West Palm man has every childhood toy you wish you hadn’t thrown away

Updated Jan 18, 2018
Joel Magee among his treasures at his home near West Palm Beach. (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post)

On their first date, he asked her what she collected.

When she said, “stamps,” he gave her another chance.

“What’s your favorite TV show from when you were growing up?” he asked.

When she answered, “The original Charlie’s Angels,” he told her she should start collecting “Charlie’s Angels” toys.

And in that way, Kimmie Magee acquired a hobby and a husband, Joel Magee, a vintage toy collector who calls himself the Toy Scout.

“He’s just a big kid at heart,” Kimmie says.

Joel travels around the country buying and selling toys, forever answering the question, “What is my Shirley Temple doll/HotWheels track/TJ Hooker police set worth?

He’s also the new Disney expert on the reality show, “Pawn Stars” and is developing his own show, to be called “The Toy Scout.”

The couple designed a 10,000 square-foot, $1 million house in a gated enclave west of West Palm Beach with a gigantic gallery room to display what Joel says is the world’s largest private collection of props from Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

For a Baby Boomer like me, visiting is like stepping into my family’s old toy closet, but better.

In the living room, a 7-foot tall toy soldier from the Disney movie version of “Babes in Toyland,” stands guard near the sofa.

“They only built them for show,” says Joel. “See, his neck is a painted coffee can.”

A spectacular Wurlitzer jukebox glows from its specially designed niche. A poster from Disneyland’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride hangs above the stairs.

“After the movie came out, Walt (Mr. Disney, to the rest of us) moved the entire set to Disneyland,” said Magee. “When Walt realized the park needed some color and pizzazz, he put up these colorful posters all over the park, advertising rides and restaurants.”

Magee says he has a complete set of elaborately silk screened Disneyland posters, dating from 1955 to 1969, now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Next stop on the tour is Magee’s office, lined with shelves holding neatly stacked artifacts of mostly pre-1970’s childhoods.

Nostalgia central.

A Major Matt Mason astronaut set. A robot from “Lost in Space.” A Justice League of America Batman set in its original box.

“That one was distributed only in the Chicago area and only five or six are known to exist,” said Magee. “It’s worth $20,000 to $25,000.”

And a Tabitha doll from the “Bewitched” TV show.

“It’s the only one known in mint condition in its original box,” said Magee. “It’s worth $8,000 to $12,000.”

One shelf holds Magee’s on-ramp to a 30-year career in the toy business: dozens of character lunch boxes, priced from $300 to $500.

He was in his early 20s when he spotted a GI Joe lunchbox at a flea market near Sioux City, Iowa, where he grew up. It was just like the one that carried his PBJs to school years earlier.

“I had to have it,” he said. “From then on, I went on a mission to reclaim my childhood toys.”

Some are toys he owned; a lot more are toys he wishes his family could have afforded.

“I was never deprived but we didn’t have the funds to have the ultimate toy childhood that I wanted,” said Magee, 57, who has a grown daughter and one grandchild.

Magee spends a lot of time thinking about childhood — reliving it, some might say. He contends that a child’s best memories are made between ages 7 to 12, before puberty hijacks the brain, among other body parts.

Collecting toys segued into selling toys. He holds events in hotel meeting rooms across the country where people bring him dusty boxes from basements, attics and closets, a kind of antique toy roadshow.

The country’s best toy chests are in Midwestern cities such as Omaha, he said, where homes seem to be stuffed with the detritus of generations of childhoods.

“Any place there’s winter, with kids locked inside in a blizzard, parents bought them toys to keep them happy,” said Magee. “Midwesterners didn’t move around as much, so they never emptied their attics. On trips there, I always find something I’ve never seen before. People in Florida, without attics, got rid of stuff before moving down here.”

But the true depth of Magee’s obsession can only be appreciated in the next room, a 2,000 square-foot museum of rare Disney artifacts, all of them once used at either Disneyland or Disney World, places Magee wasn’t able to visit until he was 21.

Here, he’s recreated the magic of the parks he longed to see as a boy.

A space-age looking Telstar Predicta color TV from the 1950’s plays Disneyland promotional films.

In one corner, he’s got one of the original 1955 ships from Disneyland’s Peter Pan ride, which he says is worth $100,000.

“All the other ships on the ride had red sails,” said Magee,”this is the only one with black pirate sail. There are pictures of Walt riding in a ship with a black sail.”

There’s Ratty’s original car from the very first Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, also valued at $100,000. And Bashful’s car from the first Snow White’s Scary Adventure ride at Disneyland.

He pauses to show an elaborate and precisely made model for the first Indiana Jones ride, which opened in 1995.

“It was before computer animation, so they had to built exact scale model replicas,” Magee said. “I got it for $18,000; now it’s worth five times that.”

Magee says they were all handmade and hand-fabricated, many by Disney’s legendary ride designer and Imagineer, Bob Gurr, now 86.

Magee is giddy over the knowledge that Gurr himself is scheduled to present Magee with a gondola car from the Skyway at Disneyland next month in Sacramento. Starting in 1956, the aerial tram ferried visitors between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

Next, Magee flicks a switch and three spectral figures — the hitchhiking ghosts from the Haunted House ride — light up while swaying in a eerie dance to the ride’s original soundtrack. At the end of the ride, the ghosts appear to be hitching a ride in visitors’ cars.

“It cost half a million to re-animate them and build this stage, but they’re my favorite piece,” Magee said.

He has the engineer’s car from Disney World’s first monorail. A mannequin wearing an astronaut chic monorail uniform is posed nearby. Other mannequins wear original attendant’s uniforms from Disneyland’s PeopleMover and Frontierland.

He points out a rare poster for a defunct Disneyland restaurant called Casa de Fritos.

“I turned down $50,000 for it,” he said.

He drops tidbits of Disney arcana.

Did I know that the Enchanted Tiki Room show, which began in 1963, had to be shortened by five minutes because peoples’ attention spans today are shorter? That Disney had to juice up the parks in the 1970s, when people weren’t entertained as easily?

He looks around the room with satisfaction.

“I always dreamed I would make this,” said Magee.

But he didn’t do it by selling toys.

He moved to Florida in 2000 or 2001 to make it easier on lungs damaged by childhood pneumonia.

During the recession, Magee and Kimmie lived in a far smaller house on Singer Island.

“The toy collection was everywhere,” she recalled. “In the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom. The dusting…” She shakes her head. “Oh, my God.”

Walking on the beach, they often passed a decrepit, 1964 condo called Harbor Point which stretched along 340 feet of oceanfront. Figuring developers would one day come calling, he bought a unit for about $50,000. Then another and another. Eventually, he had seven, or about 25 percent of the building.

“I was stretched,” he said. “Every credit card, every line of credit, maxed out.”

In 2015, the Kolter Group paid $15 million for the land, making Magee and Kimmie millionaires.

Magee embarked on a Disney buying spree, then built a house to hold his treasures.

“There’s a couple of million just in this room,” he said.

The grown boy, who never had enough toys, who didn’t set foot in a Disney park until he was an adult, is fulfilling every childhood dream.

“Maybe it’s the fact that I couldn’t go to the parks when I was young, but the joy of Disney seems to have never left me,” he says. “I guess I’m the little kid who never grew up.”