The DC Comics Offices 1930s-1950s Part 3

SchwartzUdall

Julius Schwartz and Ted Udall in their office at 480 Lexington Avenue, 1945. Photo supplied by Julie to ALL-STAR COMPANION VOLUME 1.

In an article by Julie Schwartz in the above magazine, he tells about the sudden merger of All-American Publications at 225 Lafayette Street, where he’d been working since February of 1944, with National Comics (also known as Detective Comics) at 480 Lexington:

“One day in ’44 or ’45, Shelly Mayer told me we were moving to 480 Lexington, because we were now part of DC Comics. When you got out of the elevator uptown, the first office was editor-in-chief Whit Ellsworth’s; next to him were Mort Weisinger, Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoff, and Bernie Breslauer. And further down the hall I shared an office with Ted Udall, then Robert Kanigher. Shelly’s office was next to ours.

“How can I put it? Maybe we were junior members. Mort and company, being there ahead of us, were the seniors. We had no editorial or social contact with each other, really. Mayer was our boss, and Ellsworth was theirs.”

This nicely sums up what must have been an awkward and uneasy situation for everyone, but especially for those former All-American staffers now crammed into the already full offices on the ninth floor of 480 Lexington.

Ted Udall, Murray Boltinoff and Mort Weisinger had all been away doing military service during the war, and were all back. Jobs were hard to come by with so many returning G.I.s, and it’s admirable that National found work for them, but I get the impression that the editorial offices were not that big, and putting four men into one office could not have been easy. Julie doesn’t mention Larry Nadle, who also needed an office, and as we’ll see later he may have been in the room between Weisinger’s gang and Julie’s. Nadle continued to work on the former All-American humor books, while Bernie Breslauer edited others out of the Weisinger office. I imagine it was even more awkward for Shelly Mayer, going from relative editorial independence under M.C. Gaines to being part of a much larger company. I’m not sure if he ever reported to Whitney Ellsworth, but from what I’ve read, Ellsworth did not interfere in Mayer’s books. In fact, he seems to have been a very hands-off editor-in-chief. The situation in Weisinger’s office was probably equally tense because, while he’d been away, Schiff had largely taken control of the super-hero editing. Now Weisinger was back, expecting to fill that role but was technically under Schiff. From what I’ve read, Mort’s personality was brash and aggressive, while Schiff’s was quiet and reserved, so I’m guessing Weisinger lost little time taking back his former lead position. Of course, that’s only my speculation. In the production room, Sol Harrison came in as Production Manager of All-American. I don’t know who was filling that role for National, but by 1946, Sol cemented the same position in the combined company. It’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified, and having worked with Sol for ten years, I can say he was not shy or unwilling to take on a challenge.

KanigherYoung

Robert Kanigher, date and source unknown, but probably 1930s.

Robert Kanigher was already a successful writer of all kinds of things by the early 1940s. In fact, in 1943 he wrote a book titled “How to Make Money Writing,” which included a chapter on writing comics, the first such work. He began writing comics for Shelly Mayer’s group at National in 1945. When Ted Udall left the company in 1946, Kanigher was offered that editorial position. He continued to be a prolific scripter for the company while editing WONDER WOMAN and SENSATION COMICS, among other things, and when Wonder Woman’s creator and main scripter William Moulton Marston died in 1947, Kanigher began writing those stories too.

GeorgeKashdan1949

George Kashdan, 1949, courtesy of Bennett Kashdan.

In 1947 George Kashdan began doing some writing for Mort Weisinger, after learning from his brother Bernard Kashdan, a business executive for the company since 1940, that the editors were looking for new writers. Soon Weisinger invited him to join the staff. As Kashdan reported in an interview conducted by Jim Amash, and printed in ALTER EGO #63: “There was a small emergency there. One of the editors with whom I had worked was Bernie Breslauer. He was in the hospital briefly and Mort called me. He said, ‘Hey, we need an editor here.’ Bernie came back and I remained, basically as a copy editor. I wasn’t buying stories or giving out plots, or giving out assignments of any sort. Bernie died a year or two later, I guess — around 1950. I moved into his desk.”   I’ve written more about George HERE.

