Barry Becher, the infomercial pioneer known for introducing American TV viewers to Ginsu knives and a wide range of other products died Friday at the age of 71.
Becher’s stepdaughter, Stacy Paradise, told reporters that the Ginsu guru had been suffering from kidney cancer and passed at a hospital of complications from surgery.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Barry Becher moved to Rhode Island after high school where he purchased two AAMCO auto shops with dreams of greatness.
While in R.I., Barry met Ed Valenti, an advertising account executive for a local television station. The two decided they wanted to find a product they could market through an extended TV commercial, and Becher found a mohair-bristled paint pad that prevented splatter and cut work times.
After being rejected when they pitched their idea to Madison Avenue firms, Becher and Valenti formed Dial Media — ran out of Becher’s garage — and produced the product, the Miracle Painter, themselves.
The Washington Post reports the duo sold more than a million units, kicking off a decade of memorable ads that made buying mundane products like flatware and mixing bowls into mini-cliffhangers.
“But wait, there’s more!” a breathless announcer said before adding a few extras to the offer. “Now how much would you pay?”
“Flatware became newly exciting as Lusterware Silverware and mixing bowls were made must-haves as Royal DuraSteel.”
“We tried to find the most unique products in the world,” Valenti said.
In the course of a decade, the men said they amassed more than $500 million in sales. Armourcote (cookware) was the most profitable, with sales exceeding $80 million, but their most memorable wares were, by far, the Ginsu knives.
According to the Post, their famous cutlery began as Quikut knives, made by a company in Fremont, Ohio (since bought by Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s company).
“Who would buy a set of knives made in Ohio?” Mr. Becher once mused. “We had to add some mystery. We thought about where we could say they came from.”
He and Valenti and copywriter Arthur Schiff kicked around the idea of samurai warriors and somehow came up with the name Ginsu.
“It doesn’t mean anything in any language,” Mr. Becher said in 2005. “We like to say that it means, ‘I never have to work again.’ ”
Becher and Valenti eventually shifted their business to become mainly a media buying firm, PriMedia. They helped popularize the use of credit cards and 800 numbers for sales, and their work is seen as a precursor to extended 30-minute infomercials and round-the-clock shopping channels, such as Home Shopping Network.
Becher is survived his wife of 18 years, Leslie Friedman Becher, of Parkland, Fla.; two daughters from his first marriage; four stepchildren; a sister; and 10 grandchildren.