Hugo was a 12 inch vinyl puppet/mannequin head who came wearing an artist's smock and with a set of facial disguise accessories. A tube of special glue allowed kids to attach the disguise pieces in a seemingly endless array of combinations, creating a huge variety of characters. A thousand, allegedly.
|These are not the sort of puppet friends you'd find in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.|
I'm sure Kenner's intentions were good. After all, Mattel's Barbie styling heads had been best-sellers for several years by this point, and little girls across the country were thrilled with the opportunity offered by these playsets to do hair and makeup.
It must have seemed reasonable to Kenner toy company executives to make a similar product for boys, a mannequin head with accessories boys could use to change the character's appearance. And a spy character with disguises made perfect sense, as it also tied into the popularity of espionage related toys and TV shows of the time. The result, however, was incredibly off-putting, and the finished product now holds a place in toy history as one of the most creepy and disturbing playthings of all time. Take a look:
There's just something unsettling about Hugo: his dead stare; the way he appears to be sizing the viewer up, waiting for just the right moment to begin creeping across the floor towards you; his stare; and again, his stare. Oh, the stare is so unnerving. Just look at it! I can't bear to. As I type this, I have to make sure I can't see that part of the above picture. Let's move on.
Adding the accessories (which include hairpieces, false chins and teeth, fake noses, glasses, scars, warts, an eyepatch, a bandage, and more) doesn't really help. In most cases, it only makes him even creepier.
|"I can still see you," says Hugo.|
|Suggestions from the box. Shudder.|
The least unnerving version of Hugo I've come up with is this one, which I call Disco Hugo. His crazy 70's sideburns make him somewhat more comical and easier to bear, as long as he's not looking at you directly.