Co.Design

Why This Vintage He-Man Action Figure Still Smells Bad 30 Years Later

And how, in some small way, it resists the forces of obsolescence.

On December 16, 1985, Time published an article titled "Battle of the Fun Factories." In it, past Time and Fortune Executive Editor Stephen Koepp offered a blow-by-blow account of the real-world rock 'em, sock 'em battle that Christmas between two legendary toy titans, Hasbro and Mattel, who in the 1980s figured out the neat trick of selling dolls to boys by turning them into a series of improbably butch action figures marketed by way of syndicated cartoon shows.

One of the then-latest toys the article mentions by name is Stinkor, "a skunky-striped meanie who actually smells bad" that was part of Mattel’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line that year. That such an action figure exists seems to strain Koepp’s credulity. The article ends with this bemused line: "The tough question is whether Stinkor will still be around years from now."

Allow me to assure Koepp. Oh yes, Stinkor’s still around. And 28 years later, an original Stinkor action figure smells every bit as bad as he did in 1985. This, along with his counterpart Moss Man, makes him unique amongst toys: He still reeks after almost 30 years.

An anthropomorphic skunk with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stinkor was released as part of the fourth generation of Masters of the Universe action figures back in 1985. He’s decidedly a D-list villain: in fact, he’s essentially just a repainted version of an original He-Man baddie named Mer-Man, wearing armor recycled from another action figure called Mekaneck, "the Heroic Human Periscope."

Stinkor’s ignoble pedigree didn’t end at being a Frankenstein of existing He-Man parts. The writers on the Masters of the Universe cartoon show wanted nothing to do with him, refusing to write an episode about a character who was "a walking fart joke." Considering the show’s writers had to produce 65 episodes a year and were perpetually on the lookout for new ideas, this was quite a diss. In fact, Stinkor’s only canonical appearance in the original Masters of the Universe is a mini-comic packed in with the figure called "Stench of Evil."

Perhaps, then, it was only appropriate that Stinkor’s saving grace was that he stunk as bad literally as he did figuratively. From the moment you took him from his box, the so-called "Evil Master of Odors" smelled pungent.

Stinkor’s odiferousness was accomplished by Mattel actually mixing patchoulli oil into the mold. Mattel did the same thing with Stinkor’s nemesis, Mossman, a repurposed Beast Man with scratchy green astroturf glued on who smelled like pine because it had similarly been baked in.

The result was that no amount of washing Stinkor or playing with him could make the smell go away, prompting untold numbers of moms to “accidentally” throw Stinkor in the trash or bury him in the back garden. Stinkor exuded stench from his every pore.

But what made Stinkor and Mossman unique amongst 1980s toys is not that they had a smell to them. Scented toys were a popular gimmick at the time, although they were usually marketed to girls; Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony figures were usually scented like fruit, a feat largely accomplished by perfuming their hair. But if you pick up a vintage Strawberry Shortcake today, she’ll just smell like a doll. Stinkor? Kids today are still marveling at his stench. He’ll smell for decades yet.

Every kid who grew up in the 1980s remembers that new toy smell. It was intoxicating. Peeling the blister-pack sarcophagus of some action figure open, you’d get your first whiff. A sweet chemical potpourri of plastics, paints, and resin: This was the perfume worn by the bizarre, brightly colored muscleman of your latest He-Man or Thundercats action figure.

But that new toy smell never lasted long. It wore off quickly. We always needed the next fix. And for many of us, it was our first lesson about the ephemeral nature of scent; the way a smell can uniquely touch an emotion within us and evoke it just as poignantly as it did the first time. With a toy, the smell might evoke hyperactive excitement and the satiation of our covetousness; but the profound power of smell to evoke the emotions of the past is the same whether it is the scent of an action figure or a dried-out vial of a past lover’s perfume.

Smell fades so quickly. But 30 later, Stinkor still smells terrible. Maybe that’s what made him such a reject of an action figure back then. But unique to almost any other toy, smelling a Stinkor today will be the same as it was back in 1985. Sure, Stinkor’s a lame misfit of cast-off parts that smell like hippies. That’s what makes him timeless.

[Image: He-Man and Stinkor, Matt K via Flickr

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27 Comments

  • JT

    "Reject of an action figure?" More like "best action figure to torture your sister with by hiding it in her stuffed animal pile."

