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  • RIP Henry Orenstein

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/18/b...DkDdAgRFa6XMJI

    Henry Orenstein, a Holocaust survivor who built a major American toy company, later persuaded Hasbro to start its line of Transformers action figures, and who in his 70s patented an ingenious way to better televise poker tournaments, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Livingston, N.J. He was 98.

    The cause was Covid-19, his wife, Susie Orenstein, said.

    A Polish Jew, Mr. Orenstein survived a hellish journey through five concentration camps — and the shock of his parents’ murders in a cemetery in Poland — to become a merchant of fun.

    The Topper Corporation, which he started in the 1950s, made the Suzy Homemaker line of miniature appliances, the Johnny Seven One Man Army toy gun, the Betty the Beautiful Bride and Dawn dolls, Zoomer Boomer trucks, Ding-A-Ling robots and Sesame Street educational toys. Topper, originally known as De Luxe Premium and for a time as De Luxe Reading, was at one point said to be the fourth-largest toy company in the United States.

    To market his Suzy Cute doll in 1964, Mr. Orenstein hired Louis Armstrong for a television commercial that also included three little girls. “Oh, you can bend her legs, bend her arms, and bathe her, too,” he sang exuberantly. “She has a chair, a dish, a cup. You press her tummy, her arms go up!”

    Six years later, Mr. Orenstein sponsored Al Unser Sr.’s racecar, which won the Indianapolis 500. The victory helped ignite sales of Topper’s Johnny Lighting miniature cars (rivals to Mattel’s Hot Wheels). He gave Mr. Unser, who died on Dec. 9, a $30,000 bonus after he won.

    But in March 1972, with Topper burdened by debt, Mr. Orenstein stepped down as president and chief executive. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the next year. He said he had lost all his money.

    He refashioned himself as a toy inventor (he held dozens of patents) and broker. During the Toy Fair in Manhattan in the early 1980s, he saw a Japanese-made toy — a tiny car that could easily change into an airplane — and recognized more elaborate possibilities.

    “He started playing with it and said, ‘This is the best thing I’ve seen in at least 10 years,’” recalled Mrs. Orenstein, who, as Carolyn Sue Vankovich, met her future husband in 1967 when she was demonstrating Suzy Homemaker at the Toy Fair. “He had the sparkle he got when he got excited.”


    Mr. Orenstein put together a deal between Hasbro and the Japanese company, Takara, which led to Hasbro’s introduction in 1984 of Transformers, toy robots that could turn into vehicles or beasts. They would become hugely popular, spawning an animated television series and a series of movies.

    “Ideas don’t come in little pieces,” he told Newsweek in 2016. “It’s in; it’s out. It’s there, or it’s not,” he said. “I was just an inventor. You needed a big company to do what I thought should be done: making real transformations from complex things to other complex things.”


    Hasbro’s Transformers, robots that could be turned into cars or beasts, were introduced in 1984, after Mr. Orenstein brokered a deal between Hasbro and the Japanese company that made an early version, and became a hit.Credit...Alamy
    Alan Hassenfeld, a former chairman of Hasbro, told Newsweek that Mr. Orenstein was “absolutely the catalyst that made this happen.” He added, “To be able to take a car and, with a little bit of dexterity, change it into another toy, that was something magical.”

    Mr. Orenstein also sold toy manufacturers on his own ideas, among them Dolly Surprise, a doll whose ponytail grew more than three inches when her right arm was raised, which Hasbro bought.

    Mr. Orenstein was born on Oct. 13, 1923, in Hrubieszow, Poland. His father, Lejb, was a grain merchant, and his mother, Golda (Strum) Orenstein, was a homemaker.

    The Nazi invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, prompted Henry, his father and his brothers Felek and Sam (another brother, Fred, was in Warsaw) to flee to Soviet-occupied Poland, leaving his mother and sister, Hanka, behind. They spent more than two years there before returning to Hrubieszow.

    But the mortal danger for Jews in the town had escalated. The Gestapo executed his parents and other Jews in 1942 in a cemetery. In July 1943, Henry and his brothers were loaded onto a cattle car and taken to the Budzyn concentration camp in Poland.

