The man who brought you the Miracle Brush, the Veg-o-matic and millions of albums containing 25 Country Hits or Hooked on Classics died Wednesday.

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The man who brought you the Miracle Brush, the Veg-o-matic and millions of albums containing 25 Country Hits or Hooked on Classics died Wednesday.

Philip Kives was 87.

Born on a Jewish colony farm near Oungre, Sask., Feb. 12, 1929, Kives came to Winnipeg in 1962 to create the company that bore the first letter of his last name, K-Tel.

Kives produced a live, five-minute TV commercial — the first infomercial, he claimed — to sell a Teflon non-stick frying pan, and sales took off afterwards. From then on he always wrote and directed all the TV commercials.

But wait, there’s more.

Kives said his greatest success was selling 28 million Miracle Brushes in the late 1960s, while Hooked on Classics, with more than 10 million copies sold, was his top-selling album.

Loren Remillard, vice-president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, called Kives a trailblazer for Winnipeg companies and entrepreneurs.

"He showed you could be a success for Winnipeg," Remillard said Wednesday.

K-Tel and Kives are a great example — and one of the very best — of innovators who believed you could make a mark on the international scene from Winnipeg. He helped put Winnipeg on the map, Remillard said.

"Now, like many Winnipeggers, I will try to find my K-Tel records and spin one of them in memory of Phil."

In Kives’s own words on the K-Tel International website, he started his "first entrepreneurial venture at the age of eight.

"I set up my own trapline. 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."

"I saw an ad in the paper about selling cookware door to door. You learn quickly how to sell. You always ask a positive question so customers can only answer one way. Yes. You say, "You would like your wife to have this, wouldn’t you?" And he’ll say yes.

"I used to buy products from Seymour Popeil. That’s Ron Popeil’s father, of Ronco. Ron is a good salesman, but his dad made everything. He said to me, ‘Philip, you’re getting too big. I’m not selling you anything anymore.’ So I went off on my own.

"In the winter of 1966, we released the first record, 25 Country Hits. I didn’t look upon it as a long-term deal. I looked upon it as a one-time product. But after 25 Polka Greats, which sold around a million-and-a-half copies in the United States alone, I thought maybe we were on to something. Record companies in those days didn’t know what compilation albums were. They had vast catalogues of music they didn’t know what to do with.

"We grew into a big company, and it was very difficult for me to control it. We went bankrupt. We went into oil and gas and real estate. Then the bottom fell out of real estate in the United States."

Free Press reporter-at-large Bartley Kives described Philip Kives as a larger-than-life figure.

"'Uncle Phil' was and always will be a legendary figure in my extended family. He grew up in an impoverished rural environment, clawed himself a living as a salesman and created a corporation whose name was known around the world," said Kives, a cousin of the late entrepreneur.

"He was the archetype of a self-made man, the archetype of an industrious second-generation immigrant and the archetype of an iconoclastic Winnipegger."

Kives was also a longtime fixture at Assiniboia Downs, where he was the owner of K-5 Stables. He was named to the Manitoba Jewish Athletes Wall of Honour in the builder category for horse racing.

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Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.