  • Jake

    Good article. Two points of correction:

    Stinkor was released after the television series ended. He-man only made it two seasons (1983, 1985). So, the writers couldn't include him in the original series. He was considered for one of the He-man spin-off shows (but not used).

    The imagery in the article is not of the original 1985 Stinkor. The depicted Stinkor has elbow/knee joints. 1985 Stinkor did not.

    Consider yourself Geek checked. :)

  • Cool Story Bro

    This is awesome, I was just telling someone an anecdote about Stinkor. I got him and immediately realized I didn't know him from the cartoon. The comic really did exist and if I remember correctly ends with He-man punching him into the sky.

    Once after not eating my dinner my mom threatened to throw my He-Man in the trashcan. To my surprise she did. Later I got it out and grumbled how I'd get my revenge. The next day I played exclusively with Stinkor come dinner time she gave me the same threat, when she threw it in the traschcan i really felt I had pulled one over on her. I imagined Stinkor was now re-energized, the trash stink had strengthened him. I was 5 and apparently an evil mastermind.

  • Chris

    Great bit of nostalgia, you've brought a smile to my face.  I actually had a conversation with my wife about this toy recently.  It was something only the 80's Gross-out phase could produce!  Personally, I always thought Stinkor smelled a bit like dirt . . . or later, when I knew what they were, unwashed dreadlocks.  But despite the articles claims otherwise, my wife's Strawberry Shortcake from the 80's still smells and it's source seems to emanate from the plastic.  My guess is they perfumed the molds as well.  Alas, your comments about scent are spot on, my "drug of choice" is Mr. Bubbles . . . it's a brief inhale of a childhood long past that flashes before my eyes and makes me feel young again . . . if only for a moment.  Thanks for the read.

  • Loser Kid

    So, why does he smell bad 30 years later? This article is a bit misleading. It didn't answer the question.

  • Paul Childs

    Yes it did answer the question... It was because the scented oil was added during the moulding process rather than just sprayed on after he had been set.

  • More & Again

    "Stinkor’s odiferousness was accomplished by Mattel actually mixing patchoulli oil into the mold."

    Fifth paragraph.

  • nick woodWARD

    racist bullshit. I know where you are going with this. Noticed how distinctly caucasian the guy he is repelling looks? White good. Black bad. Smh.

  • 12345678

    The title of the article is misleading. I thought there might have been an actual explanation with some facts from the factory, like the smells they used and how they made the figure to insure the smell to last this long.
     

  • Suzanne

    Hilarious!  My husband and I often talk about Stinkor (believe it or not) and how the one in a box of 80s toys at my parents' house still has that unmistakeable smell.  One day, while riding the elevator, a woman got on wearing the undeniable odour of Stinkor.  When she got off the elevator, we both looked at each other and in harmony said "STINKOR"!!! 

  • Megan P

    My Strawberry Shortcake from 87 still has her scent, and the lemon girl, though it isn't as strong. I remember the blueberry girl stopped smelling within a few weeks of playing with her. Perhaps they just had a better compound for Shortcake than her friends. 

  • frank

    I still have my Stinkor and didn't think he smelled that bad. My mom still jokes about him, so take that D-list villans! 

    Maybe Stinkor's are like chips? Some just have more flavour than others.

  • Ross

    I had that Stinkor figure and it stopped smelling after about a year, so I'm really surprised by this article.

    I tried to 'fix' it by mixing everything that smelled (good or bad) together, hoping the end result would be bad, and bathing the figure in it, but it was never the same.

  • Ross


    I don't think so Adam, the article refers to the toy as 'timeless', and even though he was made with re-used designs, he is 'unique amongst toys', and can 'touch an emotion within us', and 'still reeks after almost 30 years'.

    I think the article is a lot more literal than you seem to think Adam.

  • Adam

    I think you are missing the point of the article that the toy "smells bad."  In that it was a bad toy compared to the other toys in the line. 

  • Parax

    My wife's 30 year old Strawberry Shortcake collection certainly still has it's smell.
    Perhaps direct exposure to UV/sun light has some effect on the smell, sweet smelling dolls that dwelled in the light may have faded fast, but those stinkers shut away in boxes have survived.