Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Hendre Weisinger, son of former DC editor Mort Weisinger, discussing his legacy and career as science fiction author and agent, former editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories for Standard Magazines, DC Comics editor from 1941-1970, with a variety of concepts that came about under his editorship: Supergirl, Krypto, Phantom Zone, Kandor, Legion of Superheroes and having more than 1 kryptonite, the Yellow vs Red sun, Imaginary Stories, Superman Annuals. Co creator of Johnny Quick, Vigilante, Tarantula, Green Arrow and Aquaman, story edit the George Reeves TV Superman series, and was Jim Shooters child hood mentor in comics. Who was his favorite Superman Artist? What did he think of Neal Adams or Jack Kirby? How was his working relationship with Julius Schwartz, Forrest Ackerman or Jack Schiff? Alot to find out! Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistoriansSupport the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)
Alex: Welcome again to the Comic Book Historians Podcast. I’m Alex Grand, with my co-host, Jim Thompson. Today we are chatting with Hendrie Weisinger, son of former DC editor Mort Weisinger.
Mort Weisinger, science fiction author and agent, former editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories for Standard Magazines, DC Comics editor from 1941-1970, with a variety of concepts that came about under his editorship: Supergirl, Krypto, Phantom Zone, Kandor, Legion of Superheroes, having more than 1 kryptonite, Yellow vs Red Sun, Imaginary Stories, Superman Annuals, Johnny Quick, Vigilante, Tarantula, Green Arrow, Aquaman. Also, story editor of the George Reeves TV Superman Series, and was also Jim Shooters childhood mentor in comics.
Hendrie, thanks so much for joining us today.
Weisinger: My pleasure.
Jim: So, Hendrie, for younger listeners out there, although Alex just named everything, let’s start by you telling us, who you father was. Both as the creator and his background, but also who do you think of a man’s being.
Weisinger: Well, for sure, my first thought is, he was my best friend. And I would still say that, I think every single day, he is in my thoughts. I had a lot of fun growing up. His job as story editor of Superman, in many ways, I was his editor. Because every single morning, he would wake me up, and it would always be the same, “How’s this for a cover?” or, “How do you like this situation?” He would describe a situation that Superman is in or with Lois Lane?”
And that might be at 7:30 in the morning, and by breakfast time, I would have to either come up with the answer or he would tell me. Then he would test out the idea in the carpool. He always used to say that his boss was 30 million kids, because that’s who he listened to.
I used to watch Twilight Zones with him, every Friday night. It would be like having a tutorial, in creativity. Within two minutes, right after the opening, he would say, “Did you guess the ending yet? Do you want me to spoil it for you?”
A running gag in our family would be how he was in the army with Rod Serling, when he came back to his locker… It was busted into and Rod stole all of his ideas. Of course, he was only kidding, but in the science fiction realm, you see the same idea is circulated many times, and you never really know who thought of it.
It was a great childhood. It was as if I grew up in a fantasy world. I was a terrible student. I was like Henry in Goodfellas. After I’m listening to Superman stories, how can I possibly be interested in Government 101?
Jim: Now, was it just you or were there more siblings?
Weisinger: I had a older sister, three years my senior. As a psychologist, as I look back, she had a very different relationship with my father than I did. She’d be interesting for you guys to talk to at a future show.
As I’ve said, he was my best friend. I would rather do something with my father, whether it was playing gin or chess, watching movies on Million Dollar Movie, than going out with my friends.
Once a year, he would take… I would get to invite my friends to come into his office in New York. In the morning, we’d read Superman comics on the big proofs before they were shrunken down on the art boards, and then we had tickets to the Yankee games. We go to a Yankee game in the afternoon. He’d take me out of school for that. I mean, very few kids had that experience.
When my friends would call, they would speak to him for 30 minutes on the phone, before they spoke to me.
Jim: Now, can you kind of go through, his life in terms of what he started as, and then when you were six or seven, when you were aware that adults have jobs and things, was he at DC at that point?
Weisinger: He was at DC. My memories start to come in at about 1955, so that was, seven years old. He would bring me home, a Superman costume which I would wear, and run around the house. So that was my first awareness of what he did, and his relationship with Superman. And then we went out to California, when he was doing the Superman Series. We stayed at a hotel in Westwood, which is no longer there, called the Drakkar Hotel.
My mother would take me to Thrifty’s Drug store for an ice cream soda every day. I got to go to the lot and see them filming, and George Reeves picks me up and he threw me in the air. It was a great thrill. And I just got more involved and more aware of it as I got older.
He did a lot of other things, in terms of his magazine articles. So, on one hand, as I got older, I would see him doing the Superman, which he started to resent after a while. He always felt that Superman was a waste of his talent.
As you know, he started as a science fiction person, and he wrote thousands of magazine articles. It’s a very interesting dichotomy, because as we all know, and I assume anybody listening, people who worked for him, did not speak well of him.
Weisinger: And I would say their perceptions are very accurate.
Alex: Very accurate. Okay.
Weisinger: For reasons that we can talk about soon. But in the magazine world, he was highly respected, and he treated those people with great respect. He really did not necessarily respect the people who were working under him, except for a handful, such as Ed Hamilton, Otto Binder; the guys who were science fiction writers. He recruited them. Those are the people that he respected, because he felt that they could write, and they could think, and they would bring their own ideas to the table.
