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Levine, Hasbro executive who helped create GI Joe, dies at 86

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island--Donald Levine, the Hasbro toy company executive credited as the father of G.I. Joe for developing the world's first action figure, has died. He was 86.

He died of cancer early Thursday at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island, his wife, Nan, said. They were just about to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

Levine shepherded the toy through design and development as Hasbro's head of research and development. He and his team came up with an 29.2-centimeter articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company's employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.

Levine, who served in the Army in Korea, said he got the idea for the moveable figure as a way to honor veterans.

G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and soon became a big seller at US$4 apiece.

“Don Levine and his team took it from a good concept to a great concept,” said Alan Hassenfeld, Hasbro's former CEO whose father, Merrill, oversaw G.I. Joe's development when he ran the company.

G.I. Joe remained popular until the late 1960s, as opposition to the Vietnam War intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing “Adventure Team” G.I. Joes that played down the military connection. Into the '70s, G.I. Joes featured “lifelike hair” and “kung-fu grip” and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer's clothing for discovering mummies.

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In this Jan. 30, 2003 photo, G.I. Joe creator Don Levine holds up his original scuba diver G.I. Joe as other original prototypes lie on top of a table in Providence, Rhode Island. (AP)

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