Saturday, August 8, 2009

Joe Shuster’s little sister

Joe Shuster, the artist who co-created Superman with writer Jerry Siegel, was in his seventh year when sister Jean joined him (and other brother Frank) in 1921.

Here’s the Shuster family in their new digs after the success of Superman (plus a photo of Jerry in his new digs):

Saturday Evening Post 6/21/41

Today, Jean is Joe’s closest surviving relative. Last fall, I sent her a copy of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. Prior to that, she and I had not connected.

In October 2008, she wrote me a lovely thank you (and, when I recently asked if I could quote from it here, she gave me permission). Not only was I honored to have my first direct contact with a member of the Siegel or Shuster family, but I was touched that her handwriting reminded me of the only grandparent I had growing up, my dad’s mother, who passed away in 1998. (However, I am not saying this with any deeper significance. It seems almost all women of that generation have a shared penmanship.)

Excerpts from her note:

In early 2009, I mailed Jean the two photos I had discovered of the Shusters's apartment building of 1934. She had no photos of the building herself. Excerpts from her February 2009 response (which was typed, so not as fun to scan):
Thank you for your letter and especially for the pictures of our old apartment building. If you say you were exuberant in finding them, then I was thrilled.

The 1974 picture shows our front entrance on the side of the building. The upper left windows were where Jerry and Joe sat at the dining table where they created Superman. Those pictures bring back treasured memories of those days in the 1930’s where Joe and Jerry spent every day together creating.
With regard to a screen version of Jerry and Joe's story:
...will offer [Brad Pitt] a look at the screenplay to see if there is interest in playing the Joe Shuster character and/or in production. He would make a good looking Joe.
I’m glad my handwriting reminded you of your grandmother’s. Our generation is your history.
That last line struck me. And I loved her sign-off:
With good wishes for our future, Joe Shuster’s sister,
In July 2008, Cleveland hosted a joyous tribute to (and family reunion of) Jerry and Joe, dedicating Jerry’s newly renovated former home and unveiling commemorative fences at both that house and at the site where the 1934 Shuster apartment stood.

The fence at Jerry’s includes a sleek metal “S” done in Joe’s original style.

The fence at Joe’s features a blow-up of the first Superman story, from Action Comics #1.

I tried for months from afar to convince the committee in Cleveland to also include the photos of Joe’s former apartment building on his fence, since fans who make pilgrimage there most likely will never have seen the humble little structure in which Superman was first drawn. I was disappointed when (and still don’t know why) that didn’t happen.

However, the comic book pages do not fill the entire span of the large fence, so I am holding out hope that we may yet be able to add another panel with those photos. I feel it is the single most important piece of Shuster iconography to display there, since that is the actual site and those photos have not been published anywhere else except on this blog last summer and now in Craig Yoe’s book Secret Identity.

A final, somewhat related image: In 2008, Jamie Reigle of Super Collectibles (who’s generously been a nonstop promoter of Boys of Steel) asked any member of the Siegel and Shuster families he met to sign the title page of the unbound copy of Boys of Steel we’d sent before the book was released. I can’t read most of the names from the scan he sent me back, but here it is, visible only here and in Jamie’s private collection:

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