IRA SCHNAPP: His Life, Work and Family, Part 5

Ira Schnapp in the National (DC) Comics offices, 1955. Photo by Martin Schnapp, used with permission.

While Ira Schnapp was on staff at National Comics, now known as DC Comics, and probably at home as well, he produced a vast amount of lettering and design work, while remaining unknown to the comics fans he was entertaining. Ira was a modest man, and this probably suited him fine. He worked very hard and made a good living, being  able to support his wife and himself while sending his children Terry and Marty to college. Whether he was paid by the page and piece, or if he was instead on a salary is not known. From about 1950 to 1967, working with editors like Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz, Ira single-handedly designed and lettered nearly all of the company’s house-ads (which ran across the entire line) and logos, as well as lettering nearly all their covers and hundreds, perhaps thousands of story pages too, an amazing amount of work.

Gaspar1950s1Gaspar Saladino, 1950s, photo courtesy of his daughter, Lisa Weinreb.

When Gaspar Saladino began working at National in late 1949, he came to work every weekday and sat in Julie Schwartz’ office lettering page after page of comics. Gaspar told me he was expected to letter about nine pages a day on average for a pay rate of $2 per page. This does not seem like a full day’s work for a letterer today, but if you look at the stories Gaspar was working on, where often the lettering filled 30 to 50% of the comics page, you’ll see it was. Examples can be seen HERE. Though he worked in the office, he was considered a freelancer. At the end of the week he’d submit a voucher for the work he’d completed, about $90 a week, which was good money in those days, especially for a single guy living with his parents. Figuring a yearly income of $4500, that would equal $45,000 a year today.

OAW02517Image © DC Comics, from Our Army At War #25 dated Aug. 1954.

Whether Ira worked on the same freelance plan or not, it was likely that the elaborate house ads he produced, like the one above, as well as his cover lettering and logos, which took a lot more time and skill than lettering story pages, would have paid more than the standard page rate. Possibly he was offered a salary in exchange for the special work he did, with the understanding he’d fill in any time left over with story lettering, but that’s just a guess on my part. Artist Murphy Anderson, who often sat in the DC offices next to Ira, told me that Ira worked very carefully and deliberately on covers and house ads, often laying things out first on tracing paper before putting pencil and then ink to paper. I know that when Gaspar and I were working on house ads, logos and cover lettering in the 1970s, those things paid more than standard page rate, often two or three times as much, but then they took longer for us, too. In my case, I did them at home in the evening, along with story lettering, after working full time in the Production Department for a salary, and was paid as a freelancer for what I did at home. This was common practice for staffers, as the salaries were not generous.  Ira might have had a similar arrangement, we don’t know.

Around 1960, National Comics moved to 575 Lexington Avenue near 52nd Street, and Ira with them. The company began offering regular tours of their offices on Friday afternoons for fans who wrote or called to ask about it. Some of those fans remembered meeting Ira Schnapp in those offices, and here’s what one fan, present day comics writer Pat McGreal, remembers about his visit.

Jack-Larson-card-front“My memory of the place is a series of offices and production rooms surrounding a central bullpen furnished with drawing tables. We were shown massively wide filing cabinets filled with original art destined to see print. Production man Jack Adler introduced us to the staff members who happened to be there that afternoon — Morris Waldinger, Stan Keith Starkman, Joe Letterese, Walter Herlitschek and Ira Schnapp. Ira had designed many of the logos that graced DC covers and was proud to show off his work to an adoring audience of two [Pat and his brother Terry]. The guys gave us an assortment of postcards featuring various DC characters (including Jack Larson, TV’s Jimmy Olsen) and they all signed them.”

On the above postcard is the handsome script “Best Wishes” and Ira Schnapp’s signature lettered by him for those two fans, and you can see the pencil guidelines he put down first to keep the lettering aligned. Ira’s artist signature looks like some of those on “The Art of the Ages” newspaper feature he produced in the late 1930s. (The signature by Jack Larson is printed on the card.)

On a similar visit by writer, movie producer and comics historian Michael Uslan, Ira talked to young Michael about his work. Michael writes,

“He loved that I was interested in the history of the industry and DC. He showed me many of his logos and was proudest of creating the classic trademark Superman logo. I then assumed he designed every DC logo and he said he did not do the ones before Superman like DETECTIVE COMICS or ACTION COMICS but that he started right after that.”

