Bob Haney Interviewed by Michael Catron Part Three (of Five)

Posted by on January 7th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two.

Art by Jerry Gradinetti.

Sgt. Rock

CATRON: I want to talk about the superheroes and just before I do, as sort of an introduction to that, I want to talk to you about the creation of characters. Because there was a period and it’s exactly the period you were describing, when Marvel started up with Spider-Man and the Hulk and the Fantastic Four.

HANEY: The revolution.

CATRON: Then there was that period from the early ’60s up through the mid ’60s when suddenly there was just an explosion of new characters and new titles. All in the superhero genre …

HANEY: At DC, too.

CATRON: at DC, too. Of course, you were part of that. But before you get to that, let me ask you about Sgt. Rock. Because the official line is that the first Rock story is — whatever it is, Our Army At War #81 [cover dated April, 1959]. “The Rock of Easy Company.” And Kanigher wrote something in #83, which is “The Rock and the Wall.”

HANEY: I’ll tell you because I want this to be accurate. Because I believe in accuracy. There’s so much inaccurate shit in the comics business and false information and ego trips and all that. I have no ego about it. I’m just being accurate for the sheer sake of being accurate.

I was writing for Kanigher. I wrote all these little stories, six pages, maybe sometimes an eight-page story. For years. I would come in and plot with him and, to be fair to Kanigher — he’s a creative person himself — he would throw in a lot of stuff and sometimes he would come up with an idea.

“The Rock of Easy Company” was a typical story. We were plotting one about a guy who’s a powerful sergeant and he’s kind of the core of the outfit, the rock — So we’re talking and I put in my two cents and he put in his two cents and I went home and wrote it. Right?

And I brought it in and it was a little better, maybe, had a little more pizazz than some of the other stories I had recently written. Because we were down to the nubs where we were doing the story of a battle as told by a helmet, or told by a canteen or that kind of thing.

CATRON: [Laughs.] I remember those stories!

HANEY: Yeah, right. Well, they were cute but they were stunts. But here was a story that had a little bit more story value, a little more pizazz, a little more macho stuff and blah, blah, blah. Kanigher liked it, right? Which is unusual because usually he’d slash and tear my stuff apart. And rewrite in the same way, which is what I call the slash-and-burn editorial school. It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, I brought this one in. And he liked it. He didn’t change much of it, as I recall, hardly any of it. It was a more successful story than most and that’s — I wrote it, OK? I’ve been officially credited by the company with it. And I’ve gotten the reprint rights [payments]. I did not, then, go on to make the Rock series. He did. He took that story and ran with it. He took that concept and ran with it. He wrote all those others. I take no credit for them. And though I thought that many, many, many of the stories he did over the years — if I take a critical eye to them — were full of empty stuff and said wacko stuff and this and that and the other thing. And fake-y and a lot of Hollywood stuff that he borrowed and stole — be that as it may, one must have respect for a series that ran as long as it did and was as successful as it was. And even had Hollywood interested.

I love the story about how [laughs] they were going to do the Rock movie a few years ago and they were going to star Schwarzenegger. [Laughter.] I heard that, I really fell on the floor. Rock with a German accent? That is really funny.

Anyway, so Kanigher deserves all the credit or discredit for the Rock series. I happen to have written the first story. That’s all. OK? I mean, that’s it. [Laughs.] I take no other credit or discredit for it.

Kanigher and Weisinger

CATRON: OK. Well, let’s talk about your relationship with Kanigher.

HANEY: Oh, well.

CATRON: When you first came in, you said, you put up with his shit.

HANEY: Oh, he was — the man’s insane. The man’s one of the sicker human beings I’ve ever known. He’s really insane. Working with him was a trial a lot of the time. I was very glad to shift over to working for the other guys. I did much better work and made more money and was much more involved with what I was doing. In the ’60s I did all the major stuff. Do you want to hear how I worked for Mort Weisinger? Do you wanna hear that story?

CATRON: I do. But let me go back to something you wrote. You said, “The editor of the DC war titles was a half-insane little man …” [Laughter.]

HANEY: Yeah.

CATRON: “… who I soon realized had been rejected for war service.”

HANEY: Yeah, he had. He was a 4-F during the war. He worked in some pulp office or something.

CATRON: Uh-huh. “And he had fleshed out a formula that worked within the restrictions of the Code.” Which I think was pretty important.

HANEY: Oh, yeah. It was a great little formula. It was the tight underwear formula. You get a guy with tight underwear and you run him for six pages, trying to escape his tight underwear. And he gets so mad at his tight underwear, he kills 40,000 Japs or Nazis and wins the battle. But nobody dies and there’s no blood and nobody gets wounded.

CATRON: You called him a “whacko editor” with a “good instinct for the art montage.”

HANEY: Yeah. He had a good instinct. He hired the best artists. He cared about it. See, Julie would just take an artist and use him. Didn’t care how good or bad he was, generally speaking. The other editors had no real feeling about the art. Kanigher did. Give him credit. He had a feeling for who was the — he had the best guys. He had Kubert. He had Heath. These guys were good. And he used them with his dumb World War stuff. It made the stuff look much better than it was because if you analyze the stories, they’re simplistic, silly little bing-bing-bing-bing.

CATRON: They did get repetitive. [Laughs.]

HANEY: I wrote hundreds and hundreds of those. You’re telling me. [Catron laughs.] Give him his credit. But, he used them on other stuff, too. Then when he did the Rock series, of course he had Kubert, who was fine. I was happy to work with Kubert on Unknown Soldier later on. Kubert created Unknown Soldier, I didn’t. He created it. But I think I was — I was the first writer other than him on it and he and I worked together well for a while. I enjoyed Unknown Soldier. It was a good character.

