Obituaries May 4, 2016


K-tel founder Philip Kives, farm boy who pioneered the infomercial, dies at 87

NEW YORK — Philip Kives, a Canadian marketing prodigy whose company K-tel International pioneered the business of “as-seen-on-TV” infomercials, died April 27. He was 87.

The son of Eastern European immigrants who settled in a Jewish agricultural colony in Saskatchewan, Canada, Kives launched what became K-tel in 1962, according to the New York Times.

For the next three decades, it saturated the airwaves in North America with breathless ads for gadgets like the Veg-O-Matic, the Miracle Brush, the Bonsai Blade and the Patty Stacker.

Many of the products were developed by a company founded by Samuel Popeil, another Jewish marketing maven. When their partnership dissolved in the mid-1960s, K-tel went on to record and sell compilation music albums with titles like 25 Polka Greats, A Musical Journey: Pan-Flute and the Hooked on Classics series, which featured disco versions of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1984, Kives rebounded with a new company, K-5 Leisure Products. It marketed sports and fitness gadgets. The company continues to license and sell its music library.

Kives, who lived in Winnipeg, often said he honed his craft by hawking cookware on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, N.J. He also credited his hardscrabble upbringing in western Canada, where the Jewish Colonization Organization relocated his family in 1926.

“I started my first entrepreneurial venture at the age of 8, when I set up my first trap line,” the former farm boy remembered in a company biography.  “Not only did I sell my own furs, but I bought furs from all the other kids in school and resold them at fur auctions. I made just enough money to buy my few clothes for the year.”

—JTA News and Features

German Jew who spied on Nazis dies at age 94

Frederick Mayer, a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and parachuted back in seven years later as an American spy, has died.

Mayer died on April 15 in Charles Town, W.Va., at the age of 94, his daughter Claudette confirmed to the New York Times.

Mayer posed as a German soldier for more than two months in western Austria, sending intelligence on Nazi troop movements to his commanders in the United States in the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the Central Intelligence Agency.

Shortly before the end of the war, he was imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, which had discovered that he was spying for the United States. Despite waterboarding and pistol-whipping, he did not reveal the location of other American spies and soldiers, according to the Times.

He told the newspaper in an interview two months before his death that he volunteered as a spy out of a sense of duty and boredom with other military assignments. He also said he did not like being called a hero, despite receiving medals and honors for his work.

Mayer enlisted in the Army a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He worked at bases in Arizona, Georgia and Maryland before volunteering to work in covert operations.

In addition to tracking Nazi troop movements in Austria, Mayer also organized hundreds of resistance fighters against the Nazis.

Mayer worked as a power plant supervisor at Voice of America outposts around the world. He volunteered for Meals on Wheels there for more than three decades, continuing to deliver meals to the elderly and shut-ins until weeks before his death, according to the Times.

—JTA News and Features

Ohio Jewish leader dies at 68

Joyce Garver Keller, the longtime executive director of Ohio’s Jewish community relations council who helped establish a state Holocaust memorial, has died at 68.

On Monday morning, less than two weeks before she was scheduled to be honored at a Jewish Council for Public Affairs event in Cleveland, Keller died at her home in suburban Columbus. No cause of death was reported.

According to the Cleveland Jewish News, Keller served 25 years at Ohio Jewish Communities, which represents the state’s Jewish federations and their partner agencies in Washington and Ohio’s state capital, retiring last June.

Keller also worked behind the scenes to bring the Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse to fruition. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the $2.1 million memorial was unveiled in June 2014.

Keller raised private donations for the memorial and helped advance the project, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

In a statement provided to the Dispatch, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called Keller’s death “a deep personal loss for me and for so many others in Ohio who valued her friendship and have long admired her leadership.”

Keller is survived by her husband, Steven, a son and three grandchildren.

—JTA News and Features

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here