Images courtesy of DC Entertainment, except as noted. Uncredited photos are mostly from the Julius Schwartz collection at DC, some of which were published in “75 Years of DC Comics” and later volumes published by Taschen, written by Paul Levitz. A larger copy of this photo is HERE.
On Dec. 17th 2015, the DC Comics Twitter feed had an unusual entry. It featured the photo above (slightly cropped) with the text: #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) to DC’s 1945 holiday party. The guest list included Joe Kubert, Jack Adler, Harry Donenfeld and many more.” Fans of DC Comics history took notice and wanted details, and A DC Publicity contact soon added, “Our archives team recently uncovered the photo along with a handwritten guest list. Pretty cool.” Comics reporter Heidi MacDonald alerted other comics historians, including myself, and I was soon able to get in touch with DC through my contacts there and get details directly from a DC archivist/librarian , who graciously agreed to send me copies of the documents with the idea that I and my fellow comics historians would identify as many people in the photo as possible and give that info to DC. I also would be able to write about it on my blog, and here it is!
The first thing I did was examine the text written on the photo (probably written in black ink on the negative). At far left we have “Standard Flashlight Co. N.Y.” and the photo number 54518. Standard Flashlight was a photography company that specialized in taking group photos at luncheons and events in and around New York City from at least 1923 into the 1980s. It’s now out of business. To the right of that is “Superman D.C. Publications and Independent News Company, 480 Lexington Ave, Dec. 24, 1945.” Officially, the comics publisher was National Comics, but their company cover symbol was this one:
The DC in the center came officially from the initials of their early publication DETECTIVE COMICS (also a separate company at first), though some company insiders later said it really stood for Donenfeld Comics, the principle owner being Harry Donenfeld. Superman was the leading star of the company, hence his name in the logo. Independent News Company was also a Donenfeld company at the same address, and they distributed the company’s comics nationally, as well as magazines from other publishers.
480 Lexington Avenue was the home of most of the Donenfeld businesses from the early 1930s to around 1960. It was the address for the east side of the Grand Central Palace building, shown here, that filled an entire city block. Donenfeld’s offices and companies were on the ninth floor. The lower floors held a large exhibition hall where trade shows were presented for about 40 years, and there was probably at least one restaurant or banquet hall included. That might have been where the DC holiday party was held, we don’t know. The date of Dec. 24th, 1945 is interesting in that it’s Christmas Eve Day and despite that, the room is packed with over 200 people. This shows how local the comics business was in those days. People could attend the party and still get home to their families that evening before the Christmas Day holiday.
A larger version of this photo is HERE.
Next I needed a way to identify the people, so I made a version of the photo with the image grayed and numbers on each face. I numbered faces I thought could have some chance of being identified, skipping only those that were mostly hidden behind other people or really tiny and blurred in the background. The photograph was taken with a long exposure, so anyone who moved for the few seconds the lens was open are blurred. Even so, a few of those could be identified I think. I ended up with 204 numbered faces. I put these images in the hands of other comics historians, and as a group we worked on identifying people.
The other document was the handwritten guest list, and DC was not sure who had written it. At the bottom right is a note to Julie from someone whose name I read as Milt. It says, “Julie: Suggest you have the Art Dept paste the 2 parts together and mount it on heavy board — Milt.” From this I was able to guess that the writer was longtime DC employee Milton Snapinn writing to his friend and also a longtime DC editor, Julius Schwartz. I knew both men and worked with them on the DC staff from 1977-1987. Julie and Milt used to play cards together at lunchtime whenever Julie didn’t have a lunch meeting. Milt was a letterer, and that’s evident in the way the list was written, I think. He’s divided it into two parts marked LEFT SIDE OF PICTURE and RIGHT SIDE OF PICTURE. His list for each side is numbered, so there must have been a key, probably a piece of tracing paper taped over the photo with numbers to correspond to the list, but unfortunately that seems to have been lost. So, I theorize that Julie Schwartz had this photo, and wanted Milt’s help in identifying people in it. I’m guessing that happened in the 1990s when Julie was semi-retired and looking through his photos for information — he would donate many of them to DC, which is where this one ended up. It’s pasted on heavy board, as the note suggests, and the broken crease line down the middle is where the photo must have come apart. At that time, Julie would come into the offices about once a week. It may have also been after Milt Snapinn retired and left the company, I’m not sure exactly when that was, but after 1987, and before his death in 1999. If that was the case, Julie would have mailed the photo to Milt, and Milt would have made his list and mailed it back. The list itself is very much written as one old friend to another, with entries like “25: Your writer friend (I forgot his name).” It’s likely that both Julie and Milt were at this party, but about 50 years had passed, and neither of them was sure of very many people in it. While we can’t be certain who wrote the guest list, I feel my theory is solid.