DCStaff1948Small

Donenfeld companies staff photo, 1948, from “The Golden Age of DC Comics” by Paul Levitz, published by Taschen, © DC Comics, Inc. and courtesy of Paul and Taschen. Larger version HERE.

Now we arrive at what I find the most interesting photo in Paul Levitz’ recent large and wonderful book on the history of DC Comics from 1935 to 1956 (volume 2 out now, more to come). It’s a staff photo taken at a dinner in a fancy restaurant. Everyone is dressed to impress, so clearly this was an important event that publisher Harry Donenfeld wanted to make a photographic record of. His son Irwin Donenfeld is present at the back table next to him, and as Irwin started working for the company in 1948, it can’t be any earlier than that. Near the front is a man I believe to be Shelly Mayer, and Mayer left the company in 1948, so that cements the year firmly. I believe this photo was taken at a dinner to celebrate the addition of Harry’s son Irwin to the company, and probably to introduce him to everyone. Irwin was just 22 years old at the time, but Harry made the young college graduate a full partner with himself and Jack Liebowitz, and clearly had every intention of his son carrying on the family businesses. The staff of National Comics is present, and that of Independent News. Beyond that, perhaps the remaining employees of Donenfeld’s pulp magazine empire, on the wane but still publishing in 1948, and employees of Donenfeld’s Donny Press. I’m going to take close looks at this photo and see who I can identify, beginning with those I’m sure of and continuing on to mere guesses. There are quite a few faces I have no guess for. Some of those may be men on the business side: purchasing, accounts payable, payroll, things like that. You can look at a much higher resolution version by clicking the link below the photo.

DonenfeldsTwice

Detail from 1948 staff photo and Irwin Donenfeld at his wedding in 1947, photo supplied by Irwin to ALTER EGO #26.

Let’s start with the boss and his son, at the back table, center. Harry Donenfeld was 55 years old in 1948, and still actively running his businesses, though not involved in the details. He made the big decisions, but was not usually consulted on the actual content of his magazines, according to Irwin.

Irwin Donenfeld had graduated from Bates College in Maine, where he said he was mainly into sports. He served in the Air Force during World War Two, but did not see combat. Instead, he was a boxer competing against fellow servicemen. In 1948 he was married to his first wife, Arlene, and had a child. Irwin did a lengthy interview at the San Diego Comicon in 2001, which was transcribed and printed in ALTER EGO #26. It makes fascinating reading. Of his hiring, Donenfeld said, wryly: “I showed them that I was a college graduate, I had a keen intellect, and they hired me because my father was the boss.” He also said, “My first job was with a man named Mack Liebowitz — my father’s partner, Jack Liebowitz’s brother. You have to understand, in those days, in the ’30s and ’40s, jobs were hard to come by. So when anybody had something going, they hired all their relatives. So my father hired all of his nephews and nieces to work for the company. Jack Liebowitz hired his brother, Mack, and I worked for him.”

Irwin’s first task was in the production room chopping up piles and piles of already printed artwork. This was standard procedure at the time, and until the late 1960s at least, the thinking being that the art was no longer needed, and better to destroy it than give someone else the chance to print it in the future. (And to be fair, most artists put no value in their original art at the time, either.) Irwin reported, “I chopped up a jillion dollars worth of stuff, but I had a clean office.” Irwin worked with Mack on the production schedules, so I’m guessing that Mack was probably the assistant production manager under Sol Harrison, or perhaps they held equal rank. Irwin says, “We were in charge of production. We created the schedule. In those days, the comic books, the insides, were printed in Bridgeport, CT and we had our own cover press called Donny Press, and my job was to make sure that the covers would arrive at the bindery at the same time as the insides.” After that, Irwin helped with the Fawcett lawsuit, where DC sued Fawcett over infringement due to similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman.

SolHarrisonTwice

Sol Harrison, detail from 1948 staff photo, and in a photo by Jack Adler from the 1970s, courtesy of Mike Catron.

