The Eulogizer: Elliot Handler, Barbie’s ‘dad,’ and more on alleged mobster Francois Abutbul

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer.  Read previous columns here.

Elliot Handler, 95, Barbie’s ‘dad’

Elliot Handler, half of the pair that founded toy giant Mattel, and the man who gave the name Barbie to the full-figured doll created by his wife, Ruth, died in Los Angeles on July 21 at 95.

Iconic Mattel products attributed to Handler included Hot Wheels, now up to 10,000 models, and Chatty Cathy, one of the first talking dolls whose “pull string talking mechanism … revolutionized the toy industry.”

Mattel Inc. has become the world’s largest toymaker, with 31,000 employees and revenues of nearly $6 billion in 2010. 

Handler and his wife, who died in 2002, left Mattel in the 1970s, but he continued to visit the company on an annual basis. Handler was known at Mattel for insisting that employees call him by his first name at a time when such informality was unprecedented.

Mattel CEO Bob Eckert said Handler had remained an important part of the company and showed a continued fondness for toys.

In the early days, however, Handler may not have had the best business instincts. Despite giving Barbie her name, he was skeptical that the doll — a full-figured young woman his wife had modeled on a German figurine — would find an audience.

"Ruth," Handler reportedly told his wife, "no mother is ever going to buy her daughter a doll with breasts."

Prior to development of Mattel, with his partner Harold Matson, Handler was a struggling art student and designer of light fixtures. He designed a realistic-looking miniature piano that brought in more than 300,000 orders. But the Handlers had mispriced the toys, losing about a dime on each one.

Handler was born in Illinois and grew up in Denver. He met Ruth Moscowicz at a B’nai B’rith dance for teenagers in 1929 and the budding romance troubled her family, which saw him as a “starving artist.” But he followed her to California, enrolled in art school and found light fixtures job. Once together in California, she urged him to go by Elliot, his middle name, instead of Izzy, as he had been known in Denver.

Along with creating iconic toys, the Handlers revolutionized toy marketing by going directly to children. In 1955 they bought a year’s worth of advertising on the new "Mickey Mouse Club" TV show, including this Mattel advertisement.

In the late 1960s, while looking for a toy for boys, Handler came up with an idea for miniature die-cast vehicles — it  became Hot Wheels, whose customized designs and paint jobs now adorn 10,000 models.

In recent years, Handler went back to one of his first loves, painting.

"They were something," Barbara Handler said of her parents. "My mother was ahead of her time, that’s for sure, and he was such a great designer. He had such a great flair for creativity."

The Handlers helped found Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, and also were longtime contributors to Jewish causes, Handler said in 2002 when his wife died.

More on alleged Israeli gangster Francois Abutbul

Israeli media have been writing obituaries not only for alleged mobster Francois Abutbul of Netanya, who died at 40 in a blaze of gunfire on July 31, but for the entire Abutbul crime family.

An Abutbul family-run bakery in Netanya’s industrial section is now sporting the sign of a one-time rival, and Israeli media likened the new sign to a “moa’dat evel,” the black-and-white posters placed around the homes where someone has died.

A person said to be knowledgeable about the Abutbul family was quoted in one report as saying, "There were 5,000 people who did not like him. The day he was killed, a lot of people drank a toast to his death, not to life.”

But one article speculated that several other family members, at least one of whom has never been involved in the “family business,” may rise to take over its operations. Shades of Michael Corleone

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