In late January I wrote a two-part blog article about a mysterious Superman painting by DC Comics artist Stanley Kaye, Part 1 and Part 2. After it was published I received some additional information about Kaye, but I’ve been too busy with paying work to write about it until now.
First, comics historian Mike Tiefenbacher forwarded some information about Kaye written by another comics historian, Joe Desris for the book, “Batman: The Sunday Classics: 1943-1946.” Kaye did some inking for the strip, which is why he’s included. In that book, Joe Desris wrote:
Stanley Rivinas was born November 24, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York. His father died when Stan was an infant, and his mother later married Alfonse Kalinowski.
After graduating from John Adams High School in Queens, Stan attended sign painter school and then went to work for muralist William MacKay. Complaining that Kalinowski was too long to write on a paycheck, MacKay shortened the name to Kaye. He used “Stan Kaye” from then on, but it was not until he married in August, 1945 that he legally changed his name.
During the late 1930s, Kaye worked as an assistant to illustrator and muralist Dean Cornwell. Since Cornwell was left-handed, Kaye learned to paint in a left-handed manner in order to properly mimic the work. Cornwell had studied with Harvey Dunn, one of Kaye’s major influences, and may have introduced Kaye to the illustrator. Kaye attended Dunn’s class at the Grand Central School of Art for several years and in the fall of 1940, he was in the same class with Charles Paris, Cliff Young and Gene McDonald, all future DC employees. Kaye maintained a friendship with Dunn for years, occasionally visiting his Tenafly, New Jersey home.
Kaye went to work in DC’s bullpen in 1941. Due to scar tissue on his lungs from TB as a child, he was not drafted during World War II. He and his wife lived with his parents in Queens until late 1946. Moving to Larchmont, New York, he was able to work out of his studio at home and therefore left the bullpen. Kaye delivered finished art during his weekly commute to the DC offices.
Initially doing text illustrations for various DC titles, one of his earliest regular features was “Genius Jones,” which appeared in MORE FUN COMICS and ADVENTURE COMICS. Kaye’s signature could often be found on the splash page. He admired the work of cartoonist Roy Crane and brought that style to Jones. Kaye typically used a pen on this feature, although he is best known for his fluid brush and ink line. Kaye was as adept at cartoons and superheroes as he was at serious illustration and painting. He did some magazine illustrations in addition to his comic book work and belonged to the Cartoonist’s Guild.
Kaye inked six weeks of the “Batman and Robin” newspaper strip which appeared during February-March, 1946. He inked Wayne Boring’s syndicated “Superman” Sunday strips from the late 1940s into the 1950s.
He worked on all of DC’s main features during his 21 years in the business. Among his work at DC: “Cunnel Custard” (MORE FUN COMICS), “Drafty” (WORLD’S FINEST COMICS), “Hayfoot Henry” (ACTION COMICS), “Batman” (BATMAN, WORLD’S FINEST COMICS), “Superman” (ACTION COMICS, SUPERMAN, WORLD’S FINEST COMICS), as well as Jimmy Olsen, Superboy and Superman-Batman team-up stories in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS. He also inked numerous covers for ACTION COMICS, SUPERMAN and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS.
Kaye left DC around 1948 to ghost Harry Haenigsen’s daily newspaper strip “Penny” and the Sunday “Our Bill,” making a weekly sojourn to New Hope, Pennsylvania to pencil and ink the strips. It did not work out as expected, in part due to Haenigsen’s occasional last-minute writing and Kaye’s resulting marathon work sessions to finish the strips before the deadline. After several months, Kaye returned to DC.
He permanently left comics in 1961, moving his family to Racine, Wisconsin where he went to work at his father-in-law’s manufacturing firm. He died June 21, 1967.
Mike TIefenbacher put me in touch with Joe Desris by email, and I sent him the article I’d written. Joe had lots to say about it, and an interesting email exchange ensued. Stan told me he interviewed Stan’s wife Marion for his research. The article includes a photo of Kaye working in his home studio in Larchmont, NY, but I don’t have a scan of that image good enough to show here. If anyone has the book and can make a good scan for me, I’ll drop it in. Here are some excerpts from my emails from Joe:
JOE DESRIS: “I would speculate that the Kaye painting had nothing to do with the Ward and Szokoli art, and was simply Stan’s superior take on the painting, perhaps done at the request of an editor, or just for the heck of it as wall art. There is a photo of [DC editor-in-chief] Whit Ellsworth which depicts a Fred Ray illustration hanging on the wall behind Whit’s desk, so ti was not uncommon. Artists are always drawing and sketching, and there are not always BIG STORIES behind every piece.”