What was going on at National Comics/DC in December 1945? Well, the biggest thing was probably the merger with their former sister company All-American Comics, which had been located in lower Manhattan at 225 Lafayette Street from it’s inception in 1939 until co-owner M.C. Gaines sold out his share to Harry Donenfeld. The All-American staff, those who were kept on, moved into the 480 Lexington offices probably some time in 1945, and a few of them are identified in this photo. At National, the big stars were Superman, Batman and Robin. At All-American it was Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, at least as far as super-heroes went. An All-American humor comic based on a popular newspaper strip, MUTT & JEFF may have been their top seller. In the wider world, World War Two had recently ended with the surrender of Japan on Aug. 14th, 1945, but many U.S. troops were still on duty overseas, including some editors, writers and artists who had worked for the company before the war and would again soon. Comics had been very popular during the war, and Superman also had a successful radio show running in syndication three to five times a week, and a series of wonderful animated cartoons shown in movie theaters from the Fleischer/Famous Studios. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman had newspaper strips, and the characters had plenty of licensed products as well. All this meant that National Comics was profitable, and was able to afford a big holiday party like this one.
So, here’s what our research has turned up. I’m dividing people into five categories:
- A) IDENTIFIED — nearly positive or positive we have them right.
- B) PROBABLY IDENTIFIED — likely but not positive.
- C) POSSIBLY IDENTIFIED — a guess with some amount of evidence.
- D) LISTED BUT NOT FOUND — all the names on Milt’s list we couldn’t find.
- E) WHERE ARE THEY? — people who might be here, but can’t be found.
#79: JACK ADLER and #80: DOROTHY ADLER
Jack Adler was my boss at DC Comics for several years, so I had little trouble identifying him. I only met his wife Dorothy once that I can recall, but Anthony Tollin, who also worked for Jack and knew him better than I did, confirmed Dorothy in the photo. In 1945, Jack was still working for Strauss Engraving and wouldn’t join the DC staff for several years, but Strauss was in the same lower Manhattan building that had housed All-American Comics, and Jack had been a friend and associate of Sol Harrison (also here) since high school. Jack has a camera with a large flash in hand. He was always taking pictures.
#83: BERNARD KASHDAN
Bernard (Bernie) began working on the business/accounting side of National Comics in 1940. He was born in 1918, so would have been 27 in 1945. Bernie’s father Philip worked for Harry Donenfeld’s Donny Press company, and when Philip died, Harry offered Bernie a job. He had attended the Baruch (now Zicklin) School of Business, so was well prepared for his long-held position.
#84: SHELDON MAYER
His image is not very clear in the party photo, but I feel certain it’s him. Sheldon (Shelly) was a talented humor artist and the editor-in-chief at All-American Comics. When that company was combined with National, Shelly moved to 480 Lexington and continued to edit the former AA titles for a few years before leaving staff to become a full-time freelance writer and artist for the company, something he did for decades until his death. He’s probably best remembered for his creations SCRIBBLY and SUGAR AND SPIKE.
