it for another one (this was the first time I found out what receipts do). When I went back to the toy aisle I was hoping to find a Hulk figure, but he was still missing…UGH! All the other stretch figures were still there so I just got another Spider-man.
As we were driving back home, my mother decided to make a pit stop at the CVS down the street. As I walked in with her, I looked up and there it was, the Mego Elastic Hulk, an entire row of them for 12.99 each!! I couldn't believe it! Years later I found out that Mego Corp distributed the Hulk figure separately from the other figures in the set due to the popularity of the Hulk live-action series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno that was all the rage in the late 70's (which is also why he had a different color box from the others)!! But this didn't help my current situation!! I begged my mom to buy it for me, she said no, she said that I just got the same toy in the car. I told her that the Hulk was the one that I wanted. But my mother (being right off the boat from Honduras) could never understand my dilemma. To her a superhero was the same as any other and a toy is a toy with no difference at all. I knew she wasn't going to budge. So I began to pace up and down the aisle just staring at all those stretch Hulk's. I knew I couldn't leave this store empty handed. So I grabbed one of the Hulk's off the shelf and preyed my hand into the box taking the purple pants that came with the figure. For those of you who don't know, the Elastic Hulk and Spider-man came with pants that were placed in front of the figure rather than on it so my little hand just slipped in under the plastic and out with the pants. I put it in my pocket as we left the store (my mom would've killed me if she knew).
I would put the purple pants on the stretch Spider-man figure and pretend that it was the Hulk, but this just didn't work. The next day in school I got some green construction paper and drew an image of the stretch Hulk figure on it. I then cut out the image (which was the exact size as the actual figure) and placed the purple pants on it pretending that it was the real stretch Hulk toy (I was obsessed). This seemed to ease my frustration a little, but it didn't last long. Eventually I lost the pants, the image and I don't even remember what happened to my Spider-man figure. After a while my desire for the stretch Hulk eased (even though I saw the Elastic figures toy ad in a comic book every now and then that kept me dreaming of it).
One day during the early 80's my family went to visit some friends that lived in the same town as us in Waltham Massachusetts. My brother and I had fun playing with their son Frankie. Frankie was a little younger than me (maybe 5 at this time) and even though he went to a different school and had different friends, we were close. I remember on this visit going into a closet looking for something. When I looked down I saw it, the Mego Stretch Hulk figure! I couldn't believe my eyes!! Here was the toy I wanted so badly a few years back!! I took it in my hands and squeezed its soft body and then smelled its latex skin. Here it was, in the palm of my hands, the Mego Elastic Hulk!! I took the figure with me and asked Frankie if he would trade it for some of my other toys. He said that I could just have it because he knew how much I loved the Hulk. I couldn't believe it at long last the stretch Hulk was mine (I held it close for the rest of the night). When it was time to leave, my mother saw me with this toy and asked me why I had it. I told her that Frankie gave it to me. But she said that I wasn't supposed to take anyone else's toys and so I had to give it back, I was crushed.
By the mid 80's I once again forgot about the stretch Hulk. I was into Professional Wrestling and Hulk Hogan so I collected those LJN rubber wrestling figures. At this time my family would spend their weekends and summers in Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod. I would sometimes hang out with Frankie (our families both had summer houses there) and a few others and we would fake wrestle all day long. One Sunday during September, Frankie asked me if I would trade him my Paul Orndorff figure (he was pretty rare) for something. I thought about it for a second and then I asked him if he still had that stretch Hulk figure from a few years back. He said that he did but it leaked because of all the stretching he had done to it over the years. I didn't care. I just wanted that toy. Frankie said that he would love to trade it but he would have to give it to me when he went back to Waltham the next day. I was so excited!! Once again my desire for this Hulk toy erupted!!! I gave him the Paul Orndorff figure on the spot and said that I would pick up the stretch Hulk after school on Monday. He told me to come on Wednesday because his parents wouldn't be home (they hated when Frankie gave people his things). I said that it was alright and I would be there right after school on Wednesday.
Monday and Tuesday took forever to get through. It was so hard for me to sleep at night because I was so excited to finally get my hands on that ever elusive stretch Hulk toy. When Wednesday finally did come I could barely make it through school. At 3:30 I ran out the door and began to run to Frankie's house in the frigid rain (his house was down the street from my school). I was soaked when I got to his house but I didn't care. I saw his older sister, Clara putting out the trash (it was trash pick-up day) and I asked her if Frankie was home. She said that he just left with his mother and he would be back tonight. I asked her if he left anything for me, she said no (I couldn't tell her what I was looking for because I feared that she would tell her mom and ruin our trade). My heart sank as I scanned the drive way and saw nothing. I was disappointed when I began to walk home.