Jim: Let me ask you a couple of questions just about stories that you might have about your dad. And then we’re going to kind of go through it, chronologically, but just asking you to tell stories about him in relation to those topics rather than pin you down the way we normally might do. What are a couple of your very favorite stories about your dad in that it has some relation to comics and, or science fiction?
Weisinger: One of my favorite stories and memorable experiences, is one time, I’m listening to the radio, ABC Radio in New York. I hear the that they are announcing a contest for the Superman Broadway Musical. The contest was, whoever can draw the best picture of Superman will get free tickets. So, I tell my father, and he says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of this.”
Now, meanwhile, the people who wrote the book, Adams and Strouss – had done Bye, Bye Birdie, David Bennett -done Bonnie and Clyde, they were up at my father’s office every day, learning the character. And Harold Prince who had produced Fiddler on the Roof was producing it.
So, a couple of weeks later, my father brings home a picture. The picture is, Superman’s flying in the background, in the middle, there is a shack with a fiddle on it, and the guy in the foreground looks like Zero Mostel, like Tevye. The guy on the shack is saying, “Tevye, we’re in the good book! Does it say a man can fly?” And Tevye says, “Not good book, you fool. Comic book, and now it’s a Broadway musical.”
So meanwhile, I took it to school, I started to believe that I had created this masterpiece. So, we send it in, and three days later, WABC calls me, “Is this Hank Weisinger?” … “Yes.” … “Are you 18?” … “Yes.” And then they tell me I won tickets. Now, my father and I knew if we didn’t win, it was a fix. You had the story editor of Superman. You had the artist. It was Curt Swan drawing it. How could we lose?
Then my sister and I go, and during half time, all the ABC disc jockeys are there during the break. They have a bar set up, and I see all these silly pictures of Superman, but right behind the bar is my masterpiece.
Alex: That’s awesome.
Weisinger: How I wish I had…
Jim: That’s funny.
Weisinger: So, we would laugh to ourselves. It wasn’t that the contest was fixed, we fixed it by having the people do it.
Alex: Right. That’s right.
Weisinger: Another time, I find out… I was a huge Yankee fan. In fact, my father probably resented when I changed my loyalty to Mickey Mantle, from Superman, as my hero.
So, they’re having a Mickey Mantle Day at Yankee Stadium. Naturally, I get tickets. My father says, “I have an idea.” He says he’s going to have Wayne Boring draw us a picture where Mickey is hitting a ball, and it’s going off Superman’s hand.
And the caption is, “Not even Superman can catch a ball hit by SuperMantle. That, representing all the Superman fans, because he was also, at this time, Vice President of Public Relations. I would get to walk out on the field and present it to him.
But when my father brought it home, I thought, typical Wayne Boring in my opinion, he forgot to put the number seven on Mickey’s back, so I started to cry. My father got so frustrated, he said, “Forget the whole thing.” I’m glad I did because now, I have that as a unique piece of artwork.
Jim: So, you had some serious perks being his son, didn’t you?
Weisinger: Yeah, and you know, many people… One comic historian, Arlen Schumer, have you ever heard that name?
Alex: Yeah. Of course.
Jim: Yes. Yes, we have.
Weisinger: Okay. One time, I told that story, and he would say, “Yeah, but what did the artist get?” Thinking that the artist got exploited by my father?
Weisinger: First of all, anytime there was something private like that, my father would throw the guy a hundred bucks. But what somebody like Arlen Schumer does not realize, the artist never would have thought of that. He would never have thought of that. That was the difference.
When I look at contemporary comics, I see some people do the artwork, and the story, and so on. And the artist now gets a lot of recognition. That really did not happen back in the day with my father. He saw the artist as basically, a technician. “Draw it the way I say, or you’re not going to have a job.”
He didn’t like the way Wayne Boring drew Superman, he’s out. People say, “Oh, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, they were fantastic.” Yeah, but what they forget is who discovered them? That was all Mort Weisinger deciding. That’s like a director deciding what actors he or she wants to use.
So, he really… You’re right, I got a lot of perks, and it was great. That was one of the great things but after a while, he really resented doing Superman. Do you remember the Superman cover where Clark Kent is saying to Superman, “Can you get yourself a new identity? I’m through with you.”
Weisinger: Okay. That, as a psychologist, was exactly a projection of how my father was feeling at the time. He was getting sick, he wanted to do other things. If you do a Google on Stan Lee, you’re not going to see that he wrote magazine articles or science fiction articles. My father was really a writer, and a science fiction writer, who fell into Superman. And then, because as my mother would tell the story, it provided security, and he didn’t want to take a risk.
Do you remember the TV show, growing up, Tales of Wells Fargo?
Weisinger: Guy running it was a fellow named Frank Gruber, who’s a friend of my father’s. My father offered him a job, as like a staff writer, and I remember my mother telling me is, “Your father could not tolerate that. He could not be a staff writer. He’d have to be the running the show.” His personality was so abrasive, that he would not have done well in Hollywood, where networking and people skills are so important, in terms of success.
He didn’t really care what these other writers or the artists said about him. See, they were all interested in getting their individual recognition. My father’s concept was, “Nobody is bigger than Superman.” He is the star.
Whereas, at Marvel, was done the opposite. They made the creators the star. They put their name on every possible thing that they could.
My father had to fight, actually, to get his name on the mast head at the bottom, in terms of story editor. What people don’t know is, as abrasive as he was to writers and artists, he used to have to fight with Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld to get them more money. Everything was a fight.
