“The Father” of G.I. Joe, one of the most successful toys of all time - $5.2 billion in sales
Chairman, Almighty Heroes Media Group, LLC
Also created Kenya Doll, Ponytails, FDNY & NYPD Commerative Action Figures
Don Levine: Noah, Moses and G.I. Joe
By Terri Simmons
The 700 Club
Don Levine is the creator of a new line of action figures called Almighty Heroes, specifically targeted to the Christian marketplace. He launched the line in the Christian retail channel during the 2006 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS). He has a hit, industry insiders say.
The Almighty Heroes action figures are champions from the Bible, and they include: Joshua the Warrior, Joseph, Samson, David, Goliath, Noah, Moses, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel and the Lion, and two women based off the most popular bible characters such as Queen Esther and Deborah the Warrior. Don himself grew up learning the stories of the Old Testament heroes.
“The battle of good versus evil is what makes these characters stand out,” Don said.
Don hopes that the unique series of Almighty Heroes will inspire children to take a deeper look into scripture.
“It is my desire that these inspirational action figures and fashion dolls create excitement for kids, and develop their interest in the characters and messages of the Bible,” Don said.
Besides the figures themselves, the toys also come with their own Bible storybook, educating children about their favorite bible character. Also, in two years since its launch, the Almighty Heroes toy line has grown from 7 to 50 items over 5 categories of products, and is now available in 29 countries. Besides the action figures, Almighty Heroes includes character puzzles, educational board games, inflatable tub-toys, Goliath electronic swords, character costumes, and a 27-by-14-foot outdoor Noah’s ark inflatable bounce around, selling for $3500. Don’s toy line is the top selling toy line in its age group among Christian bookstores, and mainstream retailers are also taking notice.
“We’re working on our first orders from Toys R US, and we also have confirmed orders from Rite Aid, Fingerhut, Target.com, Amazon.com and others,” Don said.
Judging from overwhelming responses, Don believes his new toys have become one of the hottest new brands of Bible educational toys in the Christian retail market.
“Almighty Heroes is popular with Christian retailers because the storyline is very clean and educational, and the products are very well made and has a competitive retail price point,” he said.
The US toy market is a $22.3 billion industry according to Packaged Facts and the NPD Group market research. Religious toys represent less than one-half of one percent of that market. However, the growth of the religious toy category has been noticed by some of the country’s biggest mega-retailers, which began stocking lines of faith-based toys last year.
“For almost two years I served in the Korean War and the word ‘heroes’ became very important to me,” Don said. “Men I served with insured that I came home safely, and so I wanted to create a line called ‘GI JOE - A REAL AMERICAN HERO’ in order to recognize and appreciate my life, because of those military heroes; and incidentally are still our Heroes around the world today!”
When Don created the Original G.I. (“Government Issue”) Joe in 1963, he revolutionized the world of boys’ toys and changed the face of the toy industry forever by introducing the action figure.
“Part of my job at Hasbro during the early ‘60s was to find and develop new toy concepts,” Don said. “I passed the display window of an art store and noticed a couple of wooden articulated artist’s mannequins. Suddenly it occurred to me that we could create something truly magnificent if there was a way to produce figures that moved and posed any which way the human body did.”
With over five billion dollars in worldwide sales, G.I. Joe remains one of the most treasured and collectible action figures in the world and has been ranked number five on some “Top Toys of All Times” list.
“Being in the toy business I wanted to pay honor to these men and women and have our youth appreciate a GI JOE, and with its everlasting success,” Don said. “I guess I did!”
The success of GI Joe has remained though Joe has undergone some slight changes over the years as the culture has changed; such as being a tough adventure guy instead of strictly a tough American soldier. There is also a movie in the works for GI Joe, which may change the figure even more. The group behind the hugely successful Transformers movie last year is producing the movie.
THE FATHER OF G.I. JOE
Raised in Forest Hills, Queens, and Great Neck, Long Island, Don was a tennis enthusiast who played Junior Davis Cup in high school. He attended Syracuse University where he earned his degree in business administration. Drafted into the U.S. Army, he was part of the invasion force landing at Inchon in September 1950.
After his discharge from the Army, Don joined two partners to form an advertising agency. Looking for a steadier paycheck, he joined a firm that manufactured plastic notebooks, scrapbooks, diaries and school supplies for large retailers such as F.W. Woolworth, J.C. Penny and Sears.
This is the beginning of his fascination with product development. He got an idea for a line of plastic notebooks, diaries and scrapbooks featuring little-girl colors. He called it Ponytail. But his bosses didn’t particularly like the idea. When he took his idea to some of the major retailers, his boss promptly sacked him.
Don met Merrill Hassenfeld, the head of Hassenfeld Toys, which would later become Hasbro, the toy-manufacturing giant, who had heard of Don’s success with the Ponytail line. A meeting at the Hassenfeld headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island, led to an offer of a permanent position with the company and in 1956, Mr. Hassenfeld made him an offer to create a new company along the lines of his Ponytail enterprise. Hasbro wanted to get into the burgeoning teen market.
By 1963, Don was vice-president and director of marketing and development of Hasbro Toys when he conceived and organized the manufacture and introduction of G.I. Joe. The popular action figure would make Don a legend in the toy business. In 1975, Don left Hasbro to form his own successful toy development company. He developed Kenya, which is currently one of the best-selling dolls in the world.
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