I called Frankie's house from time to time that day with no answer. Finally at night I got in touch with him. I asked Frankie what happened and he told me that he had a doctor's appointment he forgot about and had to leave. He said that he tried to put the Hulk figure in his sister's car for me to pick up but she went nuts because she thought the corn syrup that it was leaking would ruin her interior. So she decided to throw it in the trash and he couldn't do anything about it (he was such a wimp). I couldn't believe my bad luck!!! A Mego Elastic Hulk destroyed in some city dump. And the worst part of it was that I got there just after Frankie left and his sister was throwing out the stretch Hulk right under my nose!!!!!!!!! AAARRRGGHHH!! I was devastated by this and I told Frankie to give back my Paul Orndorff figure tomorrow or else and he did.
Over the next twelve years I collected comics every month and went to conventions from time to time picking up rare items and toys (always keeping my eye out for that stretch Hulk). I was now starting to amass a pretty big collection. When I moved out of my parents for school and an apartment, I would keep my collection in their attic. Every time I got new stuff I would drive to their house and put it away, so whatever it was wouldn't get ruined. During this period in my life I traveled around the country a lot with my band so my obsession waned (I also had to focus on bodybuilding and girls).
I settled in Worcester Mass for a while and worked for a big comic store (it was fun as hell). This is where I discovered a new website called Ebay. You could buy and bid on things that you just couldn't find anywhere else. It was like being at a universal yard sale/auction for hard to find Hulk toys. I went nuts and started to buy everything I saw (things were so much cheaper back then). I upgraded toys I already had and bought new ones (even those I remembered my mom wouldn't buy for me). I soon moved to Manchester New Hampshire, worked in a hospital and finally bought a computer of my own. My collecting went into overdrive now because I was buying so much superhero memorabilia on a daily basis that I needed an entire room to fit everything. As always I was on the lookout for that stretch Hulk. I knew that an auction for one had to show up someday and I was going to be ready.
It was the morning of June 2000. I turned on the computer, went to Ebay and did my daily search for a stretch Hulk. I logged it in and expected not to see any results and then…there it was a stretch Hulk!!!!!!!!! I almost fell out of my seat! It was so perfect and mint in the box and…What!! This was a totally different stretch Hulk. It wasn't the stretch figure made by Mego! It was made by a company called Denys Fisher! The box was yellow and this Hulk figure seemed to be a little slimmer than the one that I remembered. Then it hit me, OH MY GOD!!! THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT STRETCH HULKS IN THE WORLD!!! And I didn't know about it!! How could this be?
I needed some answers!
I spoke with collectors that I knew from over the years and eventually found out that this stretch Hulk was an extremely rare piece. Denys Fisher was a company in Europe licensed under Kenner; they produced the Stretch Armstrong and Stretch Monster figures overseas. This Hulk was said to be sold only out of either Kays or Freemans mailorder cataloges back in 1979. Only a small amount made their debute in some local UK stores. One of these stores was in fact called Asda Supermarket in Doncaster England. The Hulk had a price tag of only 8.99 (about 15.00 in U.S. currency at the time).
This new stretch Hulk that was in front of me on the computer screen was even harder to locate than the Mego Hulk that has escaped me for over twenty years! It was in such perfect shape; an absolute flawless box, the Hulk figure itself was like new (soft with great skin), the directions and black coffin with lid were also perfect. I later found out that the owner got it when he was a kid and his family took him on a vacation to Europe. He wasn't a big Hulk fan at the time but he thought that it looked cool. When he got the toy home, he just opened it once, looked at the figure and put it away for years forgetting about it. It amazes me even today how a kid could even resist to pull or tug at a stretch figure (I know I couldn't have resisted the temptation when I was five). All I knew now was that I had to get this toy at all costs!!
I put in my maximum bid in at 1,000 dollars, hoping it would be enough to scare off any potential collector threats. The auction was a week long and I sighed because I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep because of my crazy compulsion for this toy. The week dragged on and on, I drove myself crazy thinking that something would go wrong or someone would outbid me. I found myself waking up at in the middle of the night just staring at the computer screen and praying. If you asked me a question at this time, no matter what it was, my answer would always be…the Denys Fisher Stretch Hulk (I was totally gone from reality). Finally the time came for the end of the auction. I remember it was around 1:00 in the morning and I was wide awake staring at the screen. 5 minutes left and then the bids started to come. The price for this toy began at 300.00 and moved up to, 440.00 then 976.50, then 1,235.00 (oh my god, I was being over bid) my heart began to pound. With 5 seconds left I put in another maximum bid in at 10,000.00 and won the auction at 3,550.00!! The battle was finally over and I won the friggin' war!!!!!