Alex: Right. Well, yeah. I’m going to ask you a question because as you know, he did The Time Traveler fanzine with Julius Schwartz and Forry Ackerman in the 30’s. I wanted to ask, Forrest Ackerman, did your dad ever talk about him? What’s your dad’s conception of Forrest Ackerman?
Weisinger: Liked him and respected him, and thought that he was very talented.
Weisinger: And he would say that he was much more talented than a fellow like Julie Schwartz. Uncle Julie, as I would call them. He was like a uncle, and was childhood friends. The truth is, when Julie, I think he was doing Batman, basically, my father would throw him ideas every day.
Alex: Oh, really.
Weisinger: That’s what people don’t get.
Weisinger: Only when my father died, that people would come out of the woodwork and start to say things. “Well, he got this from me, and he didn’t think of this.”, and so on, because… It’s funny they never said that when he was alive.
Alex: That’s a shame.
Weisinger: I would invite any writer who thinks that my father took credit for their ideas, should speak up.
Alex: Right. That’s interesting. So, Julie Schwartz, he didn’t feel that Julie Schwartz was actually an equal to him.
Weisinger: My father felt nobody in the comic business was an equal to him.
Alex: Oh, interesting.
Weisinger: I’m not saying that’s accurate. I’m just saying, that’s how he felt.
Alex: That’s how he felt about it… Interesting. So, when he and Julie were science fiction agents, and then they both were editors at DC in a sense, you would say… And I know that when he was editing Thrilling Wonder Stories, Julie Schwartz would bring him talent, like famous science fiction writers. In this relationship, you would say that your dad was probably… I hate using the term alpha male, but in that sense, would you say that’s kind of how that was?
Alex: Oh, interesting. I never got that.
Weisinger: You have to remember my father was the editor of a lot of the pulp magazines, in terms of like, Amazing Stories, Startling Stories. If you look those magazines up, which I have, they block out who was the main editor.
During that time, they color code it, and you’ll see the color associated with my father is the dominant one. That’s how he started to get the idea of, “Come up with a good cover and then build a story around that.”
Alex: Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz were like good friends or best friends, or more like work associates…
Weisinger: No. They were very, very good friends.
Alex: Very good friends. That’s cool.
Weisinger: Very good friends. As I’ve said, I consider Julie like a uncle.
Weisinger: But he was not at the same talent level. It was really my father’s idea to form an agency. In retrospect, you can see why that would make sense. That he was really the writer. He wrote a lot of science fiction stories.
Alex: That’s fascinating.
Weisinger: Like somebody who he would really respect, I started off that Rod Serling. Rod Serling spoke at my graduation in Alfred, New York for my Masters. When I tell my father, he said, “Oh, say hello to him for me. Tell him I met him at a party and here’s the party, I met him at.”
After the Rod Serling graduation talk, which was phenomenal, I waited till everybody went, and I said, “I wanted to say hello to you. I think you know my father, Mort Weisinger.” I will always remember him saying, “Oh yeah, your father is a very talented man. You should be very proud of him.” When I tell my father that, it really made him feel good.
Alex: That’s awesome. A couple of more names I want to mention before we go to the next section. Liebowitz and Donenfeld, you said there was always a fight with them as far as funding, and moving forwards with some of the innovative ideas. I was going on with Superman from the 50s through the 60s, do you remember any particular story or any particular example of these discussions?
Weisinger: I can give you two, a Liebowitz story, and a Donenfeld story that will show their true nature.
I grew up in King’s Point, and so did Liebowitz. He would always drive there, and he would pick my father up. It would irritate my father many times, as Liebowitz rounded in coming into our driveway, would have my father walk to the end of the block. He didn’t want to come down the street because it would take an extra three minutes.
I will always remember Liebowitz saying to my father, who would be looking at the New York Times or the Herald Tribune, in the stock market, and Jack would say to him, “Mort, if you have to look at the market, you should be in it.”
Liebowitz was a businessman, and a very good businessman. But that was really what he did, and every time my father wanted a raise, it would be a struggle. Then my father realized that his ultimate leverage would be, “Then I’m going to leave.” That’s when they started giving him stock, and so on.
My remembrance of Harry Donenfeld is being at a Giant football game, and we hear a voice in back of us, we were in line to get a hotdog, and my father turns around and it’s Donenfeld. And I remember Donenfeld saying, “Mort, get me four hotdogs with plenty of mustard.”
Weisinger: Donenfeld’s son, Irwin, was one of the most incompetent people of all time, as well as Liebowitz’ son-in-law, George Levy, who Jack made the publisher of magazines like Hunting, and Field & Stream. They all went bankrupt.
I’ll always remember my father saying to him, “George,” he said,” How could you blow two and a half million dollars? Not even my son could spend that much money. How do you do it? It’s a talent.” It was just to irk him on.
That was his abrasive personality. The one person who my father got along with great at DC, who became a super legend, was Jay Emmett. Do you know the name?
Alex: Yes. Yeah, he actually worked at Warner, and he was part of the negotiations of getting Siegel and Shuster some creator credit.
Weisinger: Correct. He ran Warner’s. He was the fall guy for the Westchester scheming operation, and you also look at what he did for Major League Baseball. He created the symbol for Major League Baseball.
He was a great guy. At my bar mitzvah, he was promoting at the time, Brigitte Bardot Bras. I remember when he asked me, he said, “What do you want for your bar mitzvah?” And I said, “How about Brigitte Bardot?” And he said, “You’re a little too young for her.” He gave me a pair of binoculars instead.
