A son, Jonny Klamer, confirmed his death but did not cite a cause.
Once described by the New York Times as “one of the most successful creators of children’s toys and games in this country,” Mr. Klamer was said to have more than 200 inventions to his name. The best known by far was the Game of Life, which has sold more than 35 million copies since it first appeared on toy store shelves in 1960.
Life, as it is often called, was conceived as a modern take on a board game designed in 1860 by Milton Bradley, the game pioneer whose namesake company enlisted Mr. Klamer’s services shortly before its centennial. The original iteration, called the Checkered Game of Life, was the first game that Bradley designed and took players on a path from infancy to — one hoped — “happy old age.”
Players who hopscotched their way across the 19th-century board encountered squares labeled “honor” or “industry” or, if luck did not go their way, “idleness” and “ruin.” In deference to prevailing mores, the game included no dice, and thus no invitation to gamble. It was of a piece with its time.
By 1960, the Checkered Game of Life had disappeared from most American game tables. It had been replaced by entrants such as Monopoly, which rewarded winners with riches, punished losers with penury and became one of the top-selling board games in the United States during the Depression.
Mr. Klamer’s task, as assigned by the Milton Bradley Co., was to create a game to mark the company’s 100th anniversary. He rifled through the company’s archives until he stumbled on the Checkered Game of Life.
“I saw the word ‘life,’ and it inspired me,” Mr. Klamer told the Columbus Dispatch in 2012. “What better name for a game than ‘Life’?”
With the assistance of colleagues including Bill Markham, Mr. Klamer updated the game for the aspirations of contemporary players. For instance, players of the new version would choose between a “business” route, which afforded an immediate salary, and “college,” which promised a larger but delayed one.
“If, like me, you played the 1960 version of Life while wearing bell-bottoms and listening to a 45 of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man,’ ” historian Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker in 2007, “you have a pretty good idea of what happened to Milton Bradley’s nineteenth-century game about vice, virtue, and the pursuit of happiness: it was reinvented as a lesson in Cold War consumerist conformity, a kind of two-dimensional Levittown, complete with paychecks and retirement homes and dental bills.”
To board game enthusiasts, the Game of Life was a beauty: a marvel of topography with raised roads that players traversed in their station-wagon game pieces. According to the volume “Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them,” by Tim Walsh, Life was “the first three-dimensional game board using plastic.”
Few American children have come of age in recent decades without dexterously handling the tiny pink or blue pegs designed to represent mothers, fathers and children. Game pieces move across the board according to the whims of a multicolored numbered wheel. Destinations in the 1960 version included “Millionaire Acres” — or the “Poor Farm.”
The Game of Life got a promotional boost from television personality Art Linkletter. It became one of the most popular board games of all time, undergoing redesigns to keep it current as players introduced the game from one generation to the next. (The station-wagon game pieces were remade as minivans; dollar figures were adjusted for inflation.)
Life was the subject of a long-running legal battle between Mr. Klamer and Hasbro, the Rhode Island-based toymaker that purchased the Milton Bradley Co. in the 1980s, and Markham, whom Mr. Klamer said he had hired to create a prototype.
Markham, who claimed he deserved greater credit and royalties for his role in the development of Life, reportedly reached a settlement with Mr. Klamer in the 1980s. In 2015, Markham’s widow joined other parties in suing Hasbro and Mr. Klamer, among others, in an attempt to reclaim her husband’s copyright interest in the game. Mr. Klamer countersued and ultimately prevailed.
“Like the Game of Life itself, this fifty-nine-year tug-of-war for renown and royalties has followed a long, circuitous path,” Judge William E. Smith of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, wrote in a 2019 ruling, which cited a concept in copyright law known as “work for hire.”
“The weight of the evidence in this case is that the success that met the Game of Life was, in fact, nothing if not the result of collective effort. And although the credit, in the colloquial sense, can be split pro rata, the law dictates that the copyrights cannot be.”
An appeals court upheld the ruling in 2021.
Reuben Benjamin Klamer was born in Canton, Ohio, on June 20, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania. His father was a wine barrel maker, and his mother was a homemaker.
Mr. Klamer received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ohio State University in 1944 before serving with the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.
An inveterate tinkerer, he worked for and formed several companies over his long career that developed, marketed and sold toys and other products. His first noted invention, according to an obituary in his hometown Canton Repository, was a device called the “Fashion-Aire Rack,” which, according to the article, “allowed the airfreighting of garments without folding or packing from New York manufacturers to markets.”
In the toy market, he was credited with popularizing a form of plastic that was less prone to shattering, making products safer for children. The most noted toys credited to him included an entry into the hula hoop market; Gaylord, a pretend pup that walked; Thirstee Cry Baby, a doll that took a bottle; the Hypo-Squirt, a device described by the Times as a “king-sized hypodermic pistol of extraordinarily devilish capabilities”; and an enduringly popular set of trainer skates for Fisher-Price.
Mr. Klamer’s marriages to Charlotte Brawer and Shary Friedman ended in divorce.
Survivors include a son from his first marriage, Jeff Klamer of Monterey, Calif.; three children from his second marriage, Jonny Klamer of Los Angeles and Andrew Klamer and Pamela Klamer-Singer, both of Beverly Hills, Calif.; and three grandchildren.
In addition to his toys, Mr. Klamer designed TV props, including a phaser rifle for “Star Trek” that sold at auction for $231,000 in 2013. Mr. Klamer told the Dispatch that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the 1960s sci-fi series, had asked him for “a rifle, a gun of some sort,” after a TV executive complained that the show was too “cerebral.”
But the Game of Life, which has been marketed around the world in at least 20 languages, remained Mr. Klamer’s calling card. It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2010. He nurtured genuine affection for the inventions that did not fare as well in the proverbial game of life — collecting his failed experiments in a place that he described to an interviewer, Richard Gottlieb, as a “warehouse of broken dreams.”
“My life has been one rocky road after the other,” Mr. Klamer told the Dispatch, “and every once in a while I get a hit.”
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