At the far left in the back, we have Sol Harrison. I believe Sol was 31 in 1948. He’d already had a long career in comics as an engraver and production man, which I’ll be covering more of later. Sol came in from All-American as their production manager, as well as creating all the ads for both companies, and he reported in a 1970s interview that they were glad to have him at National. Sol was soon coloring all the covers for the company as well, so it sounds like he was more involved with the art end of production, while Mack Liebowitz handled the scheduling and worked with the printers.

LarryNadleTwice

Larry Nadle, detail from 1948 staff photo, and a portrait by his son Ken Nadle, early 1960s, courtesy of Ken.

To the right of Sol is Larry (Lawrence Malcolm) Nadle, who had come from All-American, where he edited the humor books, and continued to do so at National. He was 35 in 1948, and had been a vaudeville performer in his late teens, so knew something about comedy. He was also a good writer from an early age, having won a story contest at age nine.

WhitneyEllsworthTwice

Whitney Ellsworth, detail from 1948 staff photo, and right, date and source unknown, but probably from the 1970s.

Two persons right of Nadle, and just to the left of Harry Donenfeld is Whitney Ellsworth, the editor-in-chief for National, and probably for the All-American titles as well at this point. Ellsworth was 40 in 1948, having begun working on the very earliest of what became DC comics in 1934 as a cartoonist and then assistant editor under Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Before that he was a cartoonist for the newspapers, working on several syndicated strips beginning in 1927. Ellsworth also did writing on the side for the pulp magazines in the early 1940s, and scripting for the Superman radio show. Whitney’s interests went in the direction of Hollywood, and he was overseeing the first Superman movie serial in 1948. He would go on to oversee and write for the other serials and the Superman TV show in the 1950s, less and less involved with the comics, and leaving the New York staff in 1953 to become the Hollywood liason for the company.

JackandMackLiebowitz

Jack Liebowitz and (I believe) his brother Mack Liebowitz, details from the 1948 staff photo.

To the right of Irwin Donenfeld we have Harry’s long-time partner Jack Liebowitz (was Yacov Lebovitz), seen in part 1 of this article, and two people right of that is a man I believe to be his brother Mack Liebowitz. I see a strong resemblance between the two, especially in the eyes, nose and hairline. Jack was 48 in 1948, and from reports I’ve read, he kept a close eye on the comics business, both as the former partner of M.C. Gaines at All-American, and as a co-owner of National Comics, visiting the offices frequently, something not reported of Harry Donenfeld. Having his brother Mack (age unknown) on the staff there probably helped with that.

PaulSamplinerTwice

Paul Sampliner, detail from the 1948 staff photo, and from another photo supplied by Irwin Donenfeld to ALTER EGO #26, probably 1950s.

Between the Liebowitz brothers is Paul Sampliner, head of Independent News. I believe he was 49 in 1948. How did he get his job? Sampliner was running another magazine distributor, Eastern News, along with Charles Dreyfus. In 1931 Eastern News was facing bankruptcy, and owed Harry Donenfeld $30,000. Harry approached Sampliner about setting up a new distributor as part of Donenfeld’s business, to be called Independent News Company. According to Irwin Donenfeld in the 2001 interview, Paul Sampliner’s mother gave them the money needed to start the company, and Sampliner handled setting up the distribution system, something he was already experienced in.

HerbieSiegelTwice

Herbie Siegel from staff photo, and a 1952 photo courtesy of Bennett Kashdan.

On the right end of the back table is Herbie Siegel, a general assistant to the bosses. Siegel was famous in the company for having taken a rap for Harry Donenfeld’s pulp magazine publishing business when it was sued for publishing pornography (by standards of the early 20th century, not today’s). Herbie claimed it was all his idea, took full credit, and served several years in jail. When he got out, he was reportedly guaranteed a job for life by Donenfeld.

MortWeisingerTwice

Mort Weisinger, detail from 1948 staff photo, and in a photo given to Jim Shooter by Weisinger from the 1950s, from Jim’s blog.

Moving to the table on the left coming toward the camera, and on the left side, in front of Sol Harrison we have Mort (Mortimer) Weisinger. Mort was 33 in 1948, and had settled back into his editing job after a few years of military service. He’d married the former Thelma Rudnick in 1943. Though Whitney Ellsworth’s name was on the indicias, it was Weisinger who became the major editor and story idea man for SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS through the 1950s.