So that’s the big thing. He started with science fiction. He had a disease on his feet that kept him in bed for a year. He would tell me, he read the entire Book of Knowledge, and he was very interested in science.
But then one of his friends showed him a cheque for $10. My father said, “Where did you get it?” And he said, “I wrote something and I sold it.” My father thought that this guy was so stupid that if he could sell something, that that’s what he would do.
So, he sold the story…
Alex: Oh, I see…
Weisinger: And then, he went up to his teacher in NYU, a writing teacher, and he said, “Did you ever sell anything?” And the teacher said, “No, but I almost did.” My father said, “Well, you gave me a C on a paper and I sold it for a hundred dollars. I’m dropping the course.”
Alex: [chuckle] That’s awesome.
Jim: That’s great.
Weisinger: He used the hundred bucks to get a typewriter, and that was it. And I still got that typewriter.
Alex: And never looked…
Jim: Oh, that’s awesome. We mentioned Siegel and Shuster, what I want to do is to talk about some of the key Superman players, and get what your dad thought of those people, or what his interactions were with them.
Let’s start, obviously, with Siegel and Shuster, what was it your dad’s relationship with both of them?
Weisinger: He liked Jerry. He thought he was actually a good writer, but being honest, he thought that his talent was limited. In the sense that he came up with a character, but he did not develop it. He did not develop the mythology. I think it’s well known that if there was one person that deserves the credit for developing the entire Superman mythology, it is Mort Weisinger.
I always felt that on the Superman movie… And Jay Emmett’s whole thing was, “We don’t need bad publicity. Let’s give them some money, and just shut them up.” I always felt that while it said, “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster”, it should have said, underneath, “Developed by Mort Weisinger.”
The idea of 50 people who made DC famous, and they put on my father’s name, that did not give him the credit that he deserved. He was the most influential person in the history of Superman, the Superman character.
Jim: He was certainly, for my Superman growing… and I’m about to turn 60. So, for me, that was kind of my Superman. I totally get that… What about Shuster?
Weisinger: I don’t ever remember him commenting much about Shuster, except that when he was losing his eyesight. But obviously, as he saw how the character, and the artwork he botched, Shuster would not have been around for a long time. The irony is that Siegel ended up working for my father, and my father giving him ideas. I remember meeting him and Nate Nauss when they came out to LA.
Jim: Sure. Now, did your dad have favored Superman artists? Ones that he really respected?
Jim: Was it Swan?
Weisinger: Yeah. Curt Swan. Who… This is the interesting thing, because when I moved from LA to Connecticut that I ended up living in West Port, and I had remembered West Port, going up to visit Curt Swan when I was just a kid, when they had dirt roads. He was his favorite artist, and also a fellow by the name of Kurt Schaffenberger, I think his name is.
Jim: Sure… Yeah
Alex: Right. Right. Yeah.
Weisinger: He liked him very, very much. Especially, for Lois Lane. He had – Who is the best for Superboy? Who is the best for Superman? Who is the best for Lois Lane? I would say Swan and Schaffenberger, Neal Adams, were his favored artists.
Jim: Not Wayne Boring, I take it.
Weisinger: No. When Wayne Boring got fired, he said to my father, “Am I hearing you right?” And my father’s response is, “Do you need a kick in the stomach to know you’re not wanted here?”
Jim: Huh… What about writers? Who did he really like that was writing any of the Superman mythos?
Weisinger: Ed Hamilton, Otto Binder… There were others. If I heard their names I could remember. He felt there was a real coup, to get people like Hamilton and Binder, because for them, it was extra money, and he felt he was getting talent.
One of the writers, Bob Bernstein, he gave my father, for Christmas, a garbage can with a note, “I thought you would need this for my work.” It would be embarrassing hearing my father yell at him whenever he would come over to our house to plot out ideas. My mother would be embarrassed.
Jim: Did he ever come home and say, “Hey, we got a 13-year-old writing Superman now, and he’s good.”
Weisinger: Shooter, you mean?
Weisinger: I remember… What people don’t realize is with that Metropolis Mailbag… Now, sometimes, he would make up the letters, especially if he wanted to plant a point. He used one of my friends. It was a big thing for my friends to have their name in populous mailbag. He would bring home all these letters. Some of the letters he got, you would not believe what people would write in.
Alex: Submit. Right. Yeah.
Weisinger: He says to me, “Hank, look at this. This kid drew a story.” And it was Jim Shooter. My father was really impressed. He didn’t know… Yeah, he did know he was young, I guess. Then he called him up. Make a… Because he sent him another one. My father sent him like order for like a hundred dollars. Then eventually, developed a relationship and brought him to New York.
One of the things about my father, is that while he would be very tough on the person, like Shooter, but then he would brag about him to other people.
Alex: Oh, right. I’ve heard that before. Yeah.
Weisinger: And the same thing… Now, I will say that Cary Bates, he was more impressed with Cary Bates, than he was with Jim Shooter. Cary Bates went on to do other things.
Weisinger: Cary Bates once sent me a script that he had written for a Superman movie. He said to me that, “Your father was always… I learned a lot from him.” He spoke highly of him, because he had talent. My father respected the people who had talent and he didn’t respect the people that he felt didn’t have talent, or that he had to spoon feed, or would argue with him.
