JON SALISBURY: 'A man to Marvel'

One individual?s personal contribution to the toy business grabs our columnist?s attention this month.
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One of the toy industry’s most endearing qualities is its many stories of enterprising individuals from humble origins who achieve spectacular success.

We all know of people. From manufacturers and distributors to retailers and wholesalers, IP creators, licensors and licensees, the list goes on. How many times have you told tales of daring do from your time in this business? I know that I, for one, am guilty of endless storytelling.

One such individual’s dramatic personal contribution has been as curator of a pantheon of comic book characters that now pepper movie theatres worldwide and are responsible for shedloads of spin-off toys desired by children everywhere. As its chief executive, Ike (Isaac) Perlmutter sold Marvel Entertainment to Walt Disney Co in 2009, making him one of the largest individual shareholders in that entertainment conglomerate.

Just look at the impressive catalogue of characters of his that have been reaping big box office dollars: X-Men, Hulk, Iron Man, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor and Captain America. The Avengers became Disney’s biggest hit of the year generating $1.5 billion at the box office worldwide, while Thor and Captain America earned a further $800 million globally, making Disney’s $4 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009 seem truly inspired. Further sequels to Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers are still to come. Although said to be highly influential at Disney, he has steadfastly refused to take a seat on the board.

Now 69 years old, Perlmutter arrived in New York aged 24 with $250 to his name and is now ranked among the 500 wealthiest Americans, worth $1.9 billion. Coleco, who many ToyNews readers will recall as the original maker of Cabbage Patch dolls, attracted Perlmutter’s interest in 1988. As Coleco teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Perlmutter and a business partner bought $90 million worth of debt for $50 million. After a lengthy battle with creditors, Coleco’s assets were sold to Hasbro and other buyers for a total of $150 million and Perlmutter walked away with a cool $70 million.

When Marvel Enterprises went bust in 1996, protracted legal battles followed but, by 1997, Perlmutter and Avi Arad had established control. ToyBiz and Marvel were merged into Marvel Enterprises to bring it out of bankruptcy in June 1998, with ToyBiz becoming a division of the new firm.

Marvel completely reinvented itself, launching its own studio, which guaranteed greater creative control over films featuring its characters and also gave it power over scheduling, so that licensed merchandise like toys could be released to coincide with a movie.

But few readers will have had contact with Perlmutter. Said to be intensely private about his security, he even attended the 2008 Iron Man premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre wearing a moustache and wig to avoid being recognised by photographers.

Jon Salisbury has written about the toy business since 1985, editing magazines and running toy media events in New York and London. He can be contacted at or @JonSalisbury


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