JulieSchwartzTwice

Julius Schwartz, detail from 1948 staff photo, and photo by Jack Adler from the 1950s, courtesy of Mike Catron.

To the right and down a little from Weisinger is Julie (Julius) Schwartz, probably the most easily identifiable face in the photo. Julie was also 33 in 1948, and had been with the company, as part of the All-American team, since 1944. His long and celebrated career as an editor for DC was just beginning, and he was handling titles like ALL-STAR COMICS, FLASH COMICS and GREEN LANTERN, the golden-age versions.

RobertKanigherTwice

Robert Kanigher, detail from 1948 staff photo, and a photo probably by Jack Adler from the 1970s, I think.

Just behind Schwartz is Robert Kanigher. I wasn’t sure of this identification at first, even though I saw the man many times in the late 1970s to early 1980s when I was on staff at DC, because there are only two known photos of him in circulation, and neither are from this time period. The more I looked, the more sure I became, comparing features like the ears, nose and eyebrows on the photo at right, and my conviction was echoed by long-time Kanigher friend Robin Snyder who agrees. We now have a photo of the man at age 33, on staff as an editor for about two years. I’m happy to add to the very few photos of Kanigher in circulation with this one.

BillFingerTwice

Bill Finger, detail from 1948 staff photo, and in a later photo, date and source unknown.

Bill (Milton) Finger is another person I had a hard time identifying, but he’s listed in Paul Levitz’ caption for the photo in his book, and on questioning Paul I found Finger was one of the people Julie Schwartz named as being in the picture. Finger was 34 in 1948, and he certainly does look like the man in the other photo to me, the only good photo of him I’ve seen. Finger had been a regular writer for the company since the 1930s, and spent a good deal of time working at the offices at 480 Lexington beginning in the early 1940s, but as far as I know was never an actual staff member. He may have been considered the “staff writer,” and invited on that basis, or his presence might indicate there were some regular company writers and artists present as well as staff. If so, he’s the only one I’ve identified.

MiltSnapinnTwice

Milton Snapinn, detail from 1948 staff photo, and a 1970s photo probably by Jack Adler.

This is another guess on my part, but one I feel confident in. Milton Snapinn was 21 in 1948. I worked with him when I was on staff, when he looked more like the picture on the right, but I feel sure I recognize his face, right in the front at the left side of the picture. I’m not sure when Milt joined the staff, but Julie Schwartz mentioned him being at a 1945 Christmas party in his ALTER EGO #7 interview. Milt was not an editor, but perhaps already working in production on his long-time job of getting material ready for foreign publishers. In 1948, that may have involved packaging and sending them black and white proofs of the art. Later, he would be preparing film negatives by removing all the lettering from the balloons, but I don’t think National had started saving their negatives yet in 1948, as Irwin Donenfeld claimed in the 2001 interview that was his idea. Milt did lettering for the company on a freelance basis, and may have already been doing that at the time of this photo.

SheldonMayerTwice

Sheldon Mayer, detail from 1948 staff photo, and in a photo from COMIC BOOK ARTIST #11, probably early 1940s, provided by his daughter, Merrily Mayer Harris.

Shelly (Sheldon) Mayer is another person mentioned by Julius Schwartz as being present, and I feel quite strongly he’s this fellow, looking a little heavier and older than the earlier photo on the right. Mayer was 31 in 1948, and I’m projecting, but I can’t help feeling he looks a little sad in the photo. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall: he wasn’t going anywhere in management at National, especially now that the boss’s young son had been made a partner. Later in 1948 Mayer left staff to concentrate on writing and drawing, which is what he loved most, and did perhaps his best work on SCRIBBLY and later SUGAR AND SPIKE through the 1950s.

ADDED: Michael Gallaher thinks this fellow is not Sheldon Mayer, see his comment below. The ears are pretty different, and the more I look the less sure I am. Lacking definitive proof, I’m going to continue to believe this is Mayer.

MurrayBoltinoffTwice

Murray Boltinoff, I believe, from the 1948 staff photo, and in a Jack Adler photo from the 1970s, courtesy of Mike Catron.