It’s that conversation which convinced me Superman was the first logo Ira worked on for DC, and not ACTION COMICS, as many have assumed. You can read more about visiting the DC offices in the 1960s beginning HERE.

As Marty Schnapp has told me, Ira and his family had a good life, and lived comfortably, but not lavishly, supported by Ira. In the 1960s Ira and Beatrice began to go to Florida for six to eight weeks in the winter, staying at a hotel in Miami. Some of his siblings were living there, or came down on vacation with their families as well, and family gatherings and dinners resumed at least somewhat like the old days on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Probably Ira took work with him, or had it mailed to him, but that’s just a guess. Some time in the 1960s, Beatrice had a stroke and afterward needed in-home care and help with housework from a series of “maids,” as they were then called.

BeatriceIraTerry_Jan1969BlogBeatrice, Ira and Teddy, January 1969 at an unknown event, photo courtesy of Martin Schnapp.

Ira Schnapp was about 55 years old when he started working on staff at DC Comics. By 1965 he was 71, an age when many have retired, but I think Ira loved going to work at DC, even though his artistic abilities were beginning to decline, and his style was considered by some to be old-fashioned. Working at the office provided him a social life, and as artist Neal Adams remembers, he loved telling stories about his life and work there. Ira was also infused with a strong work ethic, and he enjoyed what he did.

infantinoCarmine Infantino, 1960s

One of the most popular artists at the company then was Carmine Infantino, known for his excellent work on THE FLASH, among other titles. In 1966, Irwin Donenfeld made him art director, in charge of designing all the company’s covers, and Infantino was later promoted to Editorial Director. One of the changes Carmine enacted was to start putting long-time DC letterer Gaspar Saladino on logos, cover lettering and house ads, shifting that work away from Ira. Apparently Carmine felt the company’s design presence needed a fresh approach, and Gaspar’s work was excellent, as he rose to the challenge with dynamic, energetic and artful lettering and logos. Carmine kept Ira on for a while doing less important tasks, but in 1968 he was let go. As artist Neal Adams, who had befriended Ira when he started working at DC around 1967 put it, it meant Ira was being sent home to die. Gaspar Saladino has described Ira as “Mister DC,” and said it was sad that when he left, it was as though he’d never been there at all.

1969_07_27 Ira Schnapp NYTBlogFrom “The New York Times,” July 27th, 1969

Marty Schnapp remembers his father dying suddenly of a heart attack on July 24th, 1969. “I was watching TV at work, and it was the day they came back from the moon,” Marty said, referring to the Apollo 11 mission. Ira died at St. Luke’s Hospital on 113th Street, New York. Marty was the store manager at Bambergers, a division of Macy’s, in Morristown, NJ, and told me Mark Handler, the president of Bambergers, drove him to the hospital to be with his father, but Ira had already passed by the time Marty got there. Ira’s brief obituary, above, appeared in the New York Times on July 27th. He was 74. Other than the people at DC Comics he had worked with who he was related to, or who might have been informed by them, no one in comics knew about the passing of the man who had done so much for the company and its readers.

1977_10_04 Beatrice Schnapp NYTBlogFrom “The New York Times,” Oct. 4th, 1977

Beatrice continued to live at 515 West 110th Street, New York until her own passing in October, 1977. The Nina Wechsler mention in her obituary was a step-sister. Marty said there was not much money left in the estate after her death.

Moving on to the rest of the family, Martin Schnapp married Pamela Feld on August 20th, 1961. Marty said they knew each other only six months, and they are still together. They were married at Temple Emanuel in New York. They have a son, Jonathan David Schnapp, who lives in New Jersey. They’ve been happily married 54 years, and have enjoyed a life filled with travel all over the world.