#98: LARRY NADLE and #99: MARTIN NADLE (NAYDEL)
Larry Nadle was hired as an editor at All-American around 1943-44, and continued to work for National/DC Comics until his death in the 1960s. He mainly worked on funny animal titles. Larry’s brother Martin was a humor artist who Larry helped find work at the company. Perhaps to avoid the appearance of nepotism, Martin spelled his last name differently, usually Naydel. I have no photos of Martin, but I think the family relationship is pretty clear in the party photo.
#46: SOL HARRISON
Sol began as an engraver and production man, working on the earliest comics, including ACTION COMICS #1. In 1942 he was hired as the Production Manager for All-American, and he moved into the same position at National when the companies merged. Sol remained as Production Manager at DC until becoming Vice President of the company in 1973 and President in 1976. He retired from DC in 1981. While his image is blurred by motion in the party photo, I worked with him for years, and I feel sure it’s him.
#47: MIDGE BREGMAN
Midge began working with Sol Harrison at Strauss Engraving in the 1930s. She followed him as secretary and right-hand woman throughout his comics career, staying at DC until the mid-80s. I worked with her and recognized her face in the party photo sitting next to Sol right away.
#45: JOE KUBERT
A celebrated artist, writer and educator (The Joe Kubert School), Joe was born in 1926, and began working in comics at the age of 12. His first work for National/DC was in 1943, and DC would be his primary artistic home for decades. Later he was also an editor for the company. The second photo is the only one I’ve found of Joe before he grew his beard, and I think the resemblance is clear.
#48: HARRY DONENFELD
The principle owner of National/DC Comics, Harry was 52 in 1945, though he looks younger. Harry reportedly did not spend much time overseeing comics production, leaving that to his partner Jack Liebowitz and his editors, but he enjoyed being part of the publicity surrounding Superman, and worked hard to promote and expand the Independent News national magazine distribution system.
#17: WIN MORTIMER
While I’m only going by this one photo and the fact that Winslow (Win) is on Milt Snapinn’s list, I think the resemblance is very strong. Win had just begun his comics career at National/DC in 1945 and spent many years drawing Superman, Batman, Superboy and other favorite characters.
#18: STAN KAYE
No doubt on this one, especially once his daughter-in-law told me that Stanley (Stan) always wore a bow tie. Stan began working for National/DC in 1941 and soon became one of their most prolific inkers on Superman and related titles as well as the Superman newspaper strip. He continued to work for the company into the 1960s.
#107: MART NODELL, his wife #112: CARRIE NODELL and Carrie’s sister #114: SHIRLEY KATZ LUSTIG,
Identified by Mart and Carrie’s granddaughter Jacque Nodell, and confirmed by their son Spencer Nodell. I had thought Carrie was still with us, but she died in 2004. Jacque writes, “Since this was prior to Shirley meeting her husband, my dad’s theory is that Carrie brought her along to meet an eligible young bachelor!” Mart Nodell was the creator and first artist on the Golden Age Green Lantern. Mart left National a few years later for other work, though he returned occasionally in the 1980s.
#26: JUDGE JONAH GOLDSTEIN
Judge Goldstein grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, and was probably a childhood friend of Harry Donenfeld. Goldstein had just failed in an attempt to become New York’s mayor earlier that year. He was active in many New York welfare activities and served on the board of many Jewish institutions, including the Grand Street Boys Association, of which he was president for many years. Harry Donenfeld was also a member.
#5: NED PINES
While Ned Pines was not directly associated with National/DC Comics, he published comics himself starting in 1939 under the company names Standard Comics, Nedor Publishing and Better Publications. Their most prominent character was the Black Terror. Some of his comics were probably distributed by Independent News, and he may have been a friend of Harry Donenfeld. I have a better photo of Ned courtesy of Shaun Clancy that makes this identification more certain, but I’m not able to show it.
