With all of the fuss over toxic toys coming from overseas lately, it’s probably good to remember that the reason lead, mercury, and other once-common materials used in manufacturing (radium!) were banned from use in certain categories of products back when those products were Made in the U.S.A.
Unsafe products have a long tradition in the US, so much so that in the early days of Saturday Night Live, one of Dan Ackroyd’s popular recurring characters was Irwin Mainway, a sleazy distributor of dangerous products. The sketches were typically a confrontation between Mainway and a TV consumer advocate. One of the outstanding pieces — which I unfortunately can’t find video for online — was actually about children’s toys where the advocate was played by Candice Bergen (transcript via the Saturday Night Live Transcripts site).
Consumer Reporter: Good evening, and welcome to the holiday edition of “Consumer Probe”. Our topic tonight is unsafe toys for children. For instance, this little bow and arrow set. [holds up] Pull the rubber suctions off, and the arrows become deadly missiles.
[cut to full shot, showing Irwin Mainway seated to Joan’s right]
We have with us tonight, Mr. Irwin Mainway, President of Mainway Toys. Uh, Mr. Mainway, your company manufactures the following so-called harmless playthings: Pretty Peggy Ear-Piercing Set, Mr. Skin-Grafter, General Tron’s Secret Police Confession Kit, and Doggie Dentist. And what about this innocent rubber doll, which you market under the name Johnny Switchblade? [holds up doll] Press his head, and two sharp knives spring from his arms. [demonstrates] Mr. Mainway, I’m afraid this is, by no means, a very safe toy.
Irwin Mainway: Okay, Miss, I wanna correct you, alright. The full name of this product, as it appears in stores all over the county, is Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk. I mean, nothing goes wrong.. little girls buy ’em, you know, they play games, they make up stories, nobody gets hurt. I mean, so Barbie takes a knife once in a while, or Ken gets cut. You know, there’s no harm in that. I mean, as far as I can see, you know?
Consumer Reporter: Alright. Fine. Fine. Well, we’d like to show you another one of Mr. Mainway’s products. It retails for $1.98, and it’s called Bag O’ Glass. [holds up bag of glass Mr. Mainway, this is simply a bag of jagged, dangerous, glass bits.
Irwin Mainway: Yeah, right, it’s you know, it’s glass, it’s broken glass, you know? It sells very well, as a matter of fact, you know? It’s just broken glass, you know?
Consumer Reporter: [laughs] I don’t understand. I mean, children could seriously cut themselves on any one of these pieces!
Irwin Mainway: Yeah, well, look – you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We’re just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it’s a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?
I wish I could take credit for tying the “Secret Police Confession Kit” to the asbestor-laced CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, but that honor has to go to my sister-in-law, Marie.
Since I can’t find the video for the toy sketch, here’s another Mainway appearance, hawking Halloween costumes.