I’ve written several articles about long-time DC staffer Ray Perry, the main one is HERE, with others HERE and HERE, and Alex Jay has a detailed look at Perry’s early life and artistic career HERE. To summarize, Perry was born Sept 16, 1876 in Sterling, Illinois. By 1895 he was attending the Chicago Art Institute, where he was spoken of highly of by his teachers, and won awards. By 1898 he was doing magazine illustrations and on his way to a commercial art career. By 1905 he was living in New York City, and in 1907 he married Emilie C. Russell. He was a self-employed artist and she was a musician and singer. He served in World War One in the Army’s Pictorial Publicity Division, and in the 1920s Perry did illustrations for books and magazines while developing a fine art career as well, joining the prestigious Salmagundi Club for artists, exhibiting in top art shows, and designing stained glass windows. By 1925 the couple also had a cottage in Brookhaven on Long Island, and participated in society and art events in Manhattan and elsewhere. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought this life to an end, or at least curtailed it. Ray and Emilie lived in an apartment on East 34th Street, Manhattan, and Ray was advertising his services as an art teacher. Perry continued to paint and gave some lectures, but commercial work probably dried up and few could afford to buy his paintings. Around 1935, at age 59, he began his comics career when he was hired by Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson as an artist. His art first appeared in NEW FUN #4 dated May 1935, small strips about knights of old. Perry’s painting skills probably steered him into coloring as well, and when the Major’s company was taken over by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz around 1938, Ray Perry joined others employed by the Major as part of the staff of National (DC) Comics, where he became the main cover colorist by 1940, and at some point he was given the title of color editor. Later, Ray also did lots of text page headers, both lettering and art, and he was skilled at both. He remained on staff at National/DC nearly until his death in Nov 1960. He also continued to paint, doing portraits of many DC staffers and friends, among other work.
Bennett Kashdan doesn’t know how Ray Perry’s papers came to his family, but his father, Bernard Kashdan, was DC’s accountant and then business manager for many years, and he also sometimes acted as manager for the estates of some employees, so possibly they came to him that way. Bennett found them among papers from his mother Harriet’s apartment, she is 96 and still with us, but she doesn’t know much detail about the Perry papers. However, she does recall Raymond as “an old-world gentleman, a man of a different era,” according to Bennett. The items consist of three ring-bound notebooks, family photos, and other documents. Two of the notebooks are nearly all French language lessons written out by Perry, either for himself or for his sister Lynda. One is dated 1949. Only a few pages from these are of interest:
These two pages are pencil layouts and inked drawings used as diagrams for French names for parts of the body and clothing.
This page has a weighed-down father time with a clock head, and more thumbnail images for seasons, days, months, and weather.
The third notebook is labeled “Scrap Book and Diary,” and has entries from 1955 to 1960, the year of Perry’s death. There are only a few pages of hand-written diary entries like this one, most pages are pasted-on newspaper clippings, things that interested him, from poems to articles about artists and writers, art images, news of the day, quotes from famous people, and a few postcards and notes from friends. There are also several pages of snapshots by Ray of DC staffers, I’ll be getting to that shortly. This first page begins:
A new Diary. I kept a diary for many years but destroyed most of it, except some pages which contained sketches. An artist’s diary should consist mostly of sketches anyway.
The date 1955 is written here. Perry was 79 years old, and the funeral of his sister Lynda is mentioned, but his brother William was still alive, and there are two newspaper clippings about him.
On the next page is this entry:
’55-March 15 Wed Cont. – Last night I had a pain in my appendix region and there had been an upset stomach condition; when this occurs with me, I feel that death may be near, an anxiety I share with Whitney Ellsworth.
Ellsworth is someone Ray had been working with since the Major hired them both around 1935, and he was the Managing Editor at National/DC Comics for many years. They must have been friends. Despite worrying about his health, Ellsworth lived to 1980.
Another entry on the same page:
I had Chauncey Ryder’s sketch in mahogany about 5 x 6 framed and parked it with Ben Weinstein as a token for his work on my income tax papers. But he tried it out in his apt and decided it was too sombre among his more colorful pictures, 2 or 3 being mine.
Weinstein was DC’s business manager at the time. This shows how many of Perry’s paintings were given to DC employees for one reason or another, though in this case the art is by someone else, Chauncey Ryder, probably a friend.
Today at noon time I finished my 16 by 20 oil sketch of Sterling Westray our colored factotum at National Comics & he is delighted with it & will send it to his mother in Pennsylvania. He is a good type, honest and reliable; he was chauffer for Orbach for 4 or 6 years & has been a bar keeper.
Factotum is a rare word today, it means an employee who does all kinds of work. What might be called an assistant or go-fer.
One more entry from these early pages of the notebook:
At noontime Irwin Donenfeld asked me to make a color sketch of him & I consented, beginning tomorrow. Jay Bennett also asked. My pic of Sterling Westray sold them they said. I hope some of such in the higher brackets will come across with a few ducats occasionally. (Still hoping 11-9-58)
This shows how Perry’s painting talent was used by DC management, but not valued enough for them to pay him anything.