I sent out my payment by Paypal for the stretch Hulk right after the auction ended, I wanted the package to be insured and delivered in overnight express. I've waited long enough for this toy and I wanted it now!!! The seller was such a professional and did everything right so I gave him 100.00 because he made me so happy. I also called into work the next day because I wanted to be home when the figure was getting dropped off by the mail man. Finally when the package did come on Tuesday at 10:34 AM I hugged the mail man and I gave him 20.00 because he dropped it off so early in the day. Once I closed the door behind me I put the package on the table and just stared at it. The stretch Hulk was in my apartment and finally came home to poppa, I fell to the floor and sobbed like a baby for at least 5 minutes. When I finally managed the strength to open the package and hold the stretch Hulk and box in my hands, I just couldn't believe how perfect it was.
The previous owner barely touched it and it really showed. I cried a little more before I placed it at the center of my collection. I called all my friends to tell them the news and most of them just didn't get it (my best friend Al responded by saying "Don't you already have that?"). But I didn't care, as long as I had this stretch Hulk I was doing fine. I knew this stretch Hulk was pretty rare but I didn't know just how rare. In the next few months I found out that only about an estimated 15-20 Hulks are left in existence in various conditions. One collector said that I had the "Holy Grail" of Hulk memorabilia. WOW!! I had a huge Hulk/vintage Marvel collection but I also had the most sought after Hulk toy in existence.
This has been proven true to this day because I was offered 7,000.00 for it in 2001 by a "big time" Hulk collector in California, the previous owner contacted me again and offered me 10,000.00 for it in 2002 (he said that he missed the toy and asked me if the "nostalgia" had worn off yet). For someone who loved the Hulk and stretch figures so much, it was only fitting that I got the finest stretch toy and Hulk piece around. Okay, I had the Denys Fisher Stretch Hulk in my collection, so how come I was still thinking of the Mego Elastic Hulk figure?
Over the next year as I became more obsessed, my collection got even bigger. I had the entire comic runs of the Hulk, Spider-man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Thor and just about every key Marvel Silver and Bronze Age issue you could ever think of (I had about 25 long comic boxes). I had so much vintage 60's and 70's Marvel memorabilia, magazines, and art that I didn't know where to put everything.
Some of the key pieces to my collection was the 1967 Marx Marvel Tin Train (probably the most sought after 60's Marvel piece around), the original art for Journey into Mystery (vol.1) #112 page 1 by Jack Kirby and Chic Stone, the Amico 1979 Hulk stunt cycle mint in the box (the only one of two left in existence), the Mego Elastic Spider-man, Superman, Batman, and Plastic man all mint in the box (who would've thought I would get all the other stretch figures before I got the Hulk figure), a prototype of a Marvel 70's weeble wabble set that never saw the light of day (this was cute as hell), original Jim Steranko Hulk art from 1969, the box for a never made Hulk Atari video game from the early 80's, a 1967 mint in the box Captain Action Spider-man outfit from Ideal, a bunch of Marvel 60's t-shirts and sweatshirts, the Hulk pinball machine from 1979, the Grover Toys version of the Hulk Rage Cage from 1979 (this was a limited smaller version of the Hulk Rage Cage made by Fun stuff), the Spider-man and Thor inflatable pillow cases from the 60's (still in the package), the Mego "Comic Action Heroes" Green Goblin Mangler mint in the box from 1975 (very rare piece), a bunch of boxed and carded mint 8" Mego figures and accessories including Thor, Conan, Superman, Shazam, Iron man (even the mega-rare carded version), Hulk (boxed and all the carded versions including the Palitoy card, plus the 12"figure), Spider-man (plus 3 different carded and boxed versions of the 12" figure and the crazy rare 8" carded Fist Fighter from Europe), Captain America (also a boxed 12" figure), Batman (regular and removable cowl version), Aquaman vs the great white shark play set (super rare Mego toy), the Teen Titans (all carded and very, very rare), the list just goes on and on.
