Superman Through the Ages
  •   forum   •   THIS WEEK'S CHAPTER: "RESTORATION!" •   fortress   •  

DC TO SIEGEL AND SHUSTER IN 1941:

"YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A PERCENTAGE OF PROFITS FROM SUPERMAN"!


From the September 23rd, 1999 comicon splash:

Since the recent revelations concerning the Siegel family's regaining of half the copyright to SUPERMAN there has been no lack of fevered and opinionated speculation in the press and on Internet message boards concerning Siegel and Shuster's original deal with National Periodical Publications (which later became DC COMICS).  What's been missing from much of the debate, and most reporting on the subject, is any kind of historical record.  Decades of myth, rumor and disinformation, compounded by probable non-disclosure agreements, have left a muddy picture in the public's mind about the most infamous business deal in comics history.

The SPLASH has unearthed a little known interview Jerry Siegel gave in November of 1975, when he was attempting to get notice for his and Shuster's plight in the face of WARNERS' announcement of the SUPERMAN film that would star Marlon Brando and Christopher Reeve.  The interview was conducted by cartoonist Phil Yeh and published in a west coast alternative newspaper COBBLESTONE in December 1975.  What's interesting about the interview, and perhaps illuminating to the debates raging in comics fandom, is that Siegel describes the original deal with National, releases a letter from publisher Jack Liebowitz and talks about the various lawsuits.

About the original agreement, Siegel said: "They sent us a release form, but prior to that I had met with Jack Liebowitz and others in New York, and he assured us that he would look after our best interests; that this was a firm that was going places and we would go places with them.  He sort of sold us on the fact that they would take good care of us, and so that's why we went ahead with the deal."

Siegel released two letters from Liebowitz that indicate there was discussion and some sort of understanding concerning licensing royalties between the parties.  On Jan.  23, 1940, Liebowitz wrote to Siegel: "Get behind your work with zest and ambition to improve and forget about book rights, movie rights and all other dreams.  We'll take care of things in the proper manner." On June 27, 1941, Liebowitz wrote: "Under the terms of our contract you are entitled to a percentage of net profits accruing from the exploitation of SUPERMAN in channels other than magazines.  These figures for the last year show that we lost money and therefore you are entitled to no royalties.  However, in line with our usual generous attitude toward you boys, I am enclosing a check for $500, which is in effect a token of feeling." While Siegel did not include Liebowitz's figures, the article notes that the SUPERMAN radio show began in 1940 and Paramount began the first of 17 SUPERMAN animated cartoons in 1941.  Siegel and Shuster originally had the contract to produce all SUPERMAN stories through their studio.  When asked if he quit, Siegel says: "No, I was under contract because I had signed a ten-year contract; this is one of the things that happened as time went by.  While I was in the service (Siegel was drafted in WW2) they (National) started ghosting the SUPERMAN scripts, because obviously I couldn't write them while I was away in the service.  At the same time, they took over Joe's end of it.  Joe and I had a studio in Cleveland; Joe had artists working for him. When I went into the service, Joe and his staff went to New York, or at least Joe and some of them did.  I wasn't around and eventually most of Joe's workers worked directly for National instead of Joe.  When I came out of the service, I wanted