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Jack Friedman dies at 70; toy maker

His successes included companies that made E.T. dolls, video games and action figures.

May 06, 2010|By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times

For years, Jack Friedman's New York license plate read, "Thanx ET," a public wink at the movie-related merchandise that marked his first big success in the toy industry.

He went on to establish THQ Inc., a Calabasas video game maker, and in 1995, co-founded Jakks Pacific, a Malibu-based toy company that scored its first hit producing action figures for the World Wrestling Federation.

Friedman died Monday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center of complications from a rare blood disorder, said Genna Rosenberg, a Jakks spokeswoman. He was 70.

Known within the company for his yo-yo skills, Friedman had a fondness for classic toys — die-cast collectible cars, metal trucks, bulldozers — and a business strategy that revolved around licensing toys and acquiring other companies.

One company Jakks bought was Toymax, which made Funnoodle pool products. It also developed a line of toys with Nickelodeon and manufactures products for Disney, Hello Kitty, Cabbage Patch Kids and dozens of other well-known brands.

As the toy industry struggled with low profits around 2000, Jakks was one of the country's fastest-growing companies, the Associated Press reported at the time.

"When you … get there with few bumps, it's exciting," Friedman once said of the success of Jakks, named for the classic children's game.

Born in 1939 in Queens, N.Y., Friedman started his career in the 1960s as a sales representative for toy maker Norman J. Lewis Associates.

Backed by Lewis, Friedman founded his first toy company, LJN, in 1970. In addition to E.T. merchandise, the firm manufactured Michael Jackson dolls.

By 1985, MCA had bought a majority stake in the business, and two years later, Friedman moved on.

While working out at a Woodland Hills gym owned by the much younger Stephen Berman, Friedman asked him, "Is this really what you want to do with the rest of your life?," Forbes magazine wrote in a 1999 article that highlighted Jakks as one of the best small companies to watch.

When Friedman founded video game manufacturer THQ, Berman soon joined him. Friedman ran the company until 1995 but left partly because he was never comfortable with high-tech toys, he later said.

With Berman, he started Jakks with $3 million, largely from their own pockets, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported in 2002. Berman succeed him as chairman in April.

As a philanthropist, Friedman supported a company program that has donated more than $40 million in toys and school supplies to children around the world.

Friedman is survived by his wife, Karen, of Thousand Oaks; children Brooke Porter and Tony Friedman; and stepchildren Shannon and Andrew Farrell.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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