When I received photos of a painting of Superman’s face by Stanley Kaye (above in an uncredited photo) from the owner, Merredith Lowe, I knew little about Kaye’s comics career, but found information in the Grand Comics Database. Kaye began working for National Comics (which became DC Comics) in 1941, with his earliest credits being for spot illustrations, small pictures used to illustrate a one or two-page text story. In 1942 he and writer Alfred Bester created “Genius Jones,” a humorous super-hero series that began appearing in ADVENTURE COMICS #77, cover-dated August 1942. In 1943 he began inking Superman stories and covers drawn by others, and soon became one of the most prolific Superman inkers at the company.
Here’s an example of his inking work over penciller Wayne Boring. In addition to creating and inking comics from about 1941, Kaye inked the Superman newspaper strip for years. A few more facts emerged from Jerry Bails’ “Who’s Who of American Comic Books,” but not many. I put my ace research assistant, Alex Jay, on the case, and Alex came up with more information!
Kaye was born Stanley Rawinis in Brooklyn, NY on Nov. 24, 1916. By the 1920 census his mother Angeline was remarried to Albert Kalinowski, and by a 1925 state census, the boy’s name was listed as Stanley Kalinowski, a name he used through school and at least to 1940. The photo of him above is from John Adams High School, and his sweater features the emblem of the school’s rifle and pistol shooting team, of which he was a prominent member. In the 1940 census he was 23, living with his parents and younger brother Jerome in Queens, New York, and listed his occupation as “artist.” By the time he began working in comics in 1941 he had adopted the more Americanized version of his name. The earliest comics credit for him I’ve found is a spot illustration in SUPERMAN #11, July-Aug. 1941, signed “Stanley Kaye,” but he may well have been working for the company as an uncredited artist by then.
The Bails book lists Kaye’s art training at the Grand Central School of Art, which was located on the top floor of Grand Central Terminal. Bails lists his major influences as Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell. Both were prolific painters of magazine covers as well as fine artists. Both taught at the school. The uncredited photo above of Stanley working on a large painting from a smaller layout sketch is probably from his time at the school.
Harvey Dunn at work on a painting. Dunn had studied with N.C. Wyeth, and his style shows the influence.
Here’s an example by Dunn featuring the kind of dramatic pose and impressionistic technique used by Wyeth.
Dean Cornwell, art sample above, was a co-founder of the school, and originally a pupil of Harvey Dunn. He became one of the most celebrated cover artists of the early 20th century. The type of illustration and painting that Stanley Kaye revered all looks back to N.C. Wyeth, himself a student of Howard Pyle.
Another uncredited photo of Stanley Kay with paintings and painting gear at what looks like the doorway of an old barn. These photos of Kaye were found by Alex Jay on Ancestry.com, but there was no information included with them.
So, Kaye was clearly a painter, but perhaps not able to find paying work as one, and he somehow ended up at the company now known as DC Comics. He did some complete stories, pencils and ink, but later he was usually an inker. The early spot illustrations suggest he began at the company working in the artists’ bullpen, an area of drawing boards and desks that could be used by freelancers, taking whatever assignments were available. That kind of small art was usually done by artists that worked in the office. I’ve found no evidence that he ever did any painting for the company that was printed, but I imagine co-workers and editors knew of his painting ability.
So we come back to that painting of Superman’s head on paper signed by Stanley Kaye and dated ’42.
The painting style looks closer to H.J. Ward’s original version to me (and his style in general) than the retouched version by Joe Szokoli, left and right above, though the face and hair details are closer to the Szokoli version. I showed the Kaye painting to artist Mark Wheatley, a fine painter himself, and he suggested perhaps the Kaye study was commissioned to show Szokoli exactly what Harry Donenfeld had in mind for the facial features and hair. This makes a lot of sense to me. Kaye was a regular artist for the company, probably on staff, and perhaps already working on Superman stories as an inker. I can imagine him being very happy to display his painting ability to the company co-owner with this study, no doubt made in Donenfeld’s office where the painting hung. Possibly Kaye hoped to get the chance to make the changes on the painting himself. Donenfeld went with a more experienced cover painter, which is too bad, as I think Kaye’s version looks much better than Szokoli’s. Even though Szokoli was more experienced, he didn’t know the character well, and his technique is smoother and less attractive than the rest of the Ward original. If Kaye’s study was used as his guide, it wasn’t well used. Probably Donenfeld paid Kaye a small fee for the study and sent him back to work in the bullpen, and the painting skills of their staff artist did not go any further at the company that I know of. The study may have been liked and picked up by Donenfeld’s partner Jack Liebowitz who had it framed and hung it in his office, where it later was given to Asa Herzog, and made it’s way to the current owner, Merredith Lowe.
From the volume of his work, I think Stanley Kaye made a good living as an inker for DC Comics, soon leaving the bullpen and freelancing full time from home, and perhaps pursuing painting on the side, though we have no evidence of that. Here he is on a ship from another undated photo.
And with a car that he seems very proud of. Family information on Ancestry.com has been kept private, but we do know that Stan Kaye died in Racine, Wisconsin in 1967. His headstone lists him simply as “artist.”
I’ll close with this detail of his signature from the Superman painting. Perhaps other paintings by him will turn up someday, either signed as Kaye or Kalinowski. Let’s keep an eye out for them. Thanks to Merredith Lowe for allowing me see his painting and explore its origins, and to Alex Jay and Mark Wheatley for research help.
UPDATE: Diane Ostrander-Kaye writes:
Thank you, this is wonderful. I am married to Stan’s son Paul. I have always been saddened at how little was known about Stan. I personally never met him as he passed when my husband was only 14 years old. He has been described by family members as a gentile, quiet and unassuming man. Another little known fact is that Stan assisted muralist, William Mackay, on a mural located at the Natural History Museum (ca1935-1936). I have the original photos here, the barn photo was taken at my husbands great grandparents family farm, the Petersen Farm. I hope no one minds if I add this to the tree on ancestry. Please thank Merredith Lowe on behalf of Stan’s family for sharing this, we have seen very little of his work. It would be wonderful to get a copy (print) of it and please consider the family if it ever becomes available. (thanks to my daughter Velnet for bringing this to my attention)
Very happy to hear from you, Diane.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this article, others you might like can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.