Alex: Let’s talk a little bit about the Superman TV show. When he was story editing for that, do you have any memory of him of mentioning that, or what kind of work he was doing for that?
Weisinger: All the time. He used to go out with Ellsworth, who he had replaced as the Superman editor. Whit was going out with his wife Jane, they lived in California. But before then, they would take the train out and they would plot out a bunch of the episodes. One time, my mother and I, we all went out there, and as I said, we stayed at that hotel, and I got to go to the studio lot. The big thing with the Superman TV show was its line.
One of the things that my father eventually did is he would do the lecture circuit on Superman. So, I went up to the students events committee, and I said, “How would you like to have the editor of Superman.” He goes to lecture and he shows two Superman movies, shows that are in color. And they went nuts. So, I was like, I got my father five hundred bucks, he got to bring my mother, and he got to visit at the same time.
It was his idea to film the last 54 episodes in color, because he had the foresight, if there’s ever a colored TV, the stuff will look good on color.
Alex: The future. Yeah.
Weisinger: So that’s the reason those last ones were done in color. It was great because one of the early sponsors of the TV show was Kellogg’s. Every Christmas, we would get a huge box of the little Kellogg’s cereals and that was a great Christmas present.
Alex: Oh, how cool. Yeah.
Weisinger: Because I would take all the great Sugar Pops, Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, and hoard them for myself. One time, Bazooka Bubble Gum, they wanted to do the little comics, Superman comics. As a perk, they would send a box of the little pieces of Bazooka for our house.
It started a war between my sister and I, in terms of dividing up the pieces. There were like 500 pieces. We were fighting over each one. Then my father said, “I wanted to see how you would react. They were going to send one every month. Now, you can forget about that because I can’t go through this every month.”
Alex: That’s hilarious. What was his impression of Whitney Ellsworth?
Weisinger: He liked Whit, and my mother, when she lived out there, they lived in Westlake, California, became very good friends with his wife. I’m sure that there were times, knowing my father’s psychology, that at times, he felt competitive with him.
Or that Whit was getting more credit than he did, but that would be my father’s…
Weisinger: Interpretation of anybody.
Alex: Yeah, a combination of…
Weisinger: He would always think he was… It was him.
Alex: Before we go to the next section, Jack Schiff, did he ever mention him?
Weisinger: Not in a positive way. He knew Jack Schiff’s comics would do poorly. You have to understand that with Superman, he was always the highest. He would gloat to the other people. When he sells an article to Reader’s Digest, he would make sure that all the other writers, all the other editors knew that.
Alex: That’s interesting.
Weisinger: He was always exercising that. Now, the reality is, when you look at all these editors, it was my father who was made vice president. He considered Carmine Infantino, do you know that name?
Alex: Yeah, of course.
Weisinger: He’s famous way of describing Infantino was an educated monkey.
Alex: Educated monkey, wow.
Jim: Which is perfect for Infantino, because he loved monkeys.
Alex: Yeah, he put a lot of gorillas on the covers, right?
Jim: He put a lot of gorillas there.
Weisinger: Yeah. My father felt he got his job because there was a large part of Kinney with a little mob influence, and that they moved Infantino in.
Alex: Oh, yeah. Because Kinney was part of the Italian car park company.
Weisinger: Yeah, Kinney was part owner of the garage.
Alex: They don’t know what kind of connections that had, and then maybe they were part of the Infantino move into the editorial director. That’s a really interesting connection that I never really considered before. The direction of DC changed from their being sci-fi writers to being artists, right? It suddenly shifted in flavor at that point.
Weisinger: I agree.
Jim: Now, we want to look at more specific questions about your father’s DC work, specifically. Your father actually created some characters. Let’s go over that, and what you know about that creative process.
Weisinger: You know he created Aquaman.
Weisinger: It kills me that… See that was part of his job, to create characters. I can only say it to my friends, if he had created that and then sold it, I’d be in a different position right now.
Weisinger: He created a lot of those characters out of his own ego. Because he could never say that he created Superman. That really bothered him. As a result of that, that served as a motivator for him to have to create some characters that he could take credit for. That became things like Green Arrow, and Aquaman, and Vigilante,
Alex: Johnny Quick.
Weisinger: Yeah, but again, while those were characters, they would be… I think Aquaman might have had his own magazine once, but I’m not sure. But most of them, those would be the third… the characters in the back of the plot… the back story.
Jim: Yeah. They’re not just a society of Justice League characters, except for Aquaman. He’s the big name, clearly.
Weisinger: But I will tell you, while he was doing all that, he was creating all these magazine articles, and coming up with really, you know, ideas. And that was where his creativity, I think was even more so than Superman. It be hard to name a subject, that he hasn’t written an article on, which always put him in the position in a social situation, no matter what the topic was, he would say, “What do you know, I wrote an article on it.”
Jim: So, within the Superman mythos, what characters did he think that he really was the inspiration for, that he was the one that came up with.
Weisinger: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily… and I really don’t know, but I think a better way of answering that is, whatever the character was, he developed it. So that it… For example, Bizarro, now, it might have been Otto Binder who said, “Hey, I have a good idea where the scientist creates a new imperfect Bizarro.” At the beginning, if you remember, Bizarro was a… more of a monster. And then he turned in to, he was like Chuckie.
Weisinger: First we see Chuckie, he’s a monster. Now, people like Chuckie. He’s your friend. It was my father who created the bits of Bizarro, that would be in the comics where kids would write in, “On the Bizarro World, they do this.” So, he developed the Bizarro World that was never part of Otto Binder’s thinking.