#39: DAVID VERN REED
Bob Rozakis writes, “I’m almost 100% certain that #39 is Dave Vern / David V Reed.” Bob knew Reed in the 1970s when he returned to scripting comics for DC, so I’m happy to accept this identification. Born David Levine in 1914, he wrote for all kinds of markets and genres. As far as I know he began writing comics for National/DC as David V. Reed around 1949, so I’m not sure why he would be at this party, unless he actually began years earlier, but he is on Milt’s list.
B) PROBABLY IDENTIFIED
#204: MILT SNAPINN
I looked at this person for a long time and have concluded it’s probably Milton (Milt). I think he referred to himself in his list, jokingly, as “Tom Cruise,” and there is a very slight resemblance. The one thing that makes me unsure is the hairline in the party photo right of the eyes, it’s closer than on the 1948 picture, but that could be the way the hair is combed perhaps. The later photo has some heaviness in the cheek that I remember from Milt when I knew him, but perhaps he was thinner in 1945 at 18 years old. I don’t know what Milt was doing for the company in 1945, but a few years later he was put in charge of the company’s film negatives, used for domestic and foreign reprints, a job he did for decades. Milt was also a freelance letterer for decades.
#75: ABRAHAM MENIN
Abe Menin was one of National/DC’s lawyers, and is on Milt’s list. The 1929 photo at right was also used in Menin’s obituary, so we know it’s the same person. I see a strong resemblance.
#76: ASA HERZOG
Menin and Herzog were law partners beginning in 1944, but had known each other and worked together since the 1930s. The identity of Asa in the party photo is supported by Merredith Lowe, whose father worked with Asa. Asa is the person listed by Milt Snapinn as Abe Menin’s partner. He was also the co-author of “Herzog’s Bankruptcy Forms and Practice,” the primary work on the subject for decades.
#140: BEN WEINSTEIN
Ben was an executive in the accounting department of Donenfeld’s companies, and the Bernard Kashdan’s boss. His title may have been Business Manager at this time, or later. Gussie Donenfeld’s maiden name was Weinstein, but we haven’t found any connection thus far. I feel the party image is similar enough to the later photo to make this a likely match.
#23: GUSSIE DONENFELD
Harry married Gussie in 1918, and she was a few years younger than him. This woman in the photo seems to be dressed like someone important, in other words, the boss’s wife.
ADDED: Bennett Kashdan, who provided the other photo I had for this person, has told me the woman in that photo is NOT Gussie Donenfeld, it’s Jack Liebowitz’ wife Rose. There’s one photo of Gussie and Harry from their wedding in Gerard Jones’ book “Men of Tomorrow,” which is small and hard to reproduce, but a younger Gussie there COULD have some resemblance to this woman. Still, I’ve moved Gussie from Probably Identified to Possibly Identified.
ADDED: A new photo of Harry and Gussie from 1954 in Honolulu has been found in The Honolulu Advertiser, July, 1954, by comics historian Steven Thompson. I feel this is the same woman as above, and have now moved it BACK to Probably Identified.
C) POSSIBLY IDENTIFIED
#40: EDDIE EISENBERG
Eisenberg was National’s Production Manager, though at some point he came under the authority of Sol Harrison. I have no pictures of Eddie, but think this could be him because of his placement on Milt’s list between Jack Adler and Bernard Kashdan and his similar placement in the photo.
#92 JULIUS SCHWARTZ
This is a stretch, but the only person in the photo that seems to have the right hair, head shape and glasses is the man facing away shown here. Julius (Julie) was hired as an editor at All-American not too long before the merger, and he continued at National/DC for decades, becoming one of the most successful and popular editors the company has had. He’s perhaps best known as one of the architects of the Silver Age superhero revival.
