Show Business: Up, Up and Awaaay!!!

America's favorite hero turns 50, ever changing but indestructible

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 10)

One of the happiest additions to the birthday celebrations is the publication of a charming book titled Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend, edited by Dennis Dooley and Gary Engle (Octavia Press; $16.95), which provides nostalgics with a cotton-candy dose of Superman lore. Like the proposition that Superman's sun sign is Leo. Or that he voted for Reagan in the past two elections. Or that one of his leaps over a skyscraper would require an acceleration force 20,000 times his weight and thus would cause hurricanes that would flatten any bystanders. The book also tackles trickier questions, like whether Superman is still a virgin. Also, is Superman Jewish? His creators are, and Dr. Joseph Goebbels is reputed to have denounced the man of steel as a non-Aryan, but one of the book's contributors boldly answers, "To be honest, no. The man has all the ethnicity of Formica." And is there anything that Superman cannot do? Yes, since his superskin is invulnerable, he cannot get a vaccination or a tattoo. "And," adds another essayist, "since he can't get a blood test, he can't get a marriage license."

Superman at Fifty finally settles the identity of the girl who served as the inspiration for Lois Lane. It was not Siegel's schoolmate Lois Long, who sang in the choir, or Lois Donaldson, an editor of the Glenville H.S. Torch. It was Lois Amster, the class beauty, who hardly glanced at either Siegel or Shuster. "She's a grandmother now in Cleveland," according to Shuster, "but I don't think she has any idea that she was the inspiration."

Oh, yes, she does. And when asked if she would have laughed at Siegel and Shuster if either of them had asked her for a date, she smiles and says, "Probably." Married for 46 years to retired Insurance Agent Robert Rothschild, she reveals that she never had any interest in being a newspaper reporter. "You know what I wanted to be? A detective."

The only Superman enthusiasts not taking part in the current festivities are Siegel and Shuster, both 73, living three blocks from each other in retirement in Los Angeles, Siegel suffering from a heart condition and Shuster legally blind. When DC Comics bought their creation 50 years ago, it acquired all rights, initially paying them only $10 a page for their work in writing and drawing. When the first issue sold out, and sales of subsequent issues soon climbed to 250,000 copies each, the two men sued for their rights. DC Comics dropped them, and the courts ruled against them.

Their litigation dragged on until the late '70s, when Warner Communications, which by then owned DC and wanted to make a movie version, paid off the creators with $20,000 a year for life. (Superman's estimated overall value: more than $1 billion.) Siegel and Shuster agreed to keep the peace, but they are giving no interviews and joining no celebrations. "They are just in such pain over this situation," says Thomas Andrae, a Berkeley sociologist who knows them, "particularly as it gets closer to the anniversary."

Clark Kent personifies fairly typically the average reader who is harassed by complexes and despised by his fellow men . . . any accountant in any American city secretly feeds the hope that one day there can spring forth a superman who is capable of redeeming years of mediocre existence.

-- Semiotician and Novelist (The Name of the Rose) Umberto Eco

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10