Stanley Weston, creator of action figures, dies at 84

Sunbow Productions

Stanley Weston, who helped to create G.I. Joe — if not the concept of the "action figure" itself — has died. He was 84.

Though Weston did not name the iconic hero of toy shelves, afternoon UHF cartoons and, later, summer popcorn movies, he developed the concept for the toy and sold it to the predecessor of today's Hasbro.

Pitched as an "outfitted action figure," Weston sold the idea in the early 1960s, seeing an opportunity for military-themed dolls, with accessories, in a market then dominated by Mattel's Barbie and other girl-oriented dolls. The Los Angeles Times, in an obituary published Monday, reported that Weston sold the idea for a flat $100,000.

He did not come up with the G.I. Joe name; that, and much of the toy line's look and heritage, comes from Don Levine, the Hasbro executive who died in 2014 at age 86.

Weston later sued Hasbro, claiming ownership of everything that G.I. Joe had become, and that the rights to the toy franchise would revert to him or his heirs in 2020. That suit was settled last year.

Weston was considered an influential figure in the licensing and merchandising industry that emerged in postwar America. In 1967, said the Times, he bought one of the first group licenses with the Major League Baseball Players' Association, the kind of deal that today is essential to video games representing an entire league and its players. A Licensing Industry Hall of Fame was established in 1989, and Weston was in its first class of inductees.

G.I. Joe is one of the toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y. After its 1960s debut, the line had a quiet 1970s, mainly due to public sentiment about the Vietnam War.

The emergence of Star Wars in 1977 brought back a boom in the action-figure business, and G.I. Joe was relaunched in 1982 in a 3.75-inch scale line. It spawned a successful afternoon cartoon (along with Hasbro-owned Transformers) and a Marvel Comics series that spanned 155 issues. It was adapted into two live action films that premiered in 2009 and 2013.

In a 2012 article in the Huffington Post, Weston’s brother, Jay, noted the small sum he accepted for the G.I. Joe idea, compared to the revenue it has generated since. “Should he have sold for that set amount, instead of taking a small royalty in perpetuity?” he said. “Of course not.” But at the time Weston had no way of knowing what the toy would become.

And knowing is half the battle.

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