Marty has remained in retail clothing all his life, after being given his first job at the May Company by his uncle Samuel. Marty told me:

“I was an assistant in the May Company buying office in New York before it was bought by Macy’s. I was making $23 a week. I went to another buying office for $45, and then the main Hecht Company store in Washington, DC. I went there as an assistant buyer at $60. I didn’t like Washington. Where I lived was all government people, and I had to work six days a week. The Hecht Company had a store at that time at 14th St and 6th Avenue, New York. I transferred back to that store as a buyer in boy’s wear. They weren’t ready for me for a few months, so at that time my friends and I backpacked through Europe for a number of months. When I came back I went to that job. That store went out of business in a couple of months and I went to Abraham and Strauss in Long Island. Then I switched to Bambergers in New Jersey, a division of Macy’s, working in the Newark store, then the Morristown store. At that point I stayed with the Macy’s corporation for 37 years, working myself up to vice president of merchandising for Bambergers. My family and I lived in The Oranges, including a home we bought in South Orange, but when my son had graduated college we moved back to Manhattan. I retired when I was 65, but soon I took a job to keep busy with Burlington Coat Factory. I am now 85 and I’m still working for them. I work here in the New York market as a consultant, helping the new buyers in the ladies’ sportswear world. At Macy’s I used to go to Asia and Europe. I used to go to Japan, Bangkok and Hong Kong.” At his current job, Marty said, “I don’t work hard. They’re very good to me and I can take off if I need to, it’s no problem. I’m very fortunate. As long as I stay healthy, it’s okay.”

Penn_South_on_Ninth_Avenue_from_26th_StreetPenn South on Ninth Avenue from 26th Street, image from Wikimedia Commons

I asked about Marty’s sister Teddy, and he said she lived in a walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village for a long time, then put her name in at Penn South, an affordable housing complex in Manhattan between 23rd to 30th Streets and 8th and 9th Avenues. In the later years of her life she developed dementia. Marty would go down once or twice a week to visit her and take her out to dinner. She always knew Marty. Teddy watched a lot of television, and wasn’t in any pain. She had a 24-hour live-in aide. Only the last month of her life was rather unpleasant, a long hospital stay. Theresa died in 2009. I asked if there were any items from Ira in Teddy’s possession. Marty told me there was one painting, but he and Pam didn’t have room for it in their small apartment. There was also Teddy’s collection of movie stills that a friend of Marty put on eBay. Marty said that in her later years, Teddy had begun to save everything, creating a huge clean-up task for him after she died. Unable to go through it all, he had most of her things removed by the landlord. It’s possible there’s Ira Schnapp art or other memorabilia out there somewhere, but it’s more likely they were disposed of. Teddy did accumulate a good amount of money, which she left to Marty’s son.

PrintBringing the rest of the extended family up to date, Ira’s brother Sam died on Feb. 12th, 1974 in Florida, where he had retired from his job with the May Company. His wife Imogene predeceased him in 1967. Their daughter Dorothy Fellenbaum died in October, 2000. Dorothy’s three children survive her.

Ira’s brother Joe died in August, 1960. He worked at the Tip Toe Inn until his death. He was survived by his wife Claire and daughter Norma. In the New York Times, a notice read: “The Delicatessen Crew of Tip Toe Inn express their extreme grief and profound sorrow at the untimely loss of their union brother and co-worker.”

Ira’s brother Mo died in January, 1981, his wife Bess predeceased him in January, 1974. Marty Schnapp still hears from their children Lewis and Brenda occasionally.

Ira’s sister Lee Iger died in November, 1981. Her son Fred Iger died in April, 2015. His relationship with Arlene had ended in the 1970s, and he remarried. Lee’s daughter Toby died in June, 2000. Each have surviving children, and Marty and Pam are in touch with and see some of them.

Ira’s sister Sharlye died in Miami, Florida in February, 1992. Her son Michael died in November, 1998. Michael had married Cheryl Varney in 1970. They had a daughter, Anna. Saul Herzfeld remarried in 1974, and died in Florida in 1985.

Ira’s sister Nina died in May, 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Her ex-husband Jack Naguid died in 1992. And that’s all the information we have on Ira’s siblings. Some children and a good many grandchildren remain.