#170: ALFRED BESTER and #169: ROLLY BESTER
They’re right in the back of the party photo, very small, and the woman’s face is mostly covered, but Anthony Tollin sees a resemblance, and so do I. Tony reports that Rolly was the first actress to voice Lois Lane on the Superman radio show. Alfred (Alfie) Bester is best known today as a celebrated science fiction author of works such as “The Demolished Man” and “The Stars My Destination,” but in the early 1940s he wrote comics such as SUPERMAN for National and GREEN LANTERN for All-American. Tony reports Alfie had mostly moved on from comics in 1944 to writing for radio shows like “The Shadow” and “Charlie Chan.”
#137: FRED IGER and #139: SONIA DONENFELD
In his list, Milt Snapinn calls Fred Harry Donenfeld’s son-in-law and Sonia Iger his wife, but that hadn’t happened yet. Alex Jay found their engagement announcement in the June 13th, 1946 edition of the Nassau Daily Review-Star, and it says:
“Mr. and Mrs. Harry Donenfeld of Central Park West have announced the engagement of their daughter, Miss Sonia Donenfeld, to Frederick Hillel Iger, son of Mr. And Mrs. George Iger of Rugby Road, Cedarhurst. The bride-elect is a graduate of the Ethical Culture School in Fieldston, NY, and attended Olivet College in Michigan. Mr. Iger was a pre-medical student at New York University and was recently discharged from the Army after over two years of service.”
So in December, Fred was still in the Army, and you can see a military patch on this man’s shoulder on what I think is a uniform. Sonia, known as “Peachy,” was considered a beauty, and that seems to fit the woman in the photo. Fred’s hairline and what we can see of the face seem to match the later photo, too. Marty Schnapp, son of Ira Schnapp, who knew both Fred and Peachy, thinks this could be them.
Fred was a nephew of Ira Schnapp, and in the 1940s worked with Ben Sangor in the American Comics Group, which was co-owned by Harry Donenfeld. Fred would take ownership of that company later. He and Sonia must have married some time in the second half of 1946. I’ve found no photos of her. The couple was divorced probably in the early 1960s. Sonia had a share in the ownership of National/DC for a while, but was never involved in the business as far as we know.
#74: JAY EMMETT
Jay Emmett, born Jay Schnapp and related to both Harry Donenfeld’s business partner Jack Liebowitz and Ira Schnapp, began in the mailroom at National/DC, became an assistant editor, and later was one of the founders of the Licensing Corporation of America, DC’s character licensing division. He also worked as an executive for Warner Communications before leaving the company in 1981. Marty Schnapp, who knew him, thinks this person in the party photo could be him. I’m less convinced, but thought we should put Jay in this category based on Marty’s suggestion.
#136: RUBE GROSSMAN
Ruben (Rube) had been an animator for the studio that produced cartoons starring Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman. He began drawing funny animal comics for National/DC in the early 1940s, working on characters such as Nutsy Squirrel and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Alex Jay sees a resemblance, I’m less sure. The caricature is more like the person in the party photo than the one in the staff photo, but it’s possible that’s mislabeled.
#32: HARRY GOLDSTEIN
This is a guess by Alex Jay and myself based on some facial similarities to Judge Jonah Goldstein, and age. “Judge Goldstein’s brother” is on Milt’s list, and Harry was Jonah’s law partner as well as his older brother. We’ve found no pictures of Harry.
#77: IRVING WEINSTEIN
Another guess by Alex Jay and I based on facial similarities to Ben Weinstein, his brother, just above and behind him. We don’t know if Ben worked for the Donenfeld companies, but it seems likely.
D) LISTED BUT NOT FOUND
On Milt’s list, but we can’t find them in the 1945 photo. I’ve skipped the more vague entries.
SELMA (Letterer who worked in Production)
In 1945 much of the lettering on comics was provided by the artists or their assistants, but some lettering needed to be done in-house. We don’t know who Selma was, or where she is in the party photo. Ira Schnapp was already lettering stories for the company, but I don’t think he worked in-house then. When Gaspar Saladino started lettering in-house for Julie Schwartz in late 1949, he told me there were two high-school students working there as letterers, one male and one female. He doesn’t remember the names, and it’s probably after Selma’s time.