You could name just about any Hulk toy, action figure, game, ad, costume, puzzle, coloring book, poster, record, car, model, etc. from the 60's thru the 2000's and chances are that I had it and it was probably mint in the box!!! I turned down local newspapers and famous toy magazines for interviews and publication because I didn't want many people to know about the collection I had (it was now closing in on 5,000 pieces). I was a respected collector who rarely ever lost an auction on Ebay. And even after all this I still didn't have the Mego Elastic Hulk figure. But that was finally about to change.
I got a call from a friend of mine named Dana who worked for a toy dealer based on the internet. He said that his company was doing a major deal with an (extremely rich) psychiatrist that collected every single toy line from the mid 70's until the late 80's. Yes, you heard that right, this doctor (I'm keeping his name private) had just about every single toy from this time period! He would buy the toys in bulk and just store it away in his mansion and TWO warehouses (and I thought I had a big collection). You name it; Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rainbow Bright, G.I. Joe, etc. this guy had it all.
Dana said to me that this guy may have a Mego Stretch Hulk somewhere in his collection. I wanted this guy's number right away but Dana couldn't give it to me because they had a confidentiality agreement, plus this guy was very private and did things very slowly. Dana told me he would keep in touch with me and if this guy ever came across the Hulk figure he would call me. What could I do? I knew Dana would've given me the number if he could but business was business and there was nothing that he could do.
I spoke with Dana a few times in the following months with no luck. This guy had so much stuff that he didn't know where anything was. He would just bring over boxes full of toys in a van and whatever he had at that given time was what they had to work with. About a month after this I gave Dana a call to check up on the Hulk situation and he told me that he had bad news. He told me that the doctor thought he was getting ripped off by the toy company and pulled out of their deal. Dana said that the guy was totally unreasonable, he wanted so much money for toys that had little to no value. When the doctor was told this, he pulled out right away. Dana said that he didn't have the heart to tell me because he knew how bad I wanted that stretch Hulk.
AAARRGGHH!! This was not going to happen to me again! If this psychiatrist had a Mego Elastic Hulk in mint condition, I had to have it. I begged Dana for his number and after an hour of pleading he finally gave it to me knowing that he could've gotten into trouble from his work (I'll always love you for that bro). I knew this doctor/toy collector was tough, but I had a plan.
I had a friend, Meghan (who had a sweet innocent voice) call the number and ask for the doctor. Meghan spoke with his wife and told her about a surprise party that she was throwing a close friend (me) and it would be such an honor if she could have her husband sell her the stretch Hulk figure so she could give it to me as a present. This woman said that it would be her pleasure but she had to ask her husband about it first (the funny thing was that she even knew where the Hulk figure was located).
A few hours later the woman called Meghan back and told her that her husband said it would be fine, they just wanted to find out how much it was worth and then sell it as soon as they could. Step one of my plan was complete. I knew a girl calling with a good cause would be the right move because I would've been too anxious and possibly spoiling the deal. The doctor's wife called Meghan the next day and said that they would sell it for 300.00 dollars (that was such a steal), they would send it overnight free of charge.
Once again I sent the money out by Paypal to the doctor's account and called into work so I could be there in the morning when the package arrived. Finally the quest for my "Holy Grail" was complete. The next morning I waited and then waited and waited and waited. The package never came. I thought maybe it was just a delay and it was going to show up tomorrow. I called into work again and still no package was delivered. I couldn't believe it! Even after the 3rd day there was no package. After an entire week of waiting I was beginning to think I was cursed. I didn't know what to do so finally I had Meghan call the doctor again to see what had happened to the Hulk figure.
As it turned out the couple went away on a week long cruise and forgot to send it out. The lady felt terrible that she made such a mistake and promised to send it out the next day. Was this really going to be the end of this horrible 22 year journey?? I've waited so long and experienced so much heartache for this toy that I didn't bother to call into work. But when I got home later that day, there it was a beautiful cardboard package that contained the real "Holy Grail" for me.
My heart raced as I once again cried like a baby (for at least 10 minutes). I finally opened the package and saw the Mego Elastic Hulk figure, but to my dismay it was missing the box and the figure itself had leaked and was stuck in the styrofoam case to never be picked up...UGH!!! I was a little disappointed but how could I complain, I finally had the figure. I later found out that the doctor kept this toy in a non-heated wearhouse for years and the constant hot and cold weather destroyed its latex skin. I said to myself that if I was destined to have this toy and it had to be in this condition I would still grateful.
