A Weisinger Resources List Part One (of Three): Alter Ego

Posted by on October 19th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Elias Nebulah, an occasional commentator at The Hooded Utilitarian, once asked me to list the works I’d looked at regarding Mort Weisinger, Superman’s renowned and loathed editor of the 1950s and ’60s. Now I’m doing it. The list doesn’t have everything written by or about Weisinger, but it’s a start.

From “The Human Octopus!” in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #41 (December). Written by Robert Bernstein. Pencils by Curt Swan. Inks by John Forte. [©1959 DC Comics]

In this post we have the magazine articles I looked at, all of them published in Alter Ego. If he’s out there, I’d like to thank Roy Thomas for doing the magazine; it has run some great material. Wittenberg University has an index of Alter Ego, a fact that surprised me and made compiling this post a lot easier. The index covers only Vol. 2, meaning the late 1990s revival, but also includes Back Issue! and Comic Book Artist.

Jack Adler interview (#56, Feb ’06), pp. 22-50.
~ DC’s production chief during the 1960s and ’70s. Mort is on p. 26. Weisinger loved gossip: “He wanted to hear the office gossip before he approved the covers.” Adler calls Weisinger “the most insecure guy working there,” also says he had food stains on his shirt (“He was a slob!”), wouldn’t take you to lunch without a two-for-one coupon.

Irwin Donenfeld interview (#26, ’03), pp. 3-28.
~ DC’s executive in charge of editorial for most of the 1950s and ’60s. Mort material is on pp. 19, 21, 23, 26. Asked about abuses by Weisinger, Donenfeld says, “Anything you heard about Mort was true,” with “[laughs]” added in the transcript. But he denies the story that a writer (in this telling Don Cameron) tried to throw Weisinger out an office window: “those windows are sealed.”

The whole interview is a find. Donenfeld talks a lot about DC’s use of covers to drive sales, and also lays out the shape of the company’s typical sales year (which months had high high sales, which didn’t, typical number of comics sold overall).

Arnold Drake interview (#17, Sept ’02), pp. 3-20. (Wittenberg lists the pages as 3-27, but that’s including separate material also having to do with Drake.)
~ The writer who created Doom Patrol and Deadman. Mort material is on pp. 5, 7-8, 13, 18. Drake hated Weisinger and did no scripts for him after the mid-’50s. In the interview, Drake and his wife discuss Weisinger’s abusiveness, and Drake complains about Weisinger’s addiction to cover gimmicks (gorillas, fires, heaps of jewels, etc.). Of talking gorilla idea: “Mort was right, except that he shouldn’t have been that obsessed with it.”

Jerry Robinson interview (#39, Aug ’04), pp. 3-37.
~ Bob Kane’s ghost through the mid-’40s. Mort on pp. 18, 25. Robinson says that during the 1940s Weisinger joined in the abuse of Bill Finger but, at that stage, didn’t cause Jerry Siegel any trouble.

Dick Sprang interview (#19, Dec ’02), pp. 4-21.
~ Bob Kane’s ghost from the early ’40s through the early ’60s. Mort on p. 11: “He was one of the most gracious men I ever met. If he liked you, he really let you know it. If he disliked you and your work, you also knew it — I’ve heard. … We were good friends.” Sprang did some work for Weisinger when Weisinger was a Batman editor and, later, when Weisinger edited World’s Finest (parts of the ’40s for the first, the early ’60s for the second). The friendship with Sprang illustrates Weisinger’s liking for high-performing professionals with strong personalities; another example is Neal Adams. (Sprang also had a second, ongoing career as an archeological explorer of the Southwest, where he lived.)

And we have three articles:

“Ghost Writers in the Sky” (#20, Jan ’03), pp. 9-29.
~ Transcript of a panel discussion held at the 1965 New York Comicon. Mort on pp. 19, 22-29. The panel was made up of Otto Binder, Bill Finger and Gardner Fox, but Weisinger rose from the audience with a question, then became a participant.

Marv Wolfman, also in the audience, asks Weisinger to confirm that a second artist was brought in to do the girls’ faces in “Superman Red and Superman Blue.” Weisinger does so. (The artists were Curt Swan for the story, Kurt Schaffenberger for the faces.) At one point Binder teases Roy Thomas, who is in the audience and a bit nervous to find that Weisinger, his ex-boss, is also on hand.

Weisinger on Binder: “Our tower of strength, a Rock of Gibraltar for me.” Also praises Edmond Hamilton. Weisinger tells why he assigns story ideas instead of asking writers for them (so as not to waste the writers’ time with rejections), brags about cultivating fan talent and input, says the readership is getting more sophisticated: “We’ve found more and more that we have adult readers.”

Of course, a number of writers have told us that Weisinger did ask for and shoot down story ideas, and that later he might assign a shot-down idea to the very writer who had proposed it (and with no mention that the idea was the writer’s own).

From “The One Minute of Doom!” in Superman #150 (January). Written by Jerry Siegel. Art by Al Plastino. [©1962 DC Comics]

Arnold Drake, “A Memo to DC’s Publisher” (#17, Sept ’02), pp. 21-22. (Same issue as Drake’s interview.)
~ What Drake had to tell his bosses about running their company in 1966. He faults Weisinger’s Superman titles for their heavy continuity, says they’re “aimed at terribly complicated, involved, cerebral five year olds, of which there are only 3 in the whole country.” Suggests the reason is that “the editor,” after a quarter of a century with the character, is now complicating matters just to keep himself interested.

Roy Thomas, “Two Weeks with Mort Weisinger; Or, Four Years with an Angry Mob (Take Your Pick)”; (#50, July ’05), pp. 9-12.
~ Thomas came to New York to be Mort’s assistant, but quit to work for Stan Lee. Years later he recalled just how awful it was to be Mort’s flunky. Highlights: Mort refers to his departing assistant, E. Nelson Bridwell, as “that idiot” within Bridwell’s hearing (in the end, Bridwell stayed because Thomas quit); Thomas has to talk Mort out of including a big arrow with the words “Secret Lab” next to the entrance of a secret lab.

Otto Binder tells Thomas “about how ‘everybody’ felt more or less about Mort the way I did … except maybe Julie,” meaning Julius Schwartz.
On Weisinger: “He never actually yelled at me … but his voice could drip scorn as if it were a venom he produced from overactive glands.” And: “it was often his manner more than his words that browbeat me and others.” And: “in spite of it all, I respected Mort” as mastermind of “the ‘Superman mythology.'” And: “for all his human flaws … a giant in the field.”

Tomorrow: Books.

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