TV infomercial pioneer Philip Kives dies at 87

TV infomercial pioneer Philip Kives dies at 87

Son of East European Jewish immigrants to Canada remembered as the colorful marketer of compilation music albums

Phil Kives, president of K-Tel International, poses for a photo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, December 2, 2009. (Wayne Glowacki/Winnipeg Free Press, via The Canadian Press, via AP)
Phil Kives, president of K-Tel International, poses for a photo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, December 2, 2009. (Wayne Glowacki/Winnipeg Free Press, via The Canadian Press, via AP)

Philip Kives, the tireless TV pitchman whose commercials implored viewers to “wait, there’s more!” while selling everything from vegetable slicers to hit music compilations on vinyl, has died at age 87.

Samantha Kives said Thursday that her father died a day earlier after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.

Kives became wealthy after founding marketing company K-tel International, which sold Miracle Brush hair removers, Veg-o-matic vegetable slicers and compilation albums with such titles as “Goofy Greats” among numerous other products.

Through it all, Kives mostly remained in his beloved Winnipeg and always balanced work with family life, his daughter said.

“He would literally leave in the middle of a business meeting to come watch us play in a tennis tournament,” she recalled. “The commercials were also a family affair. A lot of the commercials he shot, he’d bring us kids in … and we’d be actors in the commercials.”

Kives started K-tel in the 1960s, and according to a biographical sketch on his website, his biggest selling product was the Miracle Brush, which sold 28 million in the late 1960s. More products would follow, including the Pocket Fisherman, a hamburger patty stacker, and the mood ring.

The TV commercials sometimes included the hook line: “But wait, there’s more!”

For a generation of teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s, Kives’ legacy was a long list of compilation albums with hit songs that were sometimes edited down to fit 20 or more cuts on two sides of vinyl. A glam-pop song by The Bay City Rollers could be found on the same record as country singer Dolly Parton and soul act The Drifters. Novelty song compilations such as “Goofy Greats” featured songs about purple people-eaters, itsy-bitsy bikinis and surfing birds.

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.

Kives said his biggest music seller was ‘Hooked on Classics,’ which sold more than 10 million records.

K-tel grew exponentially in the 1970s and by the early 1980s, the company had sold more than half a billion albums world-wide.

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

Kives was born in Ougre, Saskatchewan, on February 12, 1929, the third of four children of Eastern European immigrants who settled in a Jewish agricultural colony Canada. The family lived on a small farm and survived on government welfare at times during the Depression. By the age of eight, Kives was trapping animals and selling the fur to afford clothes.

“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 re-sold them at fur auctions. I made just enough money to buy my few clothes for the year.”

“In 1957, I left the farm for good for the lights of the big city of Winnipeg, Manitoba,” the biographical sketch reads. “I had various jobs — from taxi driver to short-order cook. Then I tried my luck selling door-to-door, such items as cookware, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners.”

In 1961, Kives made his way to New Jersey and did sales demonstrations at a department store. The following year, he returned to Winnipeg and found a new way to push products to a much larger audience.

“I made a live five-minute TV commercial on a Teflon non-stick fry pan,” he recalled. “To my surprise, sales took off at a remarkable pace. I quickly spread the TV advertising throughout Canada and this five-minute commercial became the world’s first infomercial ever.”

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