Donald Levine, toy exec who developed G.I. Joe, dies at 86


G.I. Joe creator Don Levine holds up his original scuba diver G.I. Joe as other original prototypes lie on top of a table in Providence, R.I. in 2003. (Victoria Arocho/Associated Press)
May 25

Donald Levine, the Hasbro executive credited as being the father of the G.I. Joe toy, died Thursday, May 22, at a hospice facility in Providence, R.I. He was 86.

He had cancer, said his wife, Nan Levine.

As Hasbro’s head of research and development, Mr. Levine shepherded the industry’s first action figure through design and development. He and his team came up with an 111 / 2-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts. Because the company’s employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.

Mr. Levine, who served in the Army in Korea, said he got the idea for the movable figure as a way to honor veterans.

G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season. At $4 apiece, it soon became a big seller.

“Don Levine and his team took it from a good concept to a great concept,” said Alan Hassenfeld, Hasbro’s former chief executive. His father, Merrill Hassenfeld, oversaw G.I. Joe’s development when he ran the company.

G.I. Joe remained popular until the late 1960s. But as opposition to the Vietnam War intensified, parents shied away from military-related toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing “Adventure Team” G.I. Joes that played down the military connection.

During the 1970s, G.I. Joes featured “lifelike hair” and “kung-fu grip” and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer’s clothing for discovering mummies.

Hasbro said in a statement that Mr. Levine’s “influence on the toy industry was profound” as his team developed the concept of an action figure.

“His work forever changed the way kids play with toys, and in particular helped birth the G.I. Joe brand which has been a part of the American fabric for 50 years,” the company said.

Over the decades, G.I. Joe has spawned comic books, cartoons, two movies starring Channing Tatum, and a G.I. Joe Collector’s Club and annual convention.

Mr. Levine’s survivors include his wife of 59 years, three children and four grandchildren.

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