My theory that the Kaye Superman painting was involved somehow with the retouching of the H.J. Ward oil painting by another artist, Szokoli, perhaps a sample to show what the face should look like, is just a theory. I have no hard evidence to back it up. Joe could well be right, but there are some details that I feel make my theory plausible. First, it’s not done on canvas, it’s done on art paper of some kind. I feel if Kaye were doing the painting to be given or sold to someone the choice of materials is unlikely. Second, the style and technique closely matches the large oil painting that hung in company head Harry Donenfeld’s office. There may have been small reproductions of the original Ward version, but I feel the Kay painting had to have been copied from the original work to get so close. Some of the brush strokes are virtually identical. The painting was too large to remove from the Donenfeld office easily, and I feel it must have been done there. Why would a recently-hired comics artist be given that opportunity if there wasn’t some good reason, like the one I’ve theorized? So, with all due respect to Joe Desris, I’ll stand by my theory.
JOE DESRIS: “Stan is not known to have worked on Superman that early. Except for Jack Burnley and Fred Ray’s work, I think all other Superman art was still coming from Cleveland in 1942, so Kaye likely would not have had the opportunity to work on Superman comic or strip art at that point.”
I hadn’t realized most of the Superman art was still coming from Joe Shuster’s studio in Cleveland then, so fair enough. But that art from Cleveland came to the National Comics (now DC Comics) offices to be prepared for printing, so Stan would likely have seen it, and have been familiar with the look of the character. He captured it extremely well in his painting, better than Szokoli, in my opinion.
JOE DESRIS: “That Ward painting I believe was used for an early promotional card that was about 4 x 6 inches, and may have been part of the Superman Club, or something given away to those who wrote in to the company. It’s a darn big painting for a comparatively small card, but it shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone familiar with early Superman. It was reprinted many times, and was eventually redrawn by Wayne Boring (as line art, not a painting). In fact I would speculate that Szokoli’s repaint was done to make the art more current before they reprinted the card, rather than trying to cover up anything for legal issues against Fawcett. Superman’s image was always changing, with Shuster, Boring, Burnley all having different styles and takes on the character, and all of it appearing almost simultaneously. Things looked different again when Win Mortimer accidentally got off the elevator on the wrong floor, and was hired by DC in 1945.”
Here’s the card Joe is talking about, clearly based on the Ward/Szokoli painting, but with the figure drawn in line art by (I assume) Wayne Boring. It’s from the personal collection of Jerry Siegel, and probably dates from 1942. If there was an earlier version reproduced directly from the painting, and especially the original Ward version, I’d love to see it, but haven’t found any evidence of it. If it does exist, and is detailed enough for Stanley Kaye to have made his painting from, then Joe’s theory gains credence.
JOE DESRIS: “You define Kaye as a ‘staff production artist,’ but from interviews I’ve done with guys who worked there (Robinson, Paris, Burnley, etc.) there were no staff production artists at DC in 1942. There were artists who worked in the office [in the Bullpen], and artists who worked at home, and at that point they did their own features, stories and assignments and made their own corrections. Of course that changed over time as DC grew, published more material, and hired more staff.”
That’s good and useful information, and I’ve corrected my article to reflect it. There did have to be someone preparing work for the printer, though, doing things like assembling ads and text pages, adding indicias and cover type, assembling the trade dress on the covers, and putting the individual stories together as a package for the color separators and printer. In 1942 that may all have been done by the production manager and perhaps his assistant. I still feel it’s possible the bullpen artists might have been called on from time to time to make art corrections. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally, and I doubt they would have always had time to get the original artists to do it, especially with the Superman art coming from Cleveland.
JOE DESRIS: “By the way, the comment in your first blog that the Superman 6 cover influenced the Ward painting cannot be true if the Ward painting was delivered June 24, 1940 as David Saunders states. It is the other way around! Superman 6 would have gone on sale in July and the cover would have been drawn at least two or three months earlier, AND it would have come out of Cleveland. You see similarities because Superman 6 was most likely what influenced the Ward painting, or what Ward was given as reference! The original cover art would have existed in April 1940 or earlier.”
Great point, I miscalculated the dates. I’ve amended my blog to reflect that. Thanks to Joe for his comments and corrections.
I also received a little more information from Diane Ostrander-Kaye, Stan’s daughter-in-law. She wrote:
There are two stories as to why the surname changed. I don’t doubt that Stan told his wife Marion the story aboutt “the check” and that could have happened and may have even provoked the initial idea of changing the name, but that doesn’t explain why his brother also changed his name too. I think the second story his brother Jerry told his wife sounds more credible. The Great Depression resulted in a scarcity of employment opportunities particularly when combined with the prejudices of family origins. All were contributing factors in Stan and his brother, Jerome, ultimately changing their surname from Kalinowski to Kaye.
Stan’s biological father died of TB. Stan was actually unaware he had even had TB until the scar tissue was found on his lungs during his military application.
I was told by his Aunt Helen before she passed that Stan would spend hours drawing as a child, a passion he would continue to pursue.
I have researched Stan’s birth name, originally spelled Rawinis (the name is said to be Lithuanian). His father was listed as Polish, from the town of Suwalki, Poland, then under Russia. The W is pronounced V which explains the “Americanized” spelling of Ravinis, which is how he spelled his father’s name on his marriage record.
Thanks for those additional notes and memories, Diane. More about comics creators can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.