    Four other camps followed: Majdanek and Plasznow, also in Poland, and Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen, in Germany. About 10 days into a death march from Sachsenhausen in the waning days of the war, he and his brother Sam were liberated.

    “My heart started to pound with joy,” Mr. Orenstein wrote in his autobiography, “I Shall Live: Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds” (1987). “It was true. We were free! Now we shouted with laughter and hugged one another.”

    His brother Fred had also survived, but his sister was killed at the Stutthof concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Felek had also been killed.

    After two years in displaced persons camps and an apartment in Stuttgart, Germany, Mr. Orenstein immigrated to New York in 1947. He lugged bales of cotton for a clothing company; opened and sold a grocery store in New Jersey; became a salesman for a food company; and, with an uncle, started the novelty company that grew into Topper.

    “I think I have proved that this is still the land of opportunity,” he told United Press International in 1962.



    Mr. Orenstein in 2004. A competitive poker player, he came up with the idea for placing cameras under a glass table to show the down cards in stud poker games on television. Credit...Chris Maynard for The New York Times
    He found another opportunity in the late 1980s. “He liked to play backgammon, which I thought was boring,” Mrs. Orenstein said. “I suggested that he take up poker.”

    He began playing in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His game was seven-card stud, in which four cards are face up and three are face down, or hole cards, and only the holder of the hand can see them. While watching a poker tournament on television, he realized that the excitement he felt while playing was not being conveyed.

    “He said, ‘This isn’t the game we played,’” Mori Eskandani, a professional poker player who produces televised poker programming, said in an interview. “‘If everyone can see the hole cards, they’d see how great it is.’”

    Mr. Orenstein spent six months developing a table with miniature cameras mounted beneath each player’s station — cutouts with non-glare glass that let the cameras look up — which would show the hole cards and transmit the images on television. He patented his idea of a hole-card camera in 1995 and got his first customer a few years later when the Discovery Channel licensed it for its “World Poker Tour.”

    “We called the table ‘the Holy Grail,’” Mr. Eskandani said.

    In addition to his wife, Mr. Orenstein is survived by a son, Mark, and a daughter, Annette. His marriage to Adele Bigajer, whom he met in a displaced persons camp in Germany, ended in divorce.

    In 2003 Mr. Orenstein — a competitive player who won the 1996 World Series of Poker seven-card stud tournament — cajoled Jon Miller, an NBC Sports executive, to use the hole-card camera table on the network’s programs “Poker Superstars,” “Poker After Dark” and “National Heads-Up Poker Championship.”

    “He revolutionized the game for a whole generation of poker fans who would not be able to see it as it is without Henry’s creativity and ingenuity,” Mr. Miller, the president of programming for the NBC Sports Group, said in an interview.

    Other networks avoided violating Mr. Orenstein’s patent by moving the tiny cameras from below the table to inside the players’ table-edge armrests, or rails, which made the hole cards visible to the cameras when the players looked at them.

    Mr. Orenstein was inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2008.
    Last edited by jt3; 12-19-2021, 01:03 PM.

  • #2
    Henry was the original founder of Johnny Lightning.

    Comment


    • #3
      I took the liberty of cleaning up some of the extraneous stuff unrelated to the article. Thank you for posting this.
      The image file limits have been reset. Upper limits now are 100,000 when we have some images that exceed 5,000,000. I've set the pixels for no more than 1000 across the longest side, so if you resize to that all should be well. (The limits are larger than what I typically use, and my images turn out just fine, so I know it shouldn't be a problem)

      Thank you for your understanding.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by jt3 View Post
        I took the liberty of cleaning up some of the extraneous stuff unrelated to the article. Thank you for posting this.
        Thanks, and you are very welcome

        Comment


        • #5
          Thank you for sharing this with us - was not aware of his connection with the Transformers but did recall his ties to Johnny Lightning!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by pjedsel View Post
            Thank you for sharing this with us - was not aware of his connection with the Transformers but did recall his ties to Johnny Lightning!
            Very welcome

            Comment


            • #7
              thanks for the interesting read...

              Comment


              • #8
                Henry Orenstein, the Transformers toys inventor, Holocaust survivor and poker star, is dead at 98


                December 16, 2021

                (JTA) — Henry Orenstein, a Holocaust survivor who went on to invent the Transformers toys and became a major donor to Jewish and Israeli causes, died Tuesday at the age of 98.