Just in front of Whitney Ellsworth is, I think, Murray Boltinoff who I worked with when I was on staff. He looked then as he does at the right, much thinner, and of course older. Boltinoff was 37 in 1948, and had recently been away in the service. The weight difference makes the identification harder, but I feel sure I recognize that smile, though I saw it rarely. Boltinoff had one of the longest editorial tenures at the company, spanning five decades. Murray was a steady worker, reliable, never seemed excited about his job, but got it done. His brother, Henry, was a regular humor artist for the company from the early 1940s through the 1960s.

ADDED: I spoke to veteran artist Ramona Fradon at the 2013 San Diego Comicon and showed her these pictures. She agrees this is Murray Boltinoff.

BernieBreslauerTwice

Bernie Breslauer, detail from the 1948 staff photo, and in an early 1940s photo from “The Golden Age of DC Comics” by Paul Levitz.

Right of Boltinoff, Bernie Breslauer’s distinctive mustache and hairline make this an easy identification. I haven’t been able to find out much about him, including a date of birth, but he followed Weisinger and Schiff from the pulps to National, and worked on humor and super-hero titles. George Kashdan reports he died around 1950.

JackSchiffTwice

Jack Schiff, detail from 1948 staff photo, and in a Jack Adler photo from the 1960s, courtesy of Mike Catron.

Right of Breslauer is Jack Schiff, who was 38 in 1948, and easy to identify from previous photos in this article, as well as the one at right. Jack was editing the Batman titles and WORLD’S FINEST at the time, as well as overseeing many others with the help of Boltinoff and Breslauer. From reports I’ve read, Jack was a quiet and modest man, very kind, and often unwilling to assert himself with writers and artists, unlike some of his more aggressive staff mates, though he held the title of Managing Editor. His handling of the Batman books got a lot of criticism from fans. He left staff in 1967.

GeorgeKashdanTwice2

Bernard Kashdan from the 1948 staff photo, and from a photo courtesy of Bennett Kashdan.

Bernard (Bernie) Kashdan was in the accounting department of the company, hired in 1940. He was the brother of George Kashdan, then a recent hire as a writer for the comics, and soon to be a staff editor. I’ve written more about the Kashdan brothers HERE.

BenWeinsteintwice

Ben Weinstein from the staff photo, and a 1952 photo courtesy of Bennett Kashdan.

Next to Bernard Kashdan is his boss, Ben Weinstein, head of the accounting department, or perhaps the business manager.

PerryThrice

Possibly Raymond Perry from 1948 staff photo, from unknown time and source via the “Dial B for Blog” website, and in a photo by Jack Adler from the late 1950s, courtesy of Mike Catron.

I have no sure identifications from the table on the right side of the staff photo, many are probably Independent News staff, but I’m thinking this fellow might be Ray (Raymond) Perry. Perry had a long career as an artist. He had art in the first DC Comic, NEW FUN #1, and was known later for his watercolors. I’m not sure when he joined the National production staff, but in his obituary his title was listed as Art Editor. If correct, that may have merely meant he held the senior position as staff production artist, and had some responsibility over others there.

IraSchnapp?

Unknown person from 1948 staff photo, watercolor of Ira Schnapp by Jack Adler, courtesy of Mike Catron.

And for a while I was very excited about this fellow, thinking he might be legendary letterer and logo designer Ira Schnapp, whose photo I’ve long searched for. But I contacted Neal Adams, who worked with Schnapp in the 1960s, and he told me: “People do change, but that doesn’t look like the Ira Schnapp I knew. Ira’s ears stuck out more, and his face narrowed at the bottom much more than the man in the photo.” Too bad, but that does at least fit with my guess that Schnapp joined the staff in 1949, based on the marked increase in his cover lettering that year.

At end of 1948, early 1949, here’s the editorial lineup of the company, as best I know it.

Mort Weisinger, editing ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN.

Jack Schiff, editing BATMAN, DETECTIVE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST.

