James R. Becker: January 27, 1921-August 11, 2011
For more than 55 years, Jim Becker devoted his energy and life’s blood to developing and licensing products in the toy industry. He helped create global licensing as we know it today. He was a legend to the toy industry he loved. By creating Gumby and Pokey merchandise from a TV Show, he helped spawn an $80 billion licensing industry. He recognized and created many trends, such as Gumby, Pokey, Barrel of Monkeys, Disappearing Magic Baby Bottle, Othello, Nerf Ping Pong, Battle Dome, and The Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Set. Before Jim, no one adapted items made for the U.S. to appeal and sell in foreign markets, including the most difficult of all to penetrate, Japan. He also innovated the concept of developing Japanese and European toys and games for the American market. In those days, the 1940s–1970s, global marketing didn’t exist; global companies didn’t exist and neither Hasbro nor Mattel had worldwide distribution or subsidiaries in most foreign markets.
When Othello was first created by Japanese game enthusiast, Goro Hasegawa in 1971, he chose one of the leading toy inventors in the world, James R. Becker, to help him develop and market the game. Inspired by the ancient Japanese strategy game Go, Hasegawa sought to create a game that was rich in strategy, but still approachable by the casual player. Becker simplified the game play, coined the tagline, “A Minute to Learn…A Lifetime to Master” and named this new game after Shakespeare’s classic play, because of the black and white chips.
Othello was first introduced in Japan in 1973, by Tsukuda Original Co., who at Becker’s suggestion, organized the Japanese Othello Association. Today, Othello Associations exist in more than 20 different countries. In 1975, Anjar licensed the item to Gabriel Industries for the U.S. market. Othello has now become one of the best-selling classic, licensed strategy games of all time. In 1977, Becker organized the first World Othello Championship, bringing together many licensees from all over the world to share ideas, advertising, and marketing strategies on an annual basis.
Othello game sales have exceeded $600 million and more than 40 million classic games have been sold in more than 100 different countries, making Othello the most successfully licensed strategy game in the world. Jim created the concept of World Othello Championships and Othello Victory Dinners. The 35th Annual World Othello Championship will be held in November 2011 in New York.
Jim Becker was a pioneer representing Japanese products in the U.S. This approach was unprecedented. He also partnered with inventors and manufacturers to develop and represent their ideas for licensing around the world. Prior to founding Anjar, Jim was President of Lakeside Toys, where he worked for Zom Levine, one of many bosses, including Mort Levy and Jerry Fryer, who went on to become lifelong friends. At Lakeside, Jim developed another innovative product that became a category. Based on the TV show, and working with Art Clokey, Jim developed Gumby and Pokey, which were an instant success. These toys were extended to include a multitude of licenses including Bozo, Laurel and Hardy, and others, and along with Barrel of Monkeys became another craze created by Jim in the 1960s.
In addition to Othello, Gumby, Pokey and Barrel of Monkeys, Jim’s other product development credits include the Disappearing Magic Milk Bottle, as well as Nerf Ping Pong, Elmo’s Trike, Barbie “Really Works” Activity Toys, and Land Before Time Hand Puppets, Shirt Pocket Games, G.I. JOE Earthquake Vehicle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Foldable Flying Saucers, the Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Set, Grabbin’ Dragons and more than 500 others.
Jim used his expertise, his charisma, his sense of humor and the strength of his personal relationships to create one of the most successful product development and licensing companies in the world, Anjar.
Anjar is an acronym for Jim’s four sons: Arto, Neil, Jonny, and Roger. He has been an inspiration and mentor to me, his sons, and countless others. His integrity is such that when a street inventor calls the Toy Industry Association or a major company trying to show a new product concept, they are often referred to Anjar Co. It’s a rare person who has not played with at least one of Jim’s famous toys. Be it Gumby, Pokey, Barrel of Monkeys or Othello, he has touched the lives of so many.
Married for more than 57 years to Frances, his son, Jonathan is now a principal at Anjar Co. and continues to uphold his high business ethics, principles, and integrity. Following World War II, Jim Becker’s initiatives sparked the beginnings of modern product licensing from Asia to the U.S., Europe and the rest of the World, changing both the toy and licensing industries in a profound way.
We can’t forget that he was an adored grandfather to Neil, Stephanie, Talia, Isaac, Michael, Julie, Haylee, and Noah, and great grandfather to Eversmith, and uncle and friend to many. He is predeceased by children Nancy and Neil.
Editor’s note: To reach the family, please contact Jonathan at (203) 321–1023 office; JSB@Anjar.com; or Patti at (203) 322–7396 office; PBecker@BeckerAssoc.com