Legends of the Toy & Game Industry - Reuben Klamer
In April, I had one of the best experiences of my LIFE. I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Reuben Klamer, Bea Pardo and Mary Couzin at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica. I smiled from the inside out when Reuben ordered deep fried pickles in honor of my co-invented game, In a Pickle, published by Gamewright.
During my childhood, I played The Game of Life hundreds of times. As I was growing up, my mom discouraged play, but fortunately for me, The Game of Life was one of the few games we were allowed to play. I loved it. I can honestly say Reuben’s invention brought my imagination to life and gave me permission to dream about an amazing future.
When Mary Couzin asked me if I would like to interview Reuben, I was deeply touched and immediately said, “Of course.” A few weeks ago, I had a fun filled interview with Reuben and his delightful colleague Bea, who has worked with him for 33 years.
Reuben, how did you come up with the idea for The Game of Life?
Reuben: It was serendipity! I saw an ad in a magazine advertising the crayons manufactured by The Milton Bradley Company. I went to Springfield, Massachusetts to pitch them an art center to go with their crayons. They passed on the art center but asked me to create a game to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company. I asked if I could stay overnight and go through their archives. While going through the archives, I saw the name for a board game called The Checkered Game of Life. The word “life” electrified me. I told the executives I had an idea and would bring it back to them.
Sounds like you had a lot of confidence in business.
Reuben: I knew a lot of people and they knew me.
Bea: Reuben was already well established in the industry as an inventor and businessman when he was approached to do the game. He’d worked for Ideal Toy Corporation and then Eldon Enterprises. He was responsible for bringing unbreakable plastic to the industry. He had many inventions by then, so he was well known.
How did the game develop?
Reuben: I thought about the word “life” and couldn’t let it go. Once I had the “life” idea, I knew I was going to base the game on “life in reality.” The rest came easily.
When did you know you wanted to be an inventor?
Reuben: When I was a kid. I would take an idea and create something new from it. I remember in grade school, I took marbles and created an interactive game using them.
What kinds of games and toys did you play with as a child?
Reuben: I didn’t have a lot of games and toys. Times were tough. It was The Great Depression. The main thing I had was a nice set of blocks given to me by my dad. They were all kinds of different shapes. I played with my blocks a lot.
In your youth, was there a person in your life who inspired you and influenced you?
Reuben: My schoolteachers, in general. I was greatly influenced later in life by Elliot Handler, the founder of Mattel. He was laid back, down to earth and red hot as an inventor. Elliot was a beacon of imagination and he was my friend.
How many products do you create and submit a year?
Reuben: That is very hard to say because they spill over from year to year. I have licensed over 200 products.
Bea: There were many inventions that were created and didn’t find their way onto the shelf, of course.
As an inventor, I understand. We all create products that unfortunately never find a home, and there are others that we submit over and over.
Bea: Reuben is a very positive person, so he always keeps moving forward.
When your ideas are not accepted by a company, how do you deal with the rejection process?
Reuben: There is no process. I put the product on the shelf, out of sight and let it rest. I let it ferment. If I need the product again to show, I pull it out. Rejections are tough but I accept them. I don’t get upset. You have to develop a thick skin pretty quickly in this industry.
Bea: I feel it for both of us. Then we move on to the next product.
Reuben: My 1-2-3 Roller Skates were rejected 28 times before I, fortunately, licensed them to Fisher-Price, which was originally my number one choice. I never thought that they would buy it from me, but I was certain that there was a market for preschool kids to learn how to skate.
Bea: Reuben kept telling everyone the skates had to be Fisher-Price quality. A friend said to Reuben, “Why don’t you show them to Fisher-Price?”
Reuben: After many rejections, I invested in production tools that were made in Hong Kong to prove how the skates functioned. Fisher Price ordered 50 pairs of skates off of my tools to test in their in-house preschool. Within four weeks they let me know they found them to work and wanted to proceed to license them from me.
In 1984, Fisher-Price introduced them and they were a hit! I was told that my 1-2-3 skates were 3% of the total Fisher Price sales in that first year. They continue to sell them today. These have been a true phenomenon in my career and in my life!
What is your favorite part of being an inventor?
What is your second favorite part of being an inventor?
Reuben: Definitely the feeling of accomplishment.
Do you have a least favorite part of being an inventor?
Reuben: Yes, being turned down on a product, but I keep moving.
Reuben, what advice do you have for inventors?
Reuben: Figure out your market first. If you know your market, you can figure out the rest. Then have patience and follow your idea.
Looking back on your life as an inventor, do you wish you could change anything?
Reuben: No. I am very happy with the way I have lived and the way I’m still doing it.
Looking forward to your life as an inventor, what do you hope to achieve?
Reuben: I’m working on some wonderful dolls. It’s not an easy market, but I’m excited about it.
I heard you are working on a book too.
Reuben: Yes, and I’m about to do the audio recording of it.
I have heard you use the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” What qualities do you believe are necessary to be a winner in the toy industry?
Reuben: Remember, quitters never win. And, remember, you don’t have to win them all.
Bea: Reuben taught me a long time ago, “If you aim at the sun, you are sure to land higher than if you aim at the bush.” Reuben aims high and he never quits.
Thank you, Reuben Klamer, for aiming high and never quitting. You have touched the lives of millions of people all around the globe.