Reuben Klamer, the inventor of The Game of Life, and one of the toy industry’s true greats, has passed away. Several years ago, I had the privilege of knowing Reuben and working with him on an autobiography. I spent two days with him at his home in Southern California where he reminisced and showed me artifacts from his life. It left me with an extraordinary memory that has its own room in my head ever since.
You can find Reuben’s obituary at the bottom of this article. I strongly suggest you read it in its entirety. He was an extraordinary person.
Before you read it, however, I want to share two stories that I do not believe you will not find anywhere else.
The Warehouse of Broken Dreams
I was visiting Reuben at his home when he asked me if I would like to visit his warehouse. When we arrived I was astonished by its size and the number of inventions it held. Reuben turned to me and he said, “It’s my warehouse of broken dreams. It contains every toy I invented that failed.” Here was a man who had over 200 toys make it to market yet he had thousands that never made it. I found Reuben’s words to be a profound statement about how many failures it takes to be successful. It also speaks to Reuben’s sense of humor and humility when reflecting on his success.
Irony or Providence?
Another story from Reuben concerned a heart attack he had a number of years ago. The doctor who saved his life told Reuben he had become a doctor because he always won at the Game of Life when he chose the medical path.
Was it irony or was it providence. Knowing Reuben? I think it was the latter.
Reuben Klamer Obituary
Reuben Klamer, toy industry icon and inventor of the classic board game The Game of Life, died at home in La Jolla, CA on September 14, 2021. He was 99 and left this world reluctantly, telling a recent visitor “I don’t have a reservation!”
The Game of Life was inducted into the permanent Archives of Family Life at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1981 and is second only to Monopoly in board game popularity. Produced by Hasbro, the game has been marketed in 59 countries and in 26 languages since its introduction in 1960. Although the exact number is probably much higher, it is estimated that more than 70 million Games of Life have been sold to date. (The Japanese edition, called Jinsei, has been the best-selling game in that country for more than 50 years.)
Mr. Klamer’s colleagues, friends and neighbors described him as warm, kind, generous, intensely curious and a fabulous storyteller. He was known for his crackling sense of humor, his sartorial splendor (he had a huge collection of hats and dressed up in costume every Halloween), the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and showing up to parties with the Pink Panther.
“Reuben loved good food, from the finest oysters to milkshakes, and would go anywhere for a great hot dog. He adored chocolate in any form,” one said, reminiscing that among Mr. Klamer’s favorite places was Serendipity 3 in New York City. “His joy was contagious and he was always bursting with ideas — an eight-year-old boy in a grown man’s body,” another added.
“I think Reuben’s greatest accomplishment was how he managed to stay relevant to the very end,” said George Burtch, retired Vice President of Marketing for Hasbro and a longtime friend. “He was the most cheerfully persistent person I’ve ever met and he inspired so many, in and out of the toy industry.”
Mr. Klamer had a gift for anticipating and capitalizing on trends, a talent for developing consumer “must-haves” across a broad spectrum of categories and the ability to work in a variety of media. While the bulk of his most successful products were in the field of toys and games, he also held design, development and invention credits in industries as diverse as textiles, plastics, aviation, publishing, music, television and film.
Among his approximately 200 other toy credits are the classic Fisher-Price Preschool Trainer Skates, on the market for nearly 35 years; the Art Linkletter Hoop; Gaylord the Walking Dog (Ideal); Moon Rocks (Hasbro); Dolly Darlings (Hasbro); Erector-Constructor Sets (A.C. Gilbert), and Busy Blocks and Zoo-It-Yourself (Tupperware).
One of Mr. Klamer’s most significant and lasting contributions was pioneering the worldwide use in toys of an unbreakable plastic called polyethylene. Prior to his development of what became known as the Big Poly line of large molded toys, plastic playthings shattered easily and posed potential safety risks to children. He also successfully developed no-glue “snap-together” hobby kits for Eldon Industries, a first in the industry.
In the entertainment arena, he pioneered product placement in media by creating special effects for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” television show from MGM Studios and developing toys produced by Ideal. He also designed toys, a game, a hobby kit and the Pink Panther traveling show car built on an Oldsmobile chassis for the “Pink Panther” cartoon TV series; created a multi-laser gun for the “Star Trek” television show; and produced albums targeted to teenagers for Mercury Records and as premiums for a hobby kit line manufactured by Hawk Model Company.
