Another round of thanks to Cati (first syllable rhymes with “cat,” not “Kate”) Partridge for inviting me to speak with her students.
As before, the school (particularly library aide Cindy) created award-worthy displays to welcome me:
Prop pay phone!
(I told Cati that there is no pressure to outdo themselves each time!)
And I had another honor this trip: I got to meet the genuine and articulate Ron Dennis, who is a friend of Cati’s and who is the grandson of Walter Dennis…who is a possible visual inspiration for Clark Kent.
I’d forgotten that I already knew of Walter; he is mentioned (and pictured!) in Superman: The Complete History.
Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels
Superman: The Complete History, page 19
In a sentence, what is your connection to Superman?
My grandfather Walt Dennis’s image was used by the creators of Superman when drawing Clark Kent.
How did your grandfather meet Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (or was it just Joe)?
My grandfather met Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster through a science fiction club.
Did they meet in person or was all contact through the mail?
It is my understanding that Walt, Jerry, Joe and others were members in the science fiction club and the members would share ideas and stories with each other by mail.
Where did your grandfather live when he was communicating with Joe?
Walt was living in Chicago when they initially interacted. After a period of time, Walt moved to Denver and maintained the relationship by mail.
What did he do for a living?
Walt was a newspaper man and worked at several different newspapers around the country. He was a writer most of his career. Later in life, he ran a small regional newspaper called the Hinton Record in Oklahoma with my father, Larry Dennis.
When did he become aware that he was a possible visual inspiration for Clark Kent?
Walt was in Denver when Joe told Walt about the Superman concept and inquired whether it was okay for Joe to use Walt’s likeness when drawing Clark Kent.
Do you know how long he remained in touch with Joe and/or Jerry?
Not really, but my impression was that Walt and Joe and Jerry did not maintain a close relationship after Walt moved to Denver.
Did he remain a science fiction fan throughout his life?
Absolutely. Walt was an avid reader and enjoyed all kinds of stories, but he particularly liked science fiction and crime stories.
When and how did you learn of his connection to Superman?
Walt personally told me and my wife Jeaneal the story a couple of times when we went to visit him while he was living in Tulsa, OK.
Did you believe him right away?
Yes. Walt was very matter of fact about the details.
What was his manner when telling you—did he seem proud, frustrated, indifferent, other?
I would say Walt was proud of the story. However, he was also very adamant that he was not the inspiration for Superman and he was quick to clarify that it was simply his likeness that was used as the model inspiration for Clark Kent.
Why do you think he (or your father) did not mention it until then?
My mother and father divorced when I was three years old and the separation made it so that I did not have a close relationship with either my father or grandfather most of the time. When I visited Walt in Tulsa late in his life, the opportunity and time to share the story materialized.
Before this, did you have any special affinity for Superman?
I did not really read or collect comic books as a child. Like many people, however, I was very impressed with seeing Christopher Reeve as Superman on the big screen.
Did your father also look like Clark Kent?
Yeah, my father was also a newspaper man and he looked very similar to Walt as a young man.
Did people ever say you looked like Clark Kent?
Yes, I heard that comment many times when I was in my twenties and thirties.
When did your grandfather pass away? Did his obituary mention Superman?
I am not entirely certain when Walt passed away, but I recall it being sometime around 2003. I do not think his obituary said anything about Superman or Clark Kent.
Any stories any other family members have about this?
Walt told this story to various family members at different times throughout his life. For instance, his daughter, Diana Midland, recalls hearing the story for the first time around 1952 or so. My oldest brother, Robert Dennis, recalls first hearing about Walt’s connection to Clark Kent when he was about 15 years old. When Robert was a young child, Walt passed on his love of comic books and reading to him.
Anything you'd like to add?
Walt was a kind, quiet and intellectual man. He had a very guarded but loving personality. He very much enjoyed playing golf.
me with Clark Kent
me with Superman