Thursday, October 17, 2013

This day in Jewish history / Superman's father is born, only to repudiate his child

The first effort of high school buddies Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was a mad scientist. The ensuing Man of Steel was rather more benign, yet his disillusioned creators came to loathe him in the end.

By David B. Green for Haaretz

October 17, 1914, is the birthdate of Jerry Siegel, who together with partner Joe Shuster, created the Man of Steel – no, not Joseph Stalin – Superman.

The two met while they were high-school students in Cleveland, Ohio, and teamed up on a number of projects, including one centered on a mad scientist (bald, of course) called “The Superman”. Then came a sleepless night in 1934, when Siegel, the writer in the team, had an inspiration.

Thus was born the rather more benign character who devoted his extraordinary powers to the benefit of humankind. It took them another four years before they found a publisher willing to help them tell their story.

'Girls would notice man leaping over building'

Jerome Siegel was born in Cleveland, the youngest of the six children of Mitchell Siegel and the former Sarah Fine. The family had emigrated from Lithuania after the birth of their first two children, daughters.

Mitchell owned a shop for men’s clothing accessories, and it was there that he died during a robbery in 1932, apparently of a heart attack.

Several years ago, novelist Brad Meltzer wrote a novel based on his study of Jerry Siegel’s life, in which he suggested that the traumatic death of Siegel’s father was at least partly behind his invention of an immortal superhero.

“Think about it,” Meltzer told USA Today in 2008: “Your father dies in a robbery, and you invent a bulletproof man who becomes the world's greatest hero. I'm sorry, but there's a story there."

In fact, Siegel’s first drawings for the evil version of The Superman were made only weeks after his father’s death.

Of course, there were also more prosaic forces at work behind the inspiration for Superman. As Siegel reported many years later, "I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed," he said. "It occurred to me: what if I had something going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?"

Siegel met Joe Shuster, who had been born in Toronto, Ontario, but who moved with his family to Cleveland at the age of 9 or 10, when the two were studying at Glenville High School there. Both were, by all accounts, shy and somewhat awkward, and they bonded easily. "When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together," Siegel later recounted.

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