It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Truth, justice and the American way and George Reeves flying across the black and white screen of an early 50’s television set is indelibly printed on my brain. Like so many other children of that era, I pinned the requisite towel to my tee shirt and jumped off the picnic table in the backyard. I had some vague notion of my grandfather’s involvement with Superman and comic books, which encouraged me to demand of my kindergarten age boyfriend that I get a chance to be Superman instead of my usual role of Supergirl. And so it began.
A few years ago, my favorite Batman, the esteemed Doctor of Comics, Michael Uslan, Batman producer and author (The Boy Who Loved Batman), made an introduction to Larry Tye, author of the recent book, Superman: The High- Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. Larry interviewed me for the book about the Major’s role in the foundation of comics and his intersection with Siegel and Shuster and Superman. I’m happy to report Larry took me seriously and included a nice section on the Major in the book. You can be sure that it was properly fact checked. Larry is an excellent journalist whose career early on included the Anniston Star in Anniston, Alabama. (What is it with this Alabama thing?) His last gig at a newspaper was at the Boston Globe. Among other endeavors, he has written a book about Satchel Paige, the great black baseball player and is currently working on a book about Robert F. Kennedy. The guy is no slouch. He is also one of the most intelligent, compassionate and generous people I know. He inspires fierce loyalty.
On January 27th we had a true Super Sunday. Larry invited me to participate in a panel at the Center for Jewish History in New York City along with several others to discuss Superman at 75 in honor of Superman’s 75th birthday. I was somewhat apprehensive because of the esteemed company I would be among: the legendary Jim Shooter of Marvel and DC fame, Sam Norich, the publisher of Forward and Jenette Kahn, Hollywood producer and past president of DC Comics. I did not want to be the token dumb blonde so I re-read books I had already devoured by authors Tom DeHaven (Our Hero: Superman on Earth), Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) and Danny Fingeroth (Disguised as Clark Kent, one of the definitive books on the Jewish background of Superman). I also went through my extensive research notes about my grandfather’s place in this history and had coaching lessons from researcher and pulpster extraordinaire, John Locke, publisher at Off Trail Publications. I was determined to be super-prepared.
It was a classic January day in New York City—freezing cold with the winds blowing through the canyons but there was a sell-out audience and an overflow watching on a big screen. It was a stellar crowd—David Saunders, author of books on his dad Norman Saunders, a prolific pulp cover artist and H. J. Ward; N. C. Christopher Couch, professor at UMass and recent author of Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics; Susan Hoeltzel, director of the art gallery at Lehman College where the beautiful painting of Superman by H. J. Ward resides, (and my best friend from Fairhope High School–yet another Alabama connection); my brilliant attorney sister, Christine Quigley; Lillian Laserson, DC alum; Jay Kogan, from DC and one of my favorite lawyers (no joke); Danny Fingeroth; Barbara Moss, she of all things Wonder Woman; Paul Levitz, president emeritus of DC whose tome, 75 Years of DC Comics will be coming out soon in 5 separate books with new material; Jim Salicrup, all round nice guy and publisher of one of my favorite sources for kids books, Papercutz; Hannah Means-Shannon, the amazing comics girl reporter; a few Donenfeld grandchildren (and yes, there is more about that) and the renowned DC editor, Mort Weisinger’s daughter Joan plus many, many more. You get the picture.
Judith Siegel, the Director of Programs made us all feel welcome and everything ran smoothly. For those of us who have attempted anything of this nature it’s quite clear that Judith is a diplomat of the highest degree and could probably run a small country. The rock star librarian from Columbia University, Karen Green gave an introduction and talked about the papers that Larry has given to Columbia. Karen’s background is truly awesome in the correct usage of the word. She’s a medieval scholar and in charge of graphic novels at the Butler Library at Columbia!
David Weiss wowed us all with his amazing photos of his father along with drawings that Joe Shuster made of his dad when they were both young single guys hanging out in the Adirondacks. It seemed pretty obvious that David’s dad was the model for Superman. David’s stories about his dad and Joe Shuster kept us enthralled and it was such fun to hear this for the first time.
Larry’s talk was a condensed version of his fantastic book. It’s really the first major book by a journalist who is not a comic book scholar. Superman is crammed with the latest research and information and a must have for anyone who is interested in Superman and the cultural phenomena. You can view the entire event online from the website of the Center for Jewish History and it’s well worth the time.
I was thrilled to meet everyone on the panel. I knew of Jenette Kahn but it was a special treat to be able to hear her speak so eloquently and astutely about the work she promoted during her time at DC. I loved meeting Sam Norich, and if you don’t know about the Forward, you should check it out. I’m so glad I had the chance to be on the panel with him as we might not have met otherwise. I could write an entire blog about Jim Shooter. He is indeed, legendary. I only knew a smidgen of his accomplishments and everything I have learned about him and what he has accomplished is inspiring.
The audience interaction was lively and thoughtful and even after almost two hours of the program no one rushed out. People were still hanging in talking in groups long after the event was over. And there was birthday cake!! Happy 75th Superman.
The most interesting part of the afternoon for me was when one of the Donenfeld grandchildren challenged me to a duel. Well, not exactly, but he did dispute that the Major, started DC comics. Just so you all know my grandfather and Jack Liebowitz were the two partners in the original company called DC comics. So whatever happened—and that’s another story that will be told by Gerard Jones and me in the book we’re writing about the Major—the bottom line is that the Major did indeed start DC Comics. It was his idea. The reason it was called DC, Detective Comics, comes from the Major’s stint writing for the pulps. The pulps are the granddaddy of the comics and my granddaddy was the one who made it happen. Keep your eyes on the skies…the truth is out there.
Up, up and away!