Of the Schnapp cousins, Samuel (Sam 2) rose to vice president in the Chase Commissary Corporation, which oversaw several Tip Toe Inn restaurants and a chain of Sherman Cafeterias, a total of 17 units. Illness required he partially retire in 1934, and in July, 1935 he married a second time to Isabelle Levine. The couple went on a trip to Saratoga Springs in early August, and Sam 2 died there of a heart attack on August 5th, having been married only two weeks. His heartbroken wife placed this memorial in the New York Times: “Samuel, beloved husband, departed August, 1935. Not just today, but every day in silence I remember, for death can never take away love and memory, they live forever.”

Sam 2’s brother Sol died some time before 1948. We don’t have birth or death dates for his wife Faye. Their daughter Lorayne Gottesman of Woodbury, NY died on Feb. 12th, 2015, predeceased by her husband Aaron. She is survived by her three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Jack Liebowitz, Faye’s brother and co-owner of National Comics, died in 2000 at the age of 100.

LiebowitzEmmettIrwinDonenfeldJack Liebowitz, Jay Emmett, Irwin Donenfeld, photos found online

Jay Emmett (Schnapp) married Martha Wiley in 1948. They had three children: Paul, Steven and Andrew. Jay had a long and successful business career, first at DC Comics, then as head of the Licensing Corporation of America, then as President of Warner Communications in the 1960s and 70s. Later he was involved with Major League Baseball and the Special Olympics. Jay and Martha raised their family in Wesport, Connecticut. They retired to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he died on June 22nd, 2015. He was predeceased by his wife Martha and oldest son Paul, and survived by his other two sons and six grandchildren. A full obituary is HERE.

Carol (Schnapp) Donenfeld’s husband Irwin Donenfeld was the co-owner of DC Comics from 1948 to 1967, and the Editorial Director from 1952 to 1958, when he became the Executive Vice President. He left the company when it was sold to Kinney National Company (later bought by Warner Communications) and he and Carol moved to Westport, Connecticut where Irwin got involved in a maritime business and local government. He died in 2004 of heart failure. He was survived by his wife, six children, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Adolph Schnapp died in July, 1935, and his wife Rose died in October, 1937, survived by their three children. I have no record of the death of his brother Joseph (Joe 2), but his wife Hanna died in June, 1952. Their daughter Hilda’s husband Nathan Herzfeld died in June, 1979, and Hilda in January, 1982. They are survived by a daughter, Lila Ellen Herzfeld. She married Mitchell Rosen in 1953. I have no information about Hilda’s brother and sisters. I also have nothing further about the other Israel Schnapp and his brother Abram.

SchwadronTreeOf his mother’s family, Marty Schnapp remembers: “My mother’s mother remarried a man named Harry Wander. My mother was one of four. Beatrice and her brother Jack Squadron [born Schwadron] were from the first husband. From the second was Nina Wechsler and Fred, who died at a young age. Jack Squadron had two sons, Arthur and Howard. Howard Squadron was president of the presidents of the American Jewish Conference. He was a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch, and dated Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America. At his house I met Elia Kazan.”

1951_09_12 Harry Wander Dead NYTBlogBeatrice’s mother and Marty’s grandmother Rose Wander died in December, 1939 in New York. Harry Wander died in 1951. A New York Times article about his death and accomplishments is above. Jack Squadron married Sarah Sherry in 1925. He died in November, 1986. Nina Wander married William Sadoff in 1929, and married a second time to James Wechsler in 1935.

HowardSquadronHoward Squadron, photo found online

Jack’s son Howard Squadron became an important and influential lawyer. He died in 2001. Lengthy and impressive obituaries are HERE and HERE.

DCHouseAd19621962 DC house ad featuring Ira Schnapp lettering, including the DC symbol and Comics Code Seal he designed. Image © DC Comics

As I bring Ira Schnapp’s story to a close, I’d like to highlight a few things I’ve read online about him that I believe are incorrect or can be clarified.

• Ira’s birthdate is difficult to pin down, but I feel October 10th, 1894 is the right one. I checked with Marty and Pam, and Pam had that date written in her family papers. She’s not sure where she got it, but she said it was from some family document. The next most likely date is Oct. 10th, 1893, but I feel the presence of 1894 in the family makes it the right choice.