I would think like Kyrpto, Titano, Metallo, which he always felt… Remember Metallo?
Alex: Yeah. Of course.
Weisinger: He would always feel that the Six Million Dollar Man was a rip off. I saw, I think his name is Michael Uslan?
Alex: Uslan. Yeah.
Weisinger: I see him on Turner, they’re talking about… comics…
Weisinger: And some Batman. And he says, “This is the first episode… He was like, “In the serial where Lex Luthor appeared?”
Weisinger: Now, that was actually a mistake. Because who came up with the name Lex? That was my father. And the way he came up with it was, “Dear Editor, Does Luthor have a first name? He’s always called Luthor.” So why did my father call him Lex?
Weisinger: Exactly. So, when you say, what he created? All of the LL’s. That’s the only reason Luthor’s first name was Lex. Did he come up with Supergirl? I don’t know. But I do know that he came up with Linda Lee because that was another LL. Of course, you know the others.
Alex: Now, what about that mermaid, that Lori Lemaris?
Weisinger: Or Lucy Lane, Lois’ sister. So, all those types of things, were due to him. He saw the thread that would sew all these characters together. He came up with the parallel universe, in concept of the imaginary story. He came up with the idea of an annual because he figured… He explained to Leibowitz, “Well, this is a way of how we can do less work.”
Alex: Reuse old stuff.
Weisinger: Just repackaging the stories. Somebody from the University of Wisconsin… I can actually send it to you. It’s really interesting… did their thesis on Mort Weisinger and how he created the brand of Superman in everything. It was really interesting.
He was multimedia, before the word even existed. He was the one who came up with the idea of, “Let’s get Superman on I Love Lucy.”
Alex: Oh, really?
Weisinger: He was the one who came up with the idea of… Do you remember the show Masquerade? You dress up and the panel has to guess who the disguise is. He got Superman to go on, and disguise was going on as a giant can cigarette box. He was the one who came up with all those ideas.
DC hasn’t seen a talent like that. That’s why Liebowitz and Donenfeld kept him for 30 years. No matter who he insulted. His editorial mandate was, “If you don’t like it, leave.”
Alex: Right. Now, here’s a question, and just to go to the editor and supervisorial style, he did so many positive things but then when there are books that write about him, they always quote almost the most negative thing they can. I’m going to read you just a couple of them.
This is a book, DC vs Marvel. “And then Weisinger, when he was looking at the press comic, he says, “Don’t you know what you got here. This is all about drug culture, hippies, drugs and street people. We can’t publish stuff like this.” Or another one who he says to About Writers, he says, “Writers are like oranges. You squeeze them until there’s no juice left, and then you can throw them away.”
See, people quote this stuff, but then they don’t mention the good stuff, at all. What’s your impression of these? And are these quotes probably true or are they probably false?
Weisinger: They’re probably true. Now, when I would read my mother these, we would actually laugh because we lived with the guy.
Alex: Right. Like it’s probably right. Yeah, okay.
Weisinger: Yeah. As I’ve said, all the things were right. But here’s what I want to point out, so what? What people are forgetting, is the person who wrote that or who said he was difficult, that person was inept at dealing with the boss.
I wrote a book on giving and taking criticism. Not coincidence that I grew up in a critical environment, and I turned it in to a living. I would get questions all the time. How do you criticize a boss who is really abrasive?
See, nobody knew how to deal with my father. Why would he change his style? It worked. His attitude was, “If I yell at you, if I insult you, you will give me what I want. As long as that works, I’m going to keep doing it because that’s my job. My job is to make Superman successful, not to worry about good managerial relationships with you.”
So, I would say, everybody who worked for him who had trouble, they can attribute that to their own lack of emotional intelligence. Not one of them was able to say, “Mort, you’re my boss, I respect you, but I do not want you to speak to me like this anymore.” Nobody had the “chutzpah” to say that.
But my father would say that to Leibowitz all the time, or to Donenfeld whenever a negotiating point came then. They were just too inept to deal with that.
Alex: You mentioned one time about your dad yelling at a waiter once, what was that story exactly?
Weisinger: My father wrote an article on tipping once. Do you know what the word tip stands for?
Alex: Not formally.
Weisinger: To Insure Promptness. The article was, he and my mother, they went to this Stork Club, a very famous restaurant in New York at the time. They were totally abusive to the waiter, demanding everything and they didn’t leave a tip.
Then they went back the next night. They requested the same waiter, and they got terrible service. The article began, “What are you tipping for in the first place? We walk in to a restaurant…” Remember the coat checks? We leave like a dollar quarter… And my father would get in with the poor coat check girl. “If a friend of yours comes to visit you, do you charge them to hang up your coat in your closet?” I said, “Do I charge you to park in my driveway?” He had this crusade about tipping. I’m sure you saw the movie Reservoir Dogs?
Weisinger: Remember the beginning?
Alex: Of course.
Weisinger: When he started talking about tipping? I mean that was like… I felt that was homage to my father.
Alex: That’s his philosophy.
Weisinger: His attitude is, “Tell your boss to pay you more.” He would say, “Look, if you order a steak and it’s $20, and you leave 15%, that’s a $3 tip. Now, if you order a hamburger and it’s $10, and you leave 15%, that’s a dollar fifty. But it’s the same plate. The waiters are doing the same amount of work.” He had this whole thing with tipping and service.
