COLUMBUS — The road of life — not to mention the Game of Life — is lined with obstacles and dead ends.
And sometimes, when inspiration, perseverance, and luck all come together, success is just around the corner.
“My life has been one rocky road after the other, and every once in a while I get a hit,” said Reuben Klamer, creator of the Game of Life and about 200 other toys and games.
Mr. Klamer, 90, is an Ohio State University graduate. He returned to Columbus last week to inspire future entrepreneurs at the Fisher College of Business. Balance issues have landed him in a wheelchair, but his inventive mind remains sharp.
And the secret to life “is to just be cool and humble, don’t let anything bother you,” the Canton native said.
His long list of hits includes introducing unbreakable plastic into the toy industry in the 1950s when he was marketing manager of Eldon Industries, followed by the production of the Art Linkletter Spin-A-Hoop, a competitor of Wham-O’s Hula hoop.
He also created Gaylord the Walking Dog, Busy Blocks, and Fisher-Price training roller skates, which are still being sold. Then there’s the Napoleon Solo Gun from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series. The gun “converts into rifle with: stock, silencer, telescopic sight, bipod,” according to the box.
“He’s one of the treasures of the toy-and-game industry,” said George Burtch, Hasbro’s vice president of marketing. “And the fire is still burning; he’s still inventing.”
Mr. Klamer is a member of the Toy Industry Association’s Hall of Fame.
The success of his unbreakable toys and Linkletter hoop got Mr. Klamer a meeting with the Milton Bradley Co. as it approached its 100th anniversary in 1960.
“I had just gone out on my own and started an ‘inventorship’ company,” Mr. Klamer said of Toylab, which is still in San Diego. “I decided I would invent. What I would invent, I didn’t know. Who I would sell it to, I didn’t know.”
The idea he pitched to Milton Bradley was an art set filled with crayons and colored pencils.
“They weren’t interested,” Mr. Klamer said. “But they had this crucial need for a new game to help celebrate their 100th anniversary. ‘Can you do it?’ they asked. I said, ‘I’ll try.’”
Mr. Klamer spent hours in the firm’s musty archives, searching for inspiration. Then he came across the Checkered Game of Life, created by Milton Bradley, who founded the company.
“I saw the word life and it inspired me,” Mr. Klamer said.
His game was based on, but very different from, the original checkerboard-style game. The rest is board-game history.
“Who here has played the Game of Life?” asked Fisher’s Cynthia Anderson before Mr. Klamer spoke to a group of 25 students at OSU. Every hand went up.
The Game of Life still sells well and is especially popular in Japan.
He’s made some money on the game but won’t share specifics.
“That’s between me and the IRS,” he said. “But it did fund a lot of mistakes.”
What’s kept Mr. Klamer going is his love of inventing.“It’s something that’s inside an individual,” he said. “Curiosity is part of it, how to do something better, to go beyond what’s being done. And you never give up.”
There have been a few ‘almosts’ too. One of these was a toy gun based on the phaser-rifle prop he created for the second pilot of the Star Trek television series.
"[Creator Gene Rodenberry] said he needed a rifle, a gun of some sort, to make it more exciting.”
Mr. Klamer’s gun was used in the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, by Capt. James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner.
He said he had an agreement with Mr. Rodenberry for the toy rights to the gun, “but I was aced out” and his toy phaser was never produced.
What’s kept him going is his love of inventing.“It’s something that’s inside an individual,” he said. “Curiosity is part of it, how to do something better, to go beyond what’s being done. And you never give up.”
One of the goals of the Game of Life is to repay your loans and retire to Millionaires Estate or Countryside Acres.
Mr. Klamer seems to have skipped this part. “I have a doll in development that will cost $150,” he said. “That’s all I can say for now. ”