Monday, May 6, 2024

An interview with Rusty Kern, publisher of Playset Magazine.

Playset magazine is a wonderful publication for those who collect, play with, and covet toy soldiers.  Special editions are also occassionally published which focus on particular genres of Marx playsets.

The books are lush in text and have incredible photo scenarios.  The information is quite comprehensive, with all variations of each set as well as rarities.

Former Marx designers are quoted in the books and many original documents are presented to back-up the narrative.

It is genuinely a pleasurable experience to pore through these fascinating books.  I highly recommend each of them..

Rusty and Kathy Kern are the force behind These publications, and here is an interview that I did with Rusty a couple of years ago. (

Rusty, what spurred your interest in toy soldiers?

My father was collecting toy soldiers and had gotten a couple magazines and was actually casting them which kind of made it OK for me to start collecting them again. In one issue of a magazine he got there was an ad selling Alamo marks Alamo Mexicans attackers and that really got me going in that was about 1988.   And I thought, I'm just gonna try this one and see how it goes. Then my company, which makes documentary and promotional films, was in New York City working with Dick Clark's organisation. You remember Dick with his wonderful American Bandstand TV program. We were doing an interview with an executive high up in a skyscraper who hadn't shown up yet and on his desk was toy shop magazine if you remember that had no informational articles, it was straight out a 100 pages or so of classified ads for toys.  So while the guy was gun I'm reading these ads and I see something for playsets.  And I never turned back after that.

Although there are a few fine manufacturers of toy soldiers, why do you think that none have surpassed the popularity or mystique of those made by Marx?

Marx did try very hard to put out the best quality at a low price and succeeded well beyond the wildest imagination of any of the employees that I've interviewed. To a man they are all amazed that today's prices have soared so high for some sets orveven parts but they also recall it being fun to work there and they demonstrate loyalty to Louis Marx to this day. What I am saying is they really put their heart into making those toys: it showed then, and it shows today.

But make no mistake, kids of today will look back and remember the things they had too,  just give it a few decades it all start over again.

Did you have a Marx playset as a child? Which one? and how was it meaningful to you?

Oh yes! It wasn't Christmas without  Marx.  I was really very loyal to that brand myself even at 8 9 10 years old and Marx playsets were all I really wanted. I did have several fort Apaches; I got Battlegrounds, and I got The Alamo over and over again. Soon as I became aware that you could make money cutting lawns I was a little shrimp out there cutting all the neighbours yards and took the money to go by a miniature set for myself in the middle of summer 1964.

 In a perfect world, what would the ideal playset look like to you?

I like so many of these.  But if I had to pick a favourite,  I'd say the Strategic Air Command base with its fleet of B-52 bombers is one, Johnny Tremaine with its opposing forces of British vs colonial soldiers is another, and soon as I say that I'm also thinking of the Robin Hood set with its gleaming  castle!  Or Cape Canaveral and Battleground. And I could not leave out The Alamo.or the Blue and Gray epic Civil War sets.

Your recent special edition - BattleGround II was another hit with the toy soldier crowd be a hit.  What's the next big project going to cover?

Those are very kind words, thank you. Probably everyone who is buying it helped write it! There are so many experts and authorities on that one to thank.,  A lot of young collectors too are getting it because of the areas covered --  Desert Fox, American Patrol, Iwo Jima and Navarone, every set marx made from 1964 up to 1968 is in that one, in color and in depth.  Quite exhaustive, got a letter from a buyer who said he wasn't expecting it to be so big but that's why we did two volumes, one for the 1958 - 1963 sets.

 What do you see as the future of toy soldiers?  Do you think the hobby will eventually disappear with the baby-boomers, or do you see a future with a new generation of kids continuing the interest?

Well I tell you, I was hitchhiking one year in college and got picked up by a great man driving a station wagon... and in the back was packed full of cartons of light bulbs. So I said, "oh you sell light bulbs." He says, no kid, I sell light. (I'm trying to italicized that. Light) And I think that's the way toy soldiering is for me and for the people who enjoy them...

It's not just plastic or just little figures,  Any more than light bulbs or just milky glass and thin wires for that man.  He gave people light in their living rooms when they were trying to read he overcame generations of dark cabins were children couldn't study at night He gave people light in their living rooms when they were trying to read he overcame generations of dark cabins were children couldn't study at night...

These things are a light in many of our lives for their fun, for their collectability, for the variety.... it's a place to go when you are stressed, they are adventure in a box, the Wild West, the darkness of war and strategy... a whole lot more than toys soldiers would seem.. And it's something we can love all our lives...  

Heck every time I see a new or vintage set, or something I hadn't seen before, even new metal toys, I can go crazy for it. Little kids see this stuff go crazy for it too. Do I see that dying out or fading, no I don't.  But like a light, you don't want to hide it "under a basket", to speak Biblically, you want to put it on a Hill to shine so people can see it and they too will catch that fire.

It would be great if you could provide a brief bio of the magazine and Kathy's role in the operation, as well as a photograph of the both of you.

Playset Magazine is 20 years old and also produces a line of toy soldier related books and dvd's. The dvd's are in a fast moving magazine show format and sometimes feature a mint Box set opening, many different playsets and dioramas, and usually cover a pretty wide range of themes.  We treat them like a fun gathering of collector friends so we get as many collectors to participate as we can... its a fraternity really and it shows.

Kathy Kern and myself host these programs she also is in charge of editorial and does the subscribers interface.  She actually invented the database for the subscribers And it works very well for our publication.

Grab a copy of these fine books and...

Soldier on!


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