Almost everyone is in agreement that the Major was not a good businessman. I’m not necessarily buying that. Especially after laboring through the legal documents (600 legal pages) concerning the takeover of MWN’s publishing business by Donenfeld and Liebowitz. Thanks to a good friend who is a retired Federal attorney we have gone through all the documents line by line to make sure I understand what happened and when. My friend translated the legalese into plain English for me and caught all sorts of interesting tidbits that I would have missed. For my part I was able to catch things that she didn’t because I knew the players and a good bit of the background. I can tell you that practically everything I’ve read up to this point is either missing important information, has the dates and timing wrong or is just plain hearsay and doesn’t have a grain of truth in it. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my good friend for taking the time to go over these documents in such a painstaking manner. She thought it was fun! After my head stopped spinning from the legal jargon I did too. Girls do know how to have fun.
Besides the new revelations for the comic history books I’ve gotten a pretty good view of MWN’s skills as a businessman. He had all the necessary ingredients for an entrepeneur: charm and the ability to sell his product, an extraordinary vision and the skills to recognize talent and manage the troops. His problem was, that during the Depression–a very difficult period for attempting to do anything innovative without a lot of cash–he ran up against some guys who had plenty of cash to make their own rules. It’s ironic that the Justice League is based on quite a few injustices.
It’s also clear from the legal documents that the Major did not have an eye for the details of accounting. Many very successful businessmen aren’t the best accountants but usually they’re careful to either partner with one, i.e. Donenfeld and Liebowitz or they hire them. It’s not unusual for a highly successful businessman to bankrupt a couple of times–Donald Trump, anyone. For that matter, Donenfeld himself went bankrupt a few times and then sold his titles back to himself in a new company leaving the writers and artists in the lurch for their pay. The only reason no one has ever called him a bad businessman is because he got away with it or did he? Perhaps the whole Dickensian lawsuit of the Siegels and Shusters vs. DC is the gigantic tsunami of karma emanating from the late 30’s that exhibits poor judgment at the very least and possibly something much worst.
It wouldn’t be a good story if MWN was simply a victim and he wasn’t. Once he realized what was going on he did his best to fend off the dogs by pulling a few stunts himself but it was much too late to save the day. The Major also lacked the other ingredient that often seems to go with highly successful people–complete and total lack of compassion, an almost psychotic need to succeed at any cost. That’s certainly not true of every successful person but it’s a trait that clearly exists in some. The Major had a code of honor that wouldn’t allow him to go down that road.
Some people might call that a fault, not me. The two bad business traits of MWN that stand out in the legal documents–and my attorney friend agrees–are a kind of romantic idealism in not facing up to the reality of the sort of people with whom he was in business and the lack of attention to details. That is often the way with very creative people and Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was a highly creative person with a prolific lifetime output.
I can understand and sympathize. It’s not easy to keep up with running a business and churning out creative product. And for those of us in the female category we have the added onus of doing it all while dancing backwards in heels a la Ginger Rogers.
I’m looking forward to finally getting all this research out in the world. In the meantime details have to be attended to in order to tidy up a few things so the Major and I are moving. For far too long I’ve been struggling with dysfunctional outsourced technical support for this site with everything from being hacked at least twice and having the site hijacked once as a gateway for one of the most popular activities on the internet. The email has been spammed out of control mostly from Eastern Europe–yes, you Cyrillic Boy with your various thrilling offers and your sterling comments. No matter how far up the Byzantine phone tree I go and no matter how long I spend on the phone with “Robert” or “Anne” it is never resolved.
I have wasted enormous amounts of time–entire afternoons have been whiled away in this fun international exchange. I’m no jingoist but our new lodgings are in the U. S. of A. and the phone is answered by people in their own language with the added plus that they don’t sound like robots from some far away planet reading a script. Thanks for your patience while we pack up and move outta here. We’ll have a housewarming in our new digs soon. Ta.