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R.I.P. Stanley Weston, Inventor of the Action Figure

R.I.P. Stanley Weston, Inventor of the Action Figure

There’s a reasonably clear line in toy collectors’ minds between “dolls” and “action figures.” The former feature removable fabric/cloth outfits and sometimes have rooted hair, while the latter are primarily sculpted, and sometimes include some sort of “action” like a firing missile or spring-action punch. But it was not always so. In 1963, Korean War veteran Stanley Weston, of Weston Merchandising, sold Hasbro a concept that was essentially Barbie, but male and military. Knowing boys wouldn’t buy dolls, he coined the term “action figure” to describe them, and all these years later, G.I. Joe is still a thing. The line would eventually evolve action features of its own, from the famous kung fu grip to “eagle eyes” that could look from side to side.

Weston’s Leisure Concepts, known today as 4Licensing, also pitched Ted Wolf’s original ThunderCats concept to Rankin-Bass, creating a cartoon that would then license toys to LJN for one of the most memorable action figure lines of the ’80s. Swinging arms, light-up eyes, and even bubble-blowing appeared as features in some of these toys, which utilized the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid theme that had made Masters of the Universe so successful. Leisure Concepts eventually became 4Kids Entertainment, which brought Pokemon to the U.S.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, “In 1989, he was among the inaugural class for the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame, which includes notables Walt Disney, George Lucas and Jim Henson.” His name was never as well known, but if you ever played with figures, his impact on your life was probably just as substantial.

Weston died this week at the age of 84, leaving behind a brother, three children, five grandchildren…and an entire generation of “children” whose playthings came from him. If you hadn’t heard of him until today…now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Image: Flickr/davidd

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