This page of the notebook is typical of many, two pasted-in newspaper articles. The one on the left relates to a news story of the time, Victor Riesel, labor columnist for The New York Daily Mirror, was blinded by acid thrown by a “thug,” and here is being honored by The Society of Silurians, a newspapermen’s group. Ray writes below:
This was a pleasant party because I had a small part in it. I was called to take a bow as the designer of the memorial presented to Victor Riesel, Soldier of Truth.
On the right is an article about Ray’s brother William H. Perry.
Here’s a rejection note from editor Robert Kanigher. I’m not sure why Perry had it, but he pasted it into his notebook. I find the criticisms harsh, but of course we don’t see the work it’s written about, probably samples for Kanigher’s war titles.
This large item is folded in half and pasted into the notebook on one side. The sample portrait used, as noted by Perry at lower right, was a “Portrait of Mr. Al Plastino showing 2 views of head.”
A black and white version of this painting was shown in the book “Last Superman Standing: The Al Plastino Story” by Eddy Zeno (TwoMorrows, 2015), thanks to Alex Jay for the link.
This page has two pieces of Perry art pasted in. On top is a text page header done for WONDER WOMAN #104 dated Feb 1959, perhaps a particular favorite. As usual, Ray did the lettering and art. I can’t identify the bottom one. If it’s from a comic, it must have appeared on an inside cover, it’s on slick white paper rather than newsprint. Perhaps a war title.
Now we come to my favorite part of the notebook, three pages of candid snapshots by Ray titled “Friends at National Comics Inc.” The photos are all dated May 28, 1959 in blue ballpoint at the bottom of each photo with the person’s name, and there are additional comments at the side. I’ll show them in order.
Jack Schiff, “Editor.” This one is blurry, the quality of the photos varies, but I think you can still get an idea of what Schiff looked like in 1959. Staffers wore jackets and ties. In the background is an old-fashioned telephone and a typewriter.
Jack Adler, “Color Separator and Photog”
Great photo of Jack, my first boss at DC, coloring a comics page. You can’t see much of it, but the figure above his left hand suggests a romance comic story. Ray calls him a color separator, which is something he did on DC covers with gray tones. This looks like he’s doing a color guide for pages using Dr. Martin dyes, as I also learned to do, see THIS article. In 1959, Jack did not yet require the glasses he needed when I knew him.
Arthur Gutowitz, “Accountant.” Arthur was DC’s main accountant in 1977 when I started, but at this time he was Bernard Kashdan’s assistant, according to Bennett. Bernard left DC around 1976, and Arthur took the top accounting spot. He has a more modern telephone and two tie pins.
Morris Waldinger, “Artist.” This is the only good photo I’ve seen of Morris. When I started at DC I sat behind him. He was a production artist, doing corrections on story pages for the most part, he also did filler page art. I believe he started working in the production department in 1954. I found Mo, as I knew him, dull company. He wasn’t much interested in comics except as a way to make money. He and Joe Letterese were friends, Joe sat in front of him, and they talked quietly to each other and laughed together often. Morris was laid off during the “DC Implosion” of 1978 and I never saw him again.
Bernie Kashdan. “C.P.A.” (Certified Public Accountant). A little blurry, but a good photo of Bernard. I don’t know who is in the background, but he seems to be wearing a bow tie. The art on the wall is interesting, but I can’t say whether it’s comics art. Added: Bennett tells me it’s a Miro print, and he still has it.
Joe Letterese, “Artist & Letterer.” The best picture I’ve seen of him. Joe had been at Marvel earlier in the 1950s, and I believe was let go there in the 1957 purge by Martin Goodman, and found work at DC soon after. He was a long-time production artist, doing corrections on story pages, and he also lettered them as a freelancer. When I knew Joe, he had given up the mustache, but otherwise looked about the same. He retired from his staff job in the early 1980s. I talked to him once or twice about working at Marvel, and he showed me a few logos he did there, but I don’t recall what they were now. Nothing related to superheroes. He did freelance cover lettering at DC when Gaspar Saladino wasn’t available, and I was soon also being given some of that work. I can’t say we were friends, but he was always friendly. Another guy who wasn’t much interested in comics except as a source of income.
Herbert Siegel, “Office manager, factotum and very good friend.” (last three words underlined.) Siegel was a long-time employee of National Comics owners Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz from their early days as publishers of erotic pulp magazines like SNAPPY and SPICY ADVENTURE STORIES. In 1938, they were indicted by Federal prosecuters on pornography charges, and Siegel took the fall for them, the only one convicted. He was fined $250 and given a suspended sentence. The full story is HERE. From then on, Herbie had a job for life with National Comics, essentially a go-fer, or as Perry says, a factotum to Donenfeld and Liebowitz. Perry’s friendship with him suggests he was also a nice man.
Saving the best for last, Ira Schnapp, “Artist & letterer, old friend and fellow promoter of culture in the Production Department.” I’ve long suspected that Ira and Ray, both interested in fine art, would have had a lot to talk about, and this confirms it. This is only the second known photo of Ira at work at DC, and only the fourth photo of him known to me, a great find that delights me. Ira seems to be holding a pencil, his lettering pens are in the background. Wish I could tell what he’s working on.
There are more photos and documents I’d like to show of Ray, his family, and his art, but they don’t really fit in here, so I will do that in another article soon. That’s all that relates to DC in the notebook. Thanks again to Alex Jay for research assistance, and to Bennett Kashdan for sending me the material.