• Ira Schnapp did not design the ACTION COMICS or DETECTIVE COMICS logos, according to what he told a young Michael Uslan. My guesses on that are in THIS article. I believe Ira’s statement that SUPERMAN was the first DC logo he worked on. When a person refuses to take credit for something famous, I’m more likely to believe him than if he wants credit for everything. Beginning with THIS article I’ve made my guesses about what other DC logos Ira designed in the 1940s, and of course most of the company’s logos from 1950 to about 1967 are his.

• Ira Schnapp was never a stone-cutter. Marty Schnapp confirmed that Ira told him he designed the letters for the Farley Post Office building, but was not the one who cut the stone. As shown in my recent research, the inscription was designed by the architects, McKim, Mead and White, and Ira likely made huge enlargements of their inscription drawing for the stone-cutting.

• Ira Schnapp was not an engraver. He did not design any U.S. Postage Stamps. In the first half of the 20th century most — perhaps all — stamps were designed and engraved by employees of the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC. Many of the stamp designs in the years 1908 to 1931 were by Bureau artist Clair Aubrey Houston. Ira did not work for the Bureau, and always lived in New York.

• Ira Schnapp did not play any musical instrument, per Marty. (One site had him playing the cello.)

• The Schnapp family coat of arms associated with Ira was probably created for German or Austrian families with that name. It has no relevance for Ira’s Jewish heritage, and Marty Schnapp had never seen it.

• Ira did not move to Florida after leaving DC Comics, though he did vacation there in the winter in the 1960s. He remained in New York and died there on July 24th, 1969.

SchnappCoverLettersTypical Ira Schnapp cover lettering from 1959-60. He also did the logos. Image © DC Comics

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why I’ve gone into so much detail about Ira and his family. I began reading comics around 1956. Adding credits for the creative team on comics stories had been done sporadically and incompletely since the early days, but in the 1960s, Marvel Comics began listing complete credits on all their stories. This allowed me to learn the names and appreciated the talents of people like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, among many others, including letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen. DC was slow to follow Marvel’s lead, but by the late 1960s – early 1970s, they too were listing all the creators on most stories. When I started working at DC Comics in 1977, I knew the names and work of many of the company’s writers and artists, and even some then-current letterers like Gaspar Saladino, John Costanza, Ben Oda and John Workman. Yet I’d never heard the name Ira Schnapp. Ira’s career was over before credits for letterers became a standard practice, or before the newly developing comics fan press could speak to him. Gaspar Saladino started working on staff at DC in 1949, not long after Ira did, but Gaspar was about 30 years younger than Ira, and his career extended well into the credits era. In many ways, Gaspar was Ira’s successor, taking over much of the logo design, cover lettering and house ad work.

When I joined the company in 1977 and started getting some of that work myself, my curiosity about the pioneer in that design slot began to grow. I heard stories about Ira Schnapp from some who had worked with him, and came to recognize and appreciate his vast output, but there was very little information about the man to be found anywhere else. That has fueled my interest and research. In Alex Jay, himself a fine logo designer for DC comics for many years, I found a kindred spirit, and as Alex dug into the many documents you’ve seen here, I saw we could assemble a much broader life history for Ira, and even for his entire family. I’m sure we’ve overdone it, but I thought more was better than less in this case.

Meeting Ira’s son Marty has been the icing on the cake in this process, and on Monday, Sept. 21st, Marty and I went to the Ira Schnapp Exhibit at the Type Director’s Club designed and presented by another Schnapp fan, Arlen Schumer. Arlen was there, as was Alex Jay and a few other fans, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll describe and show that event in the final part of this series next time.

Other parts of the series and more articles you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION and LOGO LINKS pages of my blog.

 

2 thoughts on “IRA SCHNAPP: His Life, Work and Family, Part 5

  1. Max Gottfried

    The is an absolutely amazing piece of investigative reporting. Wonderful details and recollection from family members are shared. Ira Schnapp (along with the other unsung ‘masters of typography’) would be lauded today by fans and fellow creative individuals. I hope his family can take some sense of pride in the work created by Ira Schnapp. I spoke with Lou Fine’s grandson years ago and all he had to remember him by was a tattered comic. I do hate the stories of creative talents thrown out like dish water, because their work looks ‘dated’. I’ve heard these horror stories too often. Todd, how about a “Letterers Hall of Fame”? These people (along with colorists) are truly the unsung heroes of the comic book industry.

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