Among his many accolades over the decades, Mr. Klamer was inducted into the Hasbro Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2005; he received the TAGIE (Toy & Game International Excellence) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
A proud son of Ohio, he was recognized as a “Citizen of Honor” in his native state in 2003. Most recently, he was honored by his alma mater, The Ohio State University, when he received the Fisher College of Business Alumni Award for Entrepreneurship in November 2011 and the
Dean’s Distinguished Fellow Award from the Fisher College of Business in 2012. He was also celebrated as a “Great Ohio State Inventor” by OSU’s Science and Technology Insights in 2019.
Mr. Klamer was born on June 20, 1922 to Romanian Jewish immigrants, Rachel (Levenson) and Joseph Klamer, and reared in Canton, Ohio. He studied social sciences at George Washington University and received a B.S. in Business Administration from The Ohio State University. Additionally, he completed electives in engineering at the University of Michigan after joining the U.S. Navy V-7 Program. A proud veteran, he graduated from the U.S. Navy Midshipman School at Northwestern University and distinguished himself in combat as an officer in the U.S. Navy amphibious landing forces in the Pacific during World War II.
Following the war, he worked as marketing developer for an air cargo company and developed his first major invention, a collapsible rack called the “Fashion-aire Rack” that allowed the air-freighting of garments without folding or packing from New York manufacturers to markets
around the country. Later he opened his own advertising agency, The Klamer Company, in Los Angeles, where he was a trailblazer in the early days of television promotion.
Mr. Klamer’s career in the toy industry began when he closed his agency to join the Ideal Toy Corporation in 1949 to work in sales, creating premiums and special promotions. When he joined Eldon Industries in 1951 as national sales manager, he became closely involved in product development.
As the hula hoop craze hit the nation in the late 1950s, he became president of Spin-A-Hoop, one of the nation’s largest producers of spinning hoops. Mr. Klamer teamed up with television personality Art Linkletter to promote the hoop. He later formed The Toy Development Center and Children, Inc., toy design and marketing firms.
Reuben Klamer & Associates was founded in Beverly Hills in the 1960s and later renamed Reuben Klamer Toylab®. During a brief hiatus in the 1970s, Mr. Klamer developed and taught a course in Creative Technology for the University of Hawaii at his Creative Development Center in Kona.
Over the years, Mr. Klamer collaborated with many of the top people in their respective industries, including Bob Allen, a creator of Howdy Doody and Tom and Jerry; Mel Shaw, a creator of Bambi; Friz Freleng, creator of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Pink Panther; and Olaf Helmer, an early colleague of Albert Einstein at Princeton, chief mathematician at The Rand Corporation and one of our country’s first Futurists. He also worked with three space scientists from Cal Tech and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) on chemistry sets that were based on space exploration.
In addition to his long list of invention credits, Mr. Klamer was a marketing expert and consultant. He marketed products in more than 60 countries on six continents, most of them patented.
When he was not working, Mr. Klamer enjoyed watching college sports, particularly cheering on the OSU Buckeyes. He was an avid theatergoer and supporter of many philanthropic causes, chiefly in education and medicine.
Mr. Klamer is survived by four of his children: Jeffrey Klamer, Pamela Klamer Singer (Kevin), Andrew Klamer and Jonathan Klamer (Jacqui); grandchildren Jasmine Singer, Cameron Singer and Atlas Klamer; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. He was twice divorced. His eldest son, Joel, passed away in 2016. He is also mourned by his longtime associate, Beatriz Pardo, as well as loyal staff.
In early 2021, just a few months shy of his 99th birthday, Mr. Klamer completed an enchanting memoir called Blitz, Sizzle, and Serendipity: My Game of Life,describing his experiences growing up during the Great Depression; his adventures as a naval officer during World War II; his explosive career, which led him from the Midwest to California during the boom years of the 20th century; and his eye-popping experiences with some of the most famous names in the entertainment business.
Funeral services will be held at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Toy Industry Foundation, Hasbro Children’s Hospital or a charity of your choice.