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The View-Master ShowBeam

Hey, do you remember View-Master? Of course you do. Those little plastic sets of binoculars that showed you photos of your favorite cartoon characters and in some cases, your less than favorite national parks were a staple in every child's toy collection. We all enjoyed dropping in the circular disc of tiny film cells and going on a visual adventure by clicking the lever, but do you remember the ShowBeam?

Released in the late 70’s, but reaching its height of popularity in the 80’s, this handheld slide projector was a cherished childhood toy that I still have to this day. Recently I dug it out of storage and showed it to my 2 year old son and snapped a few photos of the experience. Get ready for fun!

When I think back to what I loved about this device as a kid, the first thing that drew me in was the overall design. The thick red plastic molded with what I always interpreted as computer circuits on the outside, instantly said “Robotic Future Weapon”. In the age of Transformers and that freaky robotically assimilated lady from Superman III, that was all we needed to know. Before even turning the thing on you could have hours of fun pretending to shoot lasers at an invisible Megatron or actually bashing a real bad guy with it. This thing was heavy duty!

When deciding to get down to the projecting fun there were 3 things you needed to ensure success: batteries, a blank wall and your film cartridge. Once I had my C sized Duracell copper-tops, I usually opted to hold my private screenings in our guest bathroom due to its lack of windows and sliding white door that doubled as a perfect movie screen. So what was playing at "Hoju's ShowBeam Theater"? While View-Master offered dozens of selections from Godzilla to Mighty Mouse and even the rock group, KISS, I guess you could say I played it a little safer. At least according to my surviving ShowBeam cartridges.

First up we had The Pink Panther. My dad was a big fan of the Peter Sellers films, but I only knew the character from his animated adventures and occasional work as a spokesman for wall insulation (apparently this odd bit of cross promotion continues to this day). He was never my number one anthropomorphic cartoon animal, but The Pink Panther seemed ever present throughout my childhood. ShowBeam may have lacked the audio component, but I could easily hum the familiar instrumental theme to myself.

The other more likely choice was the Super Friends cartridge featuring everybody’s favorite DC Comics heroes busting bad guys large and small. Superman, Wonder Woman and even Aquaman each got their time to shine during this illuminated adventure. I didn't get into reading and collecting comics until the early 90's, so in many ways this was my first foray into sequential panel art storytelling, however simplistic.

Inserting the cartridge was akin to loading a clip into a handgun for me. I felt so powerful, loading 30 frames of static cartoon entertainment into what for all intents and purposes was nothing more than a fancy flashlight. But I was like a mad scientist, having captured these iconic beings in my magic lantern, and preparing to make them dance for my amusement, hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha!

Once you flipped the switch to turn the dim light on, you had to start focusing the image using the black ring on the end. This could be a frustrating process, because depending on how far away you were wandering back and forth from the wall the size of the image would expand or shrink. Then you’d have to focus it all over again. Once you had the image just right it was time to start clicking your way through the slides.

After sitting through a million boring slideshows synced to audio cassettes in school, it was great to be in charge of the programming for once. Now I could watch Batman and Robin smack the living daylights out of some bad guys whenever the mood struck. The only thing was, there wasn’t a reverse button, so if you wanted to see your favorite slide for a second time, you had to click through the entire sequence again until you got to the good stuff.

If you got bored with the show you could always move on to projecting the images on different surfaces like the ceiling, somebody’s shirt or your own body. It was like having a video screen installed in the palm of your hand or foot, which is really the dream of any TV obsessed kid, isn’t it?

The ShowBeam really was a lot of fun and I’m surprised I don’t hear more people talk about it fondly. Granted I eventually graduated to the Ghostbusters Ghost Zapper toy, where you could both project images and make zapping noises with your wireless proton pack wand, but there’s something about the simplicity of the ShowBeam that deserves more attention.

So tell me, did you have any experiences with the ShowBeam in your younger days?  What cartridges did you have? How do you think it compares to the traditional ViewMaster experience?

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massreality Posted on Jan 10, 2016 at 07:24 AM

Wow. I never heard of the Showbeam before, but I did have the Ghostbusters Ghost Zapper! I totally forgot about that till halfway through the article. I was happy to see you mention it.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 09, 2016 at 05:27 AM

Curse you Hoju! I never had one of these. I was stuck with the traditional View Master! I would have loved one of these babies! Though, I would have likely been spending way too much time trying to figure out how to get my own artwork or pictures to work with the thing. Yeah. Probably best I didn't own this. LOL

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