ALLAN GARVIN and GEORGE VAMOS of Chemical Color Plate
These were executives at the company that did some (or maybe all) of the color separations for National/DC. I haven’t been able to find any photos.
Ray worked in the National/DC Production Department, and also worked as an inker and assistant to his more famous brother, artist Jack Burnley. I’ve found no photos of him.
Milt adds, “I got the job because of him.” We don’t know what Julie did for National, and I’ve found no pictures.
A National/DC assistant editor and editor with a distinctive mustache. Can’t find him in the party photo.
I don’t know of any relative of Harry by that name.
Milt adds “IND’s stock clerk.” No photos found.
The fact that I can’t find Ira in the party photo, despite Milt listing him, really bugs me. For a while I thought #27, the man behind Judge Goldstein, was him, but that fellow seems too young, he’s on the wrong side of the photo for Milt’s list, and Marty Schnapp did not think it was him. Going by the list, we would expect Ira to be near Fred Iger, but Marty and I don’t see him there. Alex Jay suggested #138, the man just in front of Fred, but we can’t agree. I spent years looking for a photo of Ira, and finally found the one above in Marty’s possession, but Ira continues to be elusive! Ira was designing logos and lettering stories for National/DC in 1945, but not yet on staff as far as I know. He set the style for the comics publisher from 1950-1965 with an astounding amount of work on covers, stories, logos and house ads when he did join the staff.
Milt adds, “Stock Clerk for your area,” probably meaning the National/DC editorial offices. No doubt related to Julie Kleinhans. I’ve found no pictures.
Estrow was an executive with Independent News. I’ve found no photos.
E) WHERE ARE THEY?
People we might expect to find in this photo, but can’t. Keep in mind, some National and All-American employees and freelancers might still have been away in the armed services. Second, it’s Christmas Eve Day, and some people may have opted to travel to their families rather than come to the party. Third, some people might have been ill, or had better offers! Here are a few names to consider that might be here.
Harry’s business partner, and part owner in his companies. More involved in decision-making for the comics business than Harry.
Head of Independent News and probably part owner as well.
Whitney was the National/DC Editor-in-Chief.
MORT WEISINGER (left)
Mort was an editor for National/DC starting in 1941, but was in the service until his discharge in 1946, so probably not at the party.
ROBERT KANIGHER (right)
Kanigher was a writer and editor for All-American/National from 1945 on. He might have been in the service at the time, not sure.
MURRAY BOLTINOFF (left)
An assistant editor for National/DC from 1940, but he may have been away in the service.
JACK SCHIFF (right)
Editor at National/DC, brought in to replace Weisinger and Boltinoff while they were in the service, so he could have been there.
BOB KANE, BILL FINGER
I believe Batman’s co-creators lived in New York City, and could have been at the party, but we don’t see them.
JOE SHUSTER, JERRY SIEGEL
Mike Catron reports that Joe Shuster and his family were living in Queens at this time, so he could have been there, but I don’t see him. Jerry Siegel was serving overseas in Hawaii.
WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON, H.G. PETER
I don’t know where Wonder Woman creator Marston lived. Her artist H.G. Peter had a Manhattan studio, so could be here, but we don’t see him. A better photo of him might help, but this is all I can find.
I’m sure there are others we could add, but those are some that come to mind.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this detailed look into DC’s past. Many thanks for research help and photos from DC Entertainment, Heidi MacDonald, Alex Jay, Anthony Tollin, Mike Catron, Ken Nadle, Bob Rozakis, Diane Ostrander-Kaye, Jacque Nodell, Shaun Clancy, Bennett Kashdan, Merredith Lowe, Marty Schnapp, Gerard Jones, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Steven Thompson, and anyone else I’ve forgotten. This may be the longest single post on my blog to date, but I felt it made sense to keep it together. Other articles you might enjoy are on the COMICS CREATION page of my website, including some about the National/DC offices.