CATRON: Do you know the famous story about a writer who was angry, who hung an editor out the window?

HANEY: Yes.

CATRON: Who was that? [Laughs.]

HANEY: Who was the editor who was hung out the window by a writer?

CATRON: Right. Or what do you remember of that story?

HANEY: I don’t think it happened while I was there. I heard about it. I won’t vouch for this but I think it was Kanigher, the editor. And I think it was Dave Vern who hung him out the window.

Dave was not a big guy but he was bigger than Kanigher [laughs], who was a little guy. I’d like to think it was Kanigher and I wish he dropped him but he didn’t. [Laughter.] But yeah, that’s a great story. Yeah.

CATRON: He was looking for a check?

HANEY: Yeah, I think. Yeah. The check — Kanigher would turn on the sadistic shit and try — you know, he worked it on poor [Bill] Finger, a lot of the time. Finger would ask for it, of course. Dave was a nice guy, not a bully or anything like that. But he was not a guy you fucked with. He was a man. He didn’t take this shit.

There’s a story about Dave Vern, who was a talented man — I don’t know whether he’s still alive or not. It was Weisinger’s book — did you ever hear that story?

CATRON: No.

HANEY: Well, Weisinger — this is the ’60s, right? Weisinger, all of a sudden, he invites me to write for him. I think, “What the fuck is this?” because I didn’t know him or like him.

He suddenly starts buttering me up in the halls and I think, “What the hell’s going on here?” I didn’t understand but I thought, “All right. Maybe —” Metamorpho was a hot new item at the shop, so to speak. And he invites me to write. So I started writing World’s Finest. And some Superman stuff for him. Right?

CATRON: Right.

HANEY: To be fair to him, he may have been a prick but he would often give you a wrapped-up plot. He would do the whole plot and they were pretty good plots and you’d just go write ’em. So it wasn’t that tough, in a way. You know? So I go, “All right. That’s the way he wants to work it.” Anyway, to make a long story short [laughs], I suddenly realize why he’s doing it. He’s working on a novel called The Contest. About a beauty contest.

CATRON: Right.

HANEY: And guess who his editor is? At New American Library. My brother-in-law.

CATRON: No kidding.

HANEY: Yeah. [Catron laughs.] And it comes out one day, he says, “Oh, Bob.” Mort Weisinger says, “Your brother-in-law is Ned Chase?”

I said, “Yeah, what about him?” He said, “Well, he’s my editor on this book I’m writing.” I knew about the book, he was always bragging about “I’m writing a novel for New American Library.” He aspired to be a writer rather than a comics editor and a hack. I said, “Oh!” The light dawned on me. So I called my brother-in-law that night, who’s a top publisher, you know. And editor of literature and major books. My brother-in-law was the guy who bought Love Story for $35,000 at lunch one day, right? And the book made millions.

CATRON: What’s his name?

HANEY: Ned Chase. He’s Chevy Chase’s father. I spoke with him just the other day. He was a New American Library editor and they foisted on him Weisinger. Weisinger had contacts. And Ned had contempt for Weisinger. He couldn’t stand him. He had contempt for this book that he had to edit.

So I called him and said, “Ned, you’re editing this?” He said, “Yeah. This guy’s an awful guy.” And I said, “Well, I work with him.” And Ned said, “How could you work with a slob like that?” I said, “Well, blah, blah blah blah blah.”

So the reason Weisinger was using me was to butter up to me because he was afraid of Ned. Of my brother-in-law, who held his future as a great writer of novels in his hands. [Laughs.] He thought. So I almost felt sorry for him. I guess he was hoping that I would somehow say to my brother-in-law, you know, “Weisinger’s a great man and a great writer.” Anyway, you want the real kicker of the story?

CATRON: Yeah!

HANEY: He wasn’t writing it. [Laughter.] David Vern was ghosting it.

CATRON: Oh, no kidding!

HANEY: And Dave was a good writer. Weisinger couldn’t write worth shit. He was doing a decent job. It was a pulp novel. A pop novel. You know. It wasn’t literature.

CATRON: Right.

HANEY: And Ned was publishing that type of thing. He’d published Love Story. Ned had contempt for Love Story. He said, “It’s a piece of shit. But it’s going to make a lot of money.” He bought it and it made him golden with his bosses.

Anyway, there was Dave writing this thing. So, one day I walked into the office to Weisinger to deliver a script. He’s frowning, he’s looking pissed at me. He says to me, “You know, Bob, there’s a rumor around here that I’m not writing this book. That somebody else is writing it.” He’s really worried. He’s sweating.

I say, “Oh, you mean Dave Vern?” [Laughs.]

He almost fell out of his chair. He was worried that I was going to go back and tell Ned. Well, Ned knew it anyway. He’s a smart man. He knew that it wasn’t Weisinger writing it. He knew it was a ghost. Then I told him the name. He didn’t give a shit. Was the book good or not good? — was all he was interested in, right?

So that’s pretty much the story. Then the book got published years later and wasn’t that good and didn’t sell that much. But [laughs], these are some of the twists that — a little bit after that Weisinger, he felt kind of bamboozled that maybe he’d made the wrong move and he didn’t need to suck around with me.

He was a kind of — he was what we call a smart dumb man. Or a dumb smart man. So he started to lean on me. He was always leaning on writers. He started to lean on me one day. And I’d had it with that kind of shit around that place. So I said, “Hey, you fat prick. You can stick this script up your ass.” So I walked out and I never wrote for him again. [Laughter.] Made me feel good.

Next: Bob Haney tells Michael Catron about Arnold Drake and The Doom Patrol, Eclipso, The Brave and the Bold, rapping ex-hippies and the relationship between comic books and movies.

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