Of course, it would embarrass my mother. His first rule is when you go out for dinner, step one: intimidate the waiter. This is why these quotes that these people were saying are comical to me. I’m not saying it was right, by the way.
Alex: Right. Right.
Weisinger: I’m not excusing it.
Alex: But you can imagine his voice saying these things.
Weisinger: Oh, every day. My father had a white convertible, and when my mother… I can just hear her say, “Morty, you got to put the top up. My hair would blow.” And I can remember my father very clearly say, “Stick your head in the glove compartment.”
Alex: That’s funny.
Jim: In 1961, ‘62, and then going forward is Stan Lee in Marvel, really caught on. Was he aware of it? Did he see that maybe times were changing? Did he try to adjust at all or did he just keep doing what he was doing?
Weisinger: I would say not at that time or no, because Superman was actually becoming more and more. Superman was the spokesman for JFK’s national physical fitness thing. Which was my father’s idea. Then he had JFK in that story in ‘63, at the assassination. And he had the Beetles in. He was still doing his own thing, and Superman was only becoming… I mean the Superman play hadn’t even been on Broadway, at that point.
Jim: What was the age range that he was having people work for? What did he think his audience was?
Weisinger: I think he thought his audience was before kids were tenth grade.
Alex: Yeah, so like seven through 12. Something like that, right?
Weisinger: Yeah. He liked at times to introduce science. He wanted the comics to be educational, and with values, and so on. When I look at the artwork in his tenure, in that Silver Age, and then I look at some of the contemporary artwork, I can’t stand it. Gives me a headache. I just don’t get it, because one of the things that I find, is that right now, if you are a young comic book guy, an artist or a writer, you’re creating a character that you think that is good.
Whereas my father, he was truly responsive to the needs of the customer, which were his kids. He did things… Kids would write him in and he would turn them in to stories. Especially when he would see a trend. He wasn’t doing what he thinks is a good character, that was a big difference.
Without a doubt, in terms of the movies, I would still stand by, the greatest superhero movie of them all was still the original Christopher Reeve, Superman movie.
Jim: A lot of people think that.
Weisinger: And the reason so is, look at the talent that was associated with it. You had an A-list director. The problem with the Superman movies now is that every director tries to put their own spin on it. And that’s what makes it terrible.
Jim: In terms of the different things that he was working with, the different colors of kryptonite, the Legion of Super Heroes, the imaginary stories, I love those especially the super pets. There’s so many things that were part of that era that you associate. Were there things that he loved especially?
Weisinger: He liked the stories best where Superman lost his powers. He felt that he had to be clever then, intelligent. That was the whole point of kryptonite, is that it made him vulnerable. One of the big distinctions he made between Batman and Superman is Batman was vulnerable. So different types of kryptonite did different things to Superman, so that he would have to use his wits, more than his super powers.
He liked those types of stories. He liked the imaginary stories because it could be anything that he wanted.
One of the funny things, in terms of to show you how it works is… Do you remember The Loretta Young story?
Weisinger: There was an episode once, that he liked a lot. So, he turned it in to a Lois Lane story. And then he gets a letter about six months after it comes out. “Dear Editor, you won’t believe it, I was watching Loretta Young, and they stole one of your Lois Lane stories.” We had a big laugh. My father said the kid must have seen the repeat.
But you talk about these things, this is where the pressure of the job came in. People would say, “Oh, he rehashed a lot of stories” You mean on Seinfeld, they don’t? How many times have I seen the same story on Seinfeld, instead it happening to George, it happens to Elaine, or Kramer?
Alex: Right. Right.
Weisinger: Instead of it happening to Little Joe, it happens to Hoss or it happens to Adam. Let me tell you, those were once a week. Even Arlen Schumer will say, a certain amount of Twilight Zones were pretty bad, but that was once a week.
A, if my father had to do just one Superman story once a week, or once a month, having something bad would have been unacceptable. That would have been an easy task. So, when you think of, he’s editing, eight or nine magazines and each one, say, has three stories in it, that’s 30 stories a month. That is a lot of different ideas. How could they… and doing it for 30 years.
Part of his brilliance was what he called the switcheroo. Same story but you make a little difference. How many movies have you seen that? It’s the same movie, the same ending, but they give it a switcheroo. Sigourney Weaver in Alien III, steps into the fire pit, how is that different from The Terminator doing the same?
Alex: Right… Other than Curt Swan being your dad’s favorite Superman artist, are there any other anecdotes about him?
Weisinger: Yes. Curt would tell you, that once he stood up to my father, his migraine headaches went away. It became a good relationship.
Alex: Wow. Yeah, your dad needed to see strength in the people, it sounds like, to respect them.
Jim: So, was your father ready to leave when he left DC? I mean, was he done pretty much with that or…?
Weisinger: He wanted to go and… He was working on a novel at the time of his death. The basic storyline was the president of the United States wants an astrologer. And you have no idea why. Everything he could think of is ruled out. You know the astrologer’s fake but every prediction he makes comes true. How does he do it? And his nemesis is a guy named Mike Dundee. This is before anybody heard the name Crocodile Dundee.
He was writing it in a style for Hitchcock, but never finished it. Doing articles, he became more content. He didn’t need the money. He was tired of living in the glory of Superman. He would always complain about that. But the bottom line is, if you ever went on a vacation, within 10 minutes after checking in, everybody in the hotel knew he was the editor of Superman.
