I didn't like the changes in Johnny West. But to find out that he was dead … well, that nearly broke a twelve-year-old boy's heart. Yes, you're right. I was too old to play with dolls. But Johnny West was not just a doll! He was my best friend. When I could no longer find them in the stores, with no sign that they would ever be there again, I found the Marx company address on the side of one of my old boxes and wrote them a letter asking if they were going to be in stores again and if maybe I could order some from them. Some time later, perhaps a week (it seemed like a year), I got a big thick letter back. I was picturing brochures full of great Johnny West items I could beg Mom to buy me. I was in Heaven again. They had written back!
Know what it said on the outside of the envelope? These two things: "I tried to call." And "discontinued." Nothing more. A twelve-year-old boy does not know what "discontinued" means. I opened up the envelope only to find it was all of what I had sent them, come right back to me. I turned it all over, went through every page. Then I went to Mom, my heart thudding anxiously, all the time thinking the words on the envelope had been written by none other than Louis Marx himself. "Mom, what does this mean?" I asked. She looked at me, and I think her heart almost broke for her little boy who didn't seem able to grow up. "It means they stopped making them," she said.
Well, a mule could have kicked me in the guts and it wouldn't have hurt much worse. I was devastated. If I had only had access and knowledge of thrift stores I could have picked up all kinds of Johnny Wests, but I knew nothing of such things, and they wouldn't have had that new vinyl "Christmasy" smell anymore, anyway. No, to little Kirby Jonas, his childhood had ended.
Johnny West had died.