Within the next few years, things slowed down for me and my Marvel memorabilia compulsion (after everything that I've accumulated what was left for me to get). By the end of 2003 I stopped collecting comics on a monthly basis because they just didn't seem as fun as they used to be for me (I'll always believe that the 60's thru mid 80's were the greatest time for comics IMHO). I moved back to Waltham (it took three trips with a 14 foot U-haul to bring my collection home).
I eventually decided my collection was to big and it had to finally go (I was soooo tired of lugging it around). I decided to get a lot of money by selling it off to the highest bidder. Many big time comic and toy collectors came from all over the country to check out the collection and give me an offer. In the end I went with a company from New York that gave me a hefty fee none of the others could match (the heroes I've been dedicated to over the years finally gave me something back). Don't worry folks I did keep about 150 vintage pieces of my collection, especially the Mego and Denys Fisher Stretch Hulks (how could I let those go).
The moment that changed my life forever was when my beautiful daughter Bryn Isabella Cimino (the real "Holy Grail") was born on July 25th, of 2004. This was the person who was going to inherit my collection and hear all the crazy stories her daddy went through to get them. To tell you the truth it is an honor for me to give it to her eventually. I want her to understand how much these toys (especially the stretch Hulks) have meant to me.
But if Bryn was anything, she was my lady luck. During this time I met a friend over the internet named Tony who lived in Medina, New York. We hit it off so well because we both had a passion for the stretch figures, especially the stretch Hulks. Tony was a BIG TIME collector and wanted every stretch figure made. He would journey long and far to find them (He is now the biggest stretch collector in the world, check it out at www.stretcharmstrongworld.com.) Tony reminded me of me when I was in my collecting frenzy hayday. He would stop at nothing to get these toys and it didn't matter how much ca$h he had to spend. We spent literally hours on end talking on the phone about the magic of these figures and how they were so fun to play with as a kid. I loved helping him out with my connections and helping him locate some stretch figures.
One day in late Spring of 2005, Tony calls me up and said that he had located a guy named Mark from California who was a huge toy dealer that specialized in Mego toys. He had a complete collection of totally mint Mego Elastic figures and a loose Denys Fisher Hulk to sell from his own personal collection. We analyzed the pictures over and over to make sure this wasn't a scam (you wouldn't believe how many there are out there in the toy world). But this was legit!! OH MY GOD!! A perfectly mint Mego Elastic Hulk in a beautiful box and complete!! Mark told Tony that this Mego Hulk was the best conditioned figure of the set and the most beautiful Hulk he had ever seen in 16 years! This was proven true!! For this Hulk (along with Mark's mint Spider-man and Plastic man) was actually featured in "Tomart's Action Figure Digest" #60 in January of 1999 as a picture in a story about Marty Abrams (former head of Mego Corp). And the funny thing is, I HAD THE ISSUE!!! I said to Tony that we had to get these NOW!! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!! I made a deal with Tony that I would trade him a few things including my damaged Hulk (Tony can fix these stretch toys, no matter how damaged, like new and recreate the boxes too) for this perfect Hulk. Tony (being the great friend he is) said yes because he knew how much I wanted this toy that has eluded me for so long. He eventually closed the deal for some major dollars and cents and sent me the Hulk along the way! Could this really be the end to my journey???
Tony sent the Hulk to me with overnight shipping after he recieved it first. He just had to look at this Hulk and to shed a tear for its pure beauty and condition. Tony told me that it was one of the best stretch figures he had ever seen to date and was tempted to keep it for himself. I once again, called into work the next day and had my daughter stay home from daycare. If anything, Bryn was going to enjoy this day with me!!! She had too!!! When the packaged finally came I called Tony and thanked him for being such a good and loyal friend for giving my daughter and myself this moment. I hugged and kissed Bryn as she opened the cardboard package (I also took pictures). And soon there it was...the real deal, MINT in the box Mego Elastic Hulk!! It was a thing of beauty and as I wept like a baby (again), I just kept thinking of that day as a child in the CVS so long ago and seeing this toy for the first time on the top shelves. It was a special moment as I looked at Bryn and this toy. I now had the "Holy Grail" of my toys and the "Holy Grail" of my life. What a perfect ending to the journey.
Now I know most people will think this story is a little much. But for me, I can't wait to tell Bryn about it and one day she can look back on this story and say that even through daddy's extreme compulsiveness he had a ton of fun and enjoyed the magic of youth.
- John "Mego Stretch Hulk" Cimino - March 2006, 2007
Glint of Hope Productions