                Orenstein became a best-selling toy maker with his Transformers line, which he first created in the early 1980s. He followed up on that success with numerous other inventions and over 100 patents before eventually becoming a star poker player and being inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.

                Born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1923, Orenstein managed to survive the war due to a gamble he made in 1944, the first of several that would shape his life.

                While imprisoned at Budzyn, a German labor camp in Poland, in 1944, the Nazis running the camp ordered all scientists and mathematicians to register with the camp administration. Despite not knowing if the scientists and mathematicians would be given better conditions or killed immediately, and despite the fact that Orenstein himself was neither a scientist or mathematician, he signed himself up along with his brothers who were interned there with him.

                That decision may have been the difference between life and death for Orenstein.

                “At that time, we’d heard that days before they killed off all 17,000 Jewish inmates in Majdanek, so I thought our turn is coming,” Orenstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2005, referring to one of the main Nazi death camps in Poland. “And to play for time, I registered myself and my three brothers as scientists and mathematicians, even though we were not. Just gambling for time. It turned out to be a good gamble.”

                The Nazis were organizing a special unit of prisoners to develop a weapon to help the Nazis win the war and the prisoners assigned to the unit were spared execution. Luckily for Orenstein, who was only 16 when the war broke out, the math problems he was required to solve were simple and he, along with two of the three brothers with him, survived the war. His parents, a sister and one brother were killed.

                After the war, Orenstein came to the United States and found work in a factory. In the 1950s, he founded a toy company and had his first major success in 1958 when he introduced Betty the Beautiful Bride. But after defaulting on a loan in the 1970s, his company went bankrupt and Orenstein began pitching his ideas to other toy companies.

                In 1983, he got the idea for the Transformers — action figures that turn from cars into robots. He brought the idea to Hasbro, which first produced the toys in 1984. The toys would become one of the most successful action figures in history, spawning TV shows, movies and merchandise worth billions of dollars.

                In the 1990s, Orenstein turned his inventor’s mind to poker, a game he first started playing in the 1960s. Orenstein was attracted to the game for the way it hinged on calling bluffs and weighing odds.

                “Poker is a very fascinating game. You have many elements that go into making a good poker player,” he told JTA in 2005. “You have to be able to calculate odds, you have to read other players’ faces and movements to see whether you can get what they call ‘tells’ — that tell you what kind of a hand they have — and also you have to have a good memory to remember cards.”

                In 1996, he patented a new model of poker table with cameras built in that could show television viewers each of the players’ hands throughout the game. That invention, which eventually transformed the experience of watching a poker game from a tedious one to an exciting event, would spark an explosion of interest in the game.

                Already a millionaire by the early 1960s, Orenstein was a longtime donor to Jewish causes, including the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York and the Orenstein Project, an Israeli nonprofit he founded in 2017 that focused on food insecurity with special attention to Holocaust survivors.

                Orenstein is survived by his wife, Susie Orenstein.
                Henry Orenstein, the Transformers toys inventor, Holocaust survivor and poker star, is dead at 98 - St. Louis Jewish Light (stljewishlight.org)

                Another article I found, one of the better ones I sorted through this afternoon. -jt3
                The image file limits have been reset. Upper limits now are 100,000 when we have some images that exceed 5,000,000. I've set the pixels for no more than 1000 across the longest side, so if you resize to that all should be well. (The limits are larger than what I typically use, and my images turn out just fine, so I know it shouldn't be a problem)

                Thank you for your understanding.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Interesting story of his life, never knew the story of the transformers.

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                  • #10
                    Very enlightening read. Thanks to all who posted these articles.

                    RIP
                    "I love the smell of diecast in the morning."

                    Comment


                    • #11


                      the guy on the left doyle brunson.back in the 60s and 70s i played in a few card games with him at the stardust.

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                      • #12
                        I kinda guessed these were his poker buddies. I presume you lost?
                        The image file limits have been reset. Upper limits now are 100,000 when we have some images that exceed 5,000,000. I've set the pixels for no more than 1000 across the longest side, so if you resize to that all should be well. (The limits are larger than what I typically use, and my images turn out just fine, so I know it shouldn't be a problem)

                        Thank you for your understanding.

                        Comment

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