He liked to use it to further brag about it, but at the same time, resented it. That’s why that cover of him walking out was such a projection… of what he was experiencing.
Jim: Oh, yeah… When did he die exactly? What was the date?
Weisinger: He died in 1970. I was at the DA…
Alex: No. No. He died in 1978. He left DC in 1970.
Weisinger: Yes. Yes… Right.
Jim: Oh, ‘78, so he didn’t live to see John Byrne.
Alex: No. He died when he was 63 years old, of a heart attack.
Weisinger: Yeah. I was at the Brentwood DA, where I did my internship. I used to speak to my parents every day on the phone, I had line with free phone calls. One day, I called and he said he wasn’t feeling well. I put my mother on the phone and I said, “Let me talk to mommy,” and I said, “Take him to the hospital.” So, he went to the hospital and then he had a full-blown heart attack as soon as he walked in.
I spoke to him the next day or two, he was already writing an article on 10 Things Your Cardiologist Doesn’t Tell You. Then it got worse. And then I went home on a Friday night. It was depressing to see him Saturday morning. Then Sunday evening, he passed away. It was sad.
Alex: That is sad.
Jim: And then how quickly did people start contacting your family to get his papers and his letters? That’s obviously leading up to… You were in the papers everywhere this past year. Let’s talk about that a little.
Weisinger: Right. I figured that would go viral.
Yeah, Syracuse asked for the papers. Now when I think, when you talked about his early science fiction days… I mean, he had mint condition, maybe all the volumes of Wonder Stories, Amazing Stories. In many ways, I wish I kept them, but I’m glad the university has them because they’ll keep them for people who want to study, and they’ll keep them in good condition. That was Syracuse. She split the papers between Syracuse and Wyoming.
And then when I saw Liz Cheney made that statement, I figured I could use that as a platform to embarrass her which was to my goal. I never wanted the papers back. What am I going to do with them?
Jim: I knew that. That’s exactly… I’m so happy to hear you say that. Because that was what I was saying to everyone. That this was not about a serious claim. You got exactly what you wanted and you got it brilliantly. Because it was everywhere. It was making papers in Europe. And it was just to get your criticism of Cheney out there, wasn’t it?
Weisinger: Exactly. And now, I’ve come up with a better way of how I’m going to resolve the issue. And this, my father would really like. I’m going to say that since Cheney denounced Trump for Twitting about the witness, and about the Coronel, I said, “Not only am I going to let Wyoming keep the papers, but to reward them for when Congressman Cheney said, “I’m going to let them have the Hendrie Davis Weisinger papers to keep next to the Weisinger papers.”
Alex: There you go.
Jim: That’s it. Would your dad have approved of you doing that the way that you did it? Would that be something that he would’ve said, “That was smart?”
Weisinger: Yeah, he would. Yes, he would be very proud. He was becoming more and more politically active. He would have despised Trump, because it goes well against truth, justice and the American way, and he was a big Kennedy supporter.
Do you remember the story where at the end is, he has to be in two places at once?
Weisinger: And it’s JFK, and he’s saying, “If you can’t trust the president, who can you trust?”
Weisinger: Well, he called the White House to make sure he can… Because that happened the week Kennedy was assassinated. It’s when the story was going to come out. He called the White House to ask permission to run it and they said, “Yes.” Then a few weeks after it came out, he comes to my room and says, “Hank, look at this letter I just got.” It says, “Dear Editor, thank you for remembering my Uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” I wish I had that letter.
Alex: Did he ever mention Jack Kirby?
Weisinger: Not prominently. But he would certainly respect him a great deal. And probably more so than Stan Lee.
Alex: As we close out, what do you think your father’s legacy is? What’s his impression of his legacy and how would he want to be remembered? How would you like him to be remembered?
Weisinger: I think his legacy is people like you, who really found that whole Silver Age to be engaging, and fun, and stimulating. I think that his contribution to Superman is that he made him really an iconic hero. I mean, when you start to see how many references, if you watch Seinfeld, that he has to Superman, I can only think that if my father was alive, he would have had a cover where Seinfeld was on Superman. That’s how he would have been thinking.
I think that the fact that when people talk about Superman, the references are to that era that he created and developed.
Weisinger: He took credit for a lot, and he deserves a lot. Most likely he took credit for some things that he shouldn’t have, and that’s never right. But that is much less than people thought. One of the reasons the job was so stressful for him, is because he was doing so much. When he found somebody like Shooter or Cary Bates, that was a relief for him, because he had a new well to draw from.
People say he was controlling, because he didn’t want, if you’re a writer and you pitched an idea and he doesn’t like it, his attitude would be, “You’re wasting time thinking. So, let me give you the ideas that I already like, and then you can develop them.”
I realize, Arlen Schumer made a good point. It’s that there are a lot of writers that never got to positives. I got a lot of the negatives but I also got a tremendous amount of positives. My sister got basically, negatives. She would be more likely to speak about him like one of his subordinates. And in many ways, that’s how he treated her.
Alex: Interesting… This is Alex Grand with Jim Thompson on the Comic Book Historians Podcast.
Hendrie, first, I want to say thank you so much for being our guest today, we really enjoyed your insight. I think there’s so much just social media, and what they say about everyone that it’s nice to actually get from someone that was actually there, from someone that has a genuine perception on the figure of Mort Weisinger. Thank you so much for joining us.
Weisinger: Yep. It was a pleasure. I had a good time.
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