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'Survivor's' Rudy Joins the Ranks of Action Heroes

February 18, 2001|DON OLDENBURG | WASHINGTON POST

Ex-Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch is in the national spotlight again: this time going from grumpy old "Survivor" to collectible action figure. Blue Box Toys showed off Boesch and his mini-him at the American International Toy Fair last week, the annual New York City event where thousands of toy manufacturers preview their new and upcoming products.

Seven months after gaining national attention as the sentimental favorite semifinalist on CBS' series, Boesch, 73, looked suitably heroic in his green SEAL uniform and black bulletproof vest. He held an identically uniformed, 12-inch plastic replica of himself. It came with assorted die-cast weaponry; the real Rudy appeared to be unarmed.

"It's totally authentic," Boesch was saying, "except the black hair should be a little more gray." Confidentially, he'll tell you the action figure doesn't look much like him. The little guy's flattop is combed back too much, and the face is missing those character-telling wrinkles.

After "Survivor" ended, BBI, the division of Blue Box Toys that makes detailed military-action figures, shipped one to Boesch and proposed putting his face on it.

But the manufacturer is riding the reputation of Boesch, one of the Navy's most decorated SEALs. Nothing plastic about that: Boesch was a charter member of the SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) forces in the '60s in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star for valor, 22 service ribbons and 11 gold stripes in 45 missions and two combat deployments.

Nearly 20 years later, he was named a Naval Special Warfare Community "Bull Frog," awarded to the SEAL who has served the longest time on active duty. He retired in 1990 after 45 years of active duty.

"Our focus on Rudy does not actually stem from the 'Survivor' series," says Mike Murphy, who heads business development for Blue Box, headquartered in Hong Kong. "He is a highly decorated SEAL, and the television series had raised his profile as not only a SEAL but also as a 'personality.'

"When planning for 2001, we wanted to have a real-life figure in our showroom. In talking to the U.S. Navy, Rudy's name came up," Murphy said. "The idea of doing a 'Rudy, the Ultimate SEAL' figure followed as a natural."

In the world of collectible action figures, where sales for 2000 totaled $823 million, the little Rudy falls right into step with other action figures made from true heroic likenesses: Hasbro's John F. Kennedy PT-109 G.I. Joe figure, the G.I. Joe Colin Powell and Formative International's Jesse Ventura Navy SEAL figure.

Since exiting "Survivor" in third place, Boesch has maintained a full public schedule. Last month alone, he had more than two dozen appointments nationwide, including a Coast Guard luncheon; interviews with at least nine major newspapers and wire services; TV tapings at Fox News, "Access Hollywood," "The Early Show," E! and CNN; and appearances in Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida and state general assembly honors.

"Yeah, we run around pretty much. Everybody recognizes me, so I can't walk down the street without being stopped," Boesch said. "All I do is get up in the morning and go where I'm told to go."

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