James R. Becker (1921 - 2011)

In Memoriam, 2011

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For over 55 years, Jim Becker devoted his energy and life’s blood to developing and licensing products in the Toy Industry.  He helped create global licensing as we know it today.  By creating Gumby and Pokey merchandise from a TV Show, he helped spawn an $80 billion Licensing Industry. He recognized and created many trends, like Gumby & Pokey, Barrel of Monkeys, Disappearing Magic Baby Bottle, Othello, Nerf Ping Pong, Battle Dome and The Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Set. Before Jim, no one adapted items made for the US to appeal and sell in foreign markets, including the most difficult of all to penetrate, Japan.  He also innovated the concept of developing Japanese and European toys and games for the American market.  In those days, the 1940s-1970s, global marketing didn’t exist; global companies didn’t exist and neither Hasbro nor Mattel had worldwide distribution or subsidiaries in most foreign markets.

James R. Becker, together with his company Anjar Co., was instrumental in introducing OTHELLO to the U.S. and worldwide market outside of Japan; organizing the WOC; and successfully licensing, marketing, promoting, advertising, merchandising and popularizing OTHELLO around the world outside of Japan. One of the most popular games of all time, Othello is rich in strategy, but still approachable by the casual player. Othello was first introduced in Japan in 1973, by Tsukuda Original Co. In 1975, the international licensing company Becker founded, Anjar Co., licensed Othello to Gabriel Industries for the U.S. market and, subsequently, Anjar licensed Othello around the world outside of Japan. Becker also encouraged Othello licensees to use the tagline, “A Minute to Learn... A Lifetime to Master.” Today, Othello Associations exist in over 30 different countries. Othello game sales are estimated to have been approximately $600 million and approximately 40 million classic games have been sold in over 100 different countries, making Othello the most successfully licensed strategy game in the world. In 1977, Jim organized the first World Othello Championship™ (WOC), bringing together the world’s top Othello players. This year, the 35th consecutive Annual World Othello Championship will be held in November 2011 in the New York area.

Othello was recognized by Playthings Magazine, the principle Toy Industry publication, as one of the ‘Classic Toys and Games of the 20th Century’ still in production.  Other prestigious awards that Othello has won include the Parents’ Choice Classic Toy Award and Games Magazine’s Hall of Fame. In 2005, in recognition of Jim’s lifetime achievements, Becker was the recipient of the prestigious International Designers & Inventors of Toys Award.

In addition to Othello, Gumby, Pokey and Barrel of Monkeys, Jim’s other product development credits include the Disappearing Magic Milk Bottle, as well as Nerf Ping Pong, Elmo’s Trike, Barbie ‘Really Works’ Activity Toys, and ‘Land Before Time’ Hand Puppets, Shirt Pocket Games, GI Joe Earthquake Vehicle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Foldable Flying Saucers, the Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Set, Grabbin’ Dragons and hundreds of others.

Jim used his expertise, his charisma, his sense of humor and the strength of his personal relationships to create one of the most successful product development and licensing companies in the world, Anjar.  Anjar is an acronym for Jim’s four sons: Arto, Neil, Jonny and Roger.

As Rockwell Kent, the famous American artist and illustrator of Herman Melville’s novel ’Moby Dick’, wrote about Jim in his autobiography ‘It’s Me O Lord’, Jim Becker was  “one who has known and followed the way to…the hearts of countless children at Christmas time”. Jim is survived by his wife of 57 years, Frances, children. Arto (Beverly), Jonathan (Patti) and Roger, grandchildren Neil, Stephanie, Talia, Isaac, Michael, Julie, Haylee, and Noah and great grandson Eversmith.