The year was 1963 and the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was ramping up.
Young girls were locked into Barbie, but there was no equivalent doll options for boys. That is, until a licensing agent named Stanley Weston came long. He developed the prototypes of a 12-inch doll that could be dressed up in attire for any branch of the military and be equipped with weapons and accessories. Weston took these prototypes to Toy Fair of 1963 to a toy company called Hassenfeld Bros., which would later become board game giant Hasbro. They bought the concept from him for $100,000, and then turned it into a $100 million industry. The phrase, “G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip” would eventually be etched into the minds of boys around the country for years to come. Weston died in Los Angeles on May 1, at the age of 84.
Weston’s early conceptions of his “outfitted action figures” was just the impetus of what would become the long-running G.I. Joe line. Jay Weston, Stanley’s brother told the Huffington Post in 2012 about the ugly negotiations between his brother and Hasbro, and that the action figures were inspired by trips to the Army-Navy store, and reading volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and Great Books of the Western World. Weston was fascinated learning all about each branch of the military, as well as the Academies of West Point and Annapolis. He was enamored with the variety of soldiers and specialists, vehicles and equipment, all of which, inspired his original design of the toy line.
Late Hasbro executive Don Levine, a Korean war veteran, was credited for naming the line and finished getting it to market in 1964. In Europe, the line was called Action Man, but stateside, G.I. Joe sold like hotcakes, making $35 million over the first two years. The toy line was reimagined in 1982 with a 3.75-inch line, where the "life-like hair" and fabric outfits were traded for molded plastic, made popular by Kenner’s Star Wars toy line. It launched with the animated series G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and ongoing comic book, producing action figures and vehicles for 12 years. Since then, there have been a variety of re-releases of the 12-inch dolls and action figures throughout the years to celebrate anniversaries, to bolster the release of feature films, and to keep the love of the toy line long past 50 years (2014) and running. Elements of G.I. Joe and the accessorizing of action figures have been the strategy of toys for generations and continue to be in the present day.
Weston eventually filed suit against Hasbro in 2015, claiming he thought up the plans to manufacture and sell the action figures with interchangeable outfits. After the creator of He Man and the Masters of the Universe challenged Mattel in court, Weston hoped to exploit a mid-1970’s copyright law change that allowed authors or their heirs to obtain rights after 35 years from the assignees. He also claimed that he had signed an agreement that the rights to G.I. Joe would revert to Weston or his heirs in 2020, but neither he nor Hasbro could produce a copy of said agreement. The suit was finally settled in 2016.
Outside of G.I. Joe, Weston was an Army Veteran as the Korean War ended. After his service, he went to school and completed his master's degree at NYU and made his name in the booming licensing and merchandising industry in the 1960’s representing pop culture figures like Charlie’s Angels, Twiggy and Soupy Sales. Licensing has been a vital part of building a brand beyond its initial product launch whether that is a movie, television show, card game, or toy line. No fan of popular culture and especially genre, is a stranger to licensed products and Weston was a giant in the industry.
Over his career, Weston landed licensing deals with MGM Studios and got The Man From Uncle, Dr. Kildare and Universal Studios monster properties like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and The Mummy thus making Weston a first wave inductee of the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame, ahead of Walt Disney. His company, Leisure Concepts, developed licensing deals for Star Wars and Nintendo, and created the Thundercats cartoon and toy lines, among many more.
Weston is survived by his brother Jay and half-sister Ann Sowers, three children and five grandchildren.
[vintage G.I. Joe shots via Huggins and Scott Auctions]