Thursday, November 08, 2012
Jerry Siegel "...could write a little." Mort Weisinger On Superman 1946
From what I’ve heard over the years Mort Weisinger was never known for heaping praise upon anyone other than Mort Weisinger (although I'm happy to stand corrected), and this article is no exception. This article, written in 1946 for Coronet Magazine, shows the level of what Weisinger could do when he felt the need. What should have been a simple article on Superman and the influence of the character upon the youth of the day, both for health and literature, ends up containing a few swipes at Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Siegel in particular.
At the time of the article’s publication, Jerry had returned from the army as WWII had finished, but the relations between DC Comics and Siegel had deteriorated into acrimony and demands for more money and tighter control – the latter from both sides. What must also have stuck in Siegel’s craw was the fact that in 1940 he was dealing with a company that had a letter head of Detective Comics Inc, in 1942 that had changed to read Superman Inc. Adding to their woes was Jack Liebowitz and Whitney Ellsworth, both of whom had been questioning the overall quality of the duo’s output since late 1939. Jerry and Joe might well have thought that the passage of time might have changed minds, but no – by late 1946 the attacks had begun in earnest. Tired of dealing with Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff, DC assigned Murray Boltinoff to work with Jerry and Joe as editors, with much of the same results – Boltinoff would question the quality of the work, Jerry would respond that nobody knew as much about Superman as he did, DC would then point to the output that they had produced without Jerry during the war and point to the cash that they had given him – the ungrateful child being chastised by the puzzled parent. None of the powers that were at DC seemed to fully understand that the struggle was more about gaining control of Superman than anything else, and thus gaining a fair share of the profits that had been generated. In March 1947, Jerry and Joe had filed their first legal action in an attempt to recapture their character. It failed and the pair were cut off, financially, by DC Comics.
In the article in question, Weisinger subtly puts both Jerry and Joe down, referring to their childhood as being ‘frustrated’ and ‘poor’, calling both men ‘undersized’ who were routinely beaten by others. At no point does Weisinger mention the genuine tragedies that befell them, especially Jerry, who lost his father at a young age. The ultimate insult comes when Weisinger describes Jerry as a person who, “…could write a little,”. This must have been a shuddering insult to a writer as proud of his work as Siegel. Weisinger also mentioned that Jerry and Joe had sold Superman for $130, but continued to, “…share in the profits.” Not long after the publication of this article, both Jerry and Joe would be cut off from those profits and discarded. Weisinger probably thought he was doing the pair a favour by mentioning them so prominently in his article, all the time failing to understand that some insults are not easily forgiven.