Jack Schiff (with the help of Weisinger, Breslauer and Boltinoff), editing REAL FACT, ADVENTURE COMICS, A DATE WITH JUDY, BUZZY, GANGBUSTERS, BOY COMMANDOS, MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, STAR SPANGLED COMICS, and WESTERN COMICS.

Julius Schwartz, editing ALL-AMERICAN COMICS, ALL-STAR COMICS, FLASH COMICS, COMIC CAVALCADE, and GREEN LANTERN.

Larry Nadle, editing FUNNY FOLKS, FUNNY STUFF, SCRIBBLY, MUTT & JEFF and LEAVE IT TO BINKY.

Robert Kanigher, editing SENSATION and WONDER WOMAN.

Bernie Breslauer, editing ANIMAL ANTICS, LEADING COMICS and REAL SCREEN COMICS.

Next time I’ll cover the 1950s, including a floor plan of the offices at 480 Lexington by someone who worked there. Other articles that may interest you can be found on my LOGO LINKS page and my COMICS CREATION page.

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “The DC Comics Offices 1930s-1950s Part 3

  1. Michael Gallaher

    Great article, Todd, but I’m pretty sure that you’ve misidentified Sheldon Mayer here. Faces can fool us, but ears almost never do. In that side-by-side photo of the supposed Mayer and the known Mayer, we can see that Mayer has detached earlobes, and the mystery man does not. The mystery man has an antihelix with rather distinct angles, while Mayer’s very prominent antihelix has a sharp curve to it. The mystery man’s ear appears flatter against his head and has an irregular shape, while Mayer’s ear is rounded and appears to stick out more.

    If anyone in that photo is Mayer I think the fellow you’ve guessed as being Kashdan is the likeliest suspect. He has Mayer’s wavy hair, and although his left ear doesn’t seem as round, that may be an illusion caused by his prominent antihelix.

  2. Todd Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Michael. You’ve made me less sure about the Mayer ID, though I still think it’s possible the angle and the added weight could make up some of the differences. The ears are pretty different, though. The other fellow does not look like Mayer to me.

  3. Todd Post author

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for the information. I see you’ve confirmed the image of Bill I had figured out in the 1948 DC staff photo, which is great. I’d enjoy seeing the rest of your pictures, and will have a look at your book in San Diego if I see it.

  4. Michael Gallaher

    Here’s how I convinced myself that the guy you’ve ID’d as Kashdan is in fact Mayer:
    <a href="http://stoplight.blogspot.com/2013/07/identifying-sheldon-mayer.html
    There’s still some room for doubt, but I’m very confident that if Mayer is anywhere in that picture, “Kashdan” is him. He just looks different than the familiar photos of young Mayer because his eyes and mouth are closed. Look at my analysis and see if it’s a little more convincing.
    I hope I’m not coming across here as a stubborn weirdo obsessed with proving a point that ultimately doesn’t matter much. It’s just an interesting experiment to me to try to convince myself of what my eyes were telling me. And ultimately, the kind of attention to detail involved in making these kinds of arguments is good training for an artistic mind, I think.

  5. Todd Post author

    It’s an interesting argument, Michael, but I’m still not convinced the second person is Mayer. The shape of the head seems wrong to me, his face was more triangular, that one is more of a full oval. More pictures of Shelly might help, or just confuse things, I don’t know.

  6. JIM ENGEL

    In part 3, the side-by-side pix of (supposedly) Sheldon Mayer… I don’t think the one on the left is Mayer (different eyes, nose, ears..),
    but further down —the two (again supposedly) pix of George Kashdan… I don’t think the one on the left is Kashdan, but I do think that one IS Sheldon Mayer…

  7. Todd Post author

    Hi, Jim. As you can read in the comments, you’re not the only person who thinks that about the photo I’ve labeled Kashdan, though I don’t see it myself. I anyone could find a photo of the young George Kashdan, it might make things clearer. I haven’t found one so far.

  8. Jim engel

    So I see, Todd! For some reason the other comments didn’t show when I wrote mine last night (or I wouldn’t have bothered)… Consider mine a note of agreement with the earlier ones. In any case, a great series!

  9. Pingback: Bernard and George Kashdan at DC Comics | Todd's Blog

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