Welcome to the two-hundred and tenth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and nine.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com.
COMIC LEGEND: Jerry Siegel’s father was shot and killed in a robbery of his store.
Jerry Siegel was born in 1914 as one of six children of Lithuanian immigrants. His father Mitchell painted signs and eventually opened up his own haberdashery.
Sadly, Mitchell (Mitchell, by the way, was his “American” name) died when Jerry was 18 years old, six years before Action Comics #1 came out.
The following story appears in Gerard Jones’ great look at the history of comics, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book….
Jerry was home with his mother when it happened. Mitchell was downtown, closing the haberdashery alone. A neighboring merchant saw the door ajar and the light on after closing time but saw no sign of Mitchell among the shelves. He poked in, called Mitchell’s name, and then saw the blood on the floor. He followed it behind the counter, and there was Mitchell on the floor, already dead, with two bullet holes in him. The money was gone from the cash register. The police never found the thief who shot him.
I am pretty sure that Jones was the first person (or rather, the first comics historian) to learn that Mitchell Siegel died in a robbery. That’s a momentous find, and Jones should get a TON of credit for his work here.
However, it does not appear to be the entire story.
My pal Marc Tyler Nobleman, writer of the great kid’s book about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Boys of Steel,
along with Siegel and Shuster historian Brad Ricca, discovered a great deal of evidence to suggest that Mitchell died not of a gunshot wound, but of a heart attack, and not over a robbery of cash, but of clothes.
I don’t mean to step on Marc and Brad’s toes, so I’ll just link you to Marc’s site here, where he has most of his evidence, including the police report listing cause of death as “heart failure” and describing the incident (via a rough transcription on Marc’s part)…
“when Michael Siegel became excited when three unknown Negroes entered his store at 3530 Central Ave and one of them walked out with a suit of clothes ? the events ? Michael Siegel fainted and fell down on the floor causing his death”
I think that really should just about cover it, no? But you can check out Marc’s site if you need even more convincing (you shouldn’t).
Still, whether his father was shot or not, the fact that the creator of one of the world’s most famous crimefighters lost his father to crime? That’s amazing.
COMIC LEGEND: Joseph Pulitzer tried to hire Homer Davenport just to force William Hearst to spend more money on Davenport.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
NOTE: I’m writing this legend in 2015 as a replacement for a legend I accidentally re-used from this original column. That the legend I’m replacing it with somehow ties in with precisely the column that was originally posted a week before this one is a weird, weird coincidence – BC
As I’ve written about in the past, Homer Davenport was one of the greatest editorial cartoonists of all-time. However, while he was extremely well respected, he wasn’t exactly bringing in tons of business to the newspapers of his boss, William Hearst. Hearst, though, really loved his work and so kept him gainfully employed until Davenport’s death in 1912.
Here are some of Davenport’s most famous cartoons, where he went after the mogul Mark Hanna, who Davenport believed was the puppet master of William McKinley…
In the previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, I discussed how Hearst spent a bunch of money to hire R.F. Outcault and his famous “Yellow Kid” away from Joseph Pulitzer.
Pulitzer, in response, made Davenport a significant pay increase to go with Pulitzer. Hearst, not wanting to lose Danveport, matched Pulitzer’s offer, which was a then-substantial $250 a week salary.
However, Pulitzer then told everyone he knew, “Just what I wanted. I didn’t want Davenport at my paper, but I wished to make him expensive for Hearst.”
Now that obviously sounds like it could just be a lie that a guy says when he doesn’t get his way, but I tend to believe it, because again, Davenport was more of a critical success than he was a commercial success (soon after signing the deal, Hearst tried to get Davenport to agree to a pay reduction). And Pulitzer DID like to mess with Hearst. So I am willing to go with a true here.
People often get called “louse”s, but rarely is the term biographically accurate!
Yet in the case of Gary Larson, it is, for there is a “breed” of louse named after him!
Strigiphilus garylarsoni is a biting louse found only on owls.
Biologist Dale H. Clayton is the man who got to name the creature, and he chose to name it after the Far Side cartoonist. He explained that it was because of “the enormous contribution that my colleagues and I feel you have made to biology through your cartoons,”
Larson is not the only person to get this honor!
There are trilobites named Aegrotocatellus jaggeri and Perirehaedulus richardsi.
But the best one might just be the wasp named Polemistus chewbacca.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you next week!