'Ginsu Guy' Barry Becher, DRTV Pioneer, Dies at 71

Cultural Icon Popularized Phrases Like 'Wait, There's More'

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Barry Becher, one of two "Ginsu Guys" behind the cutlery that helped create direct-response TV as a business, has died at 71.

Mr. Becher, who died June 22 from complications of surgery related to kidney cancer, had no idea he would become a cultural icon when he joined his partner Ed Valenti in 1975 to launch a direct-response business, then called Dial Media.

The two met when Mr. Valenti was a sales rep for NBC affiliate TV stations in Providence, R.I., and Mr. Becher, who ran two AAMCO franchises, was one of his clients. When Mr. Valenti discovered both of them drove identical orange Datsun 240Zs, he said he knew this was "a guy with good taste."

Barry Becher (right) receives award for selling 1 million knives
Barry Becher (right) receives award for selling 1 million knives
They decided to try to find a product they could market through two-minute TV ads that would consume entire commercial pods, adding in toll-free 800 numbers, credit cards and the ubiquitous "operators standing by ," one of the phrases they helped coin out of the company started in Mr. Becher's garage.

After numerous Madison Avenue agencies turned them down, Mr. Valenti said they decided to produce ads on their own, the first a painting pad called The Miracle Painter, demonstrated by a man wearing a tuxedo as he painted a ceiling. Mr. Becher, described by his longtime partner as "not the handiest man," had field-tested the product and its no-drip performance himself.

The Ginsu knife came three years later. It had long been produced by a Freemont, Ohio, company named Quikut and sold by pitchmen working fairs and home shows. Mr. Becher and Mr. Valenti didn't give it the Japanese-sounding name, but Mr. Becher did like to tell people it was Japanese for "I'll never have to work again."

Over time, the two helped spawn such late-night staple lines as "But wait, there's more", "Isn't that amazing" and "Now how much would you pay?" Their company later became PriMedia, which continues to this day as a direct-response media agency.

The Ginsu knives were sold with a 50-year guarantee, all of them still within that window, and Mr. Valenti said he still honors the occasional request to make good on the guarantee, though Quikut and the Ginsu brand were acquired by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in 1984. More often, however, Mr. Valenti said he still gets requests for information on how to buy Ginsu knives.

Mr. Becher "was always the sharpest guy in the room, no pun intended," Mr. Valenti said. "We had a 30-year relationship that I jokingly say was a cut above. ...I miss him dearly, and I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to say goodbye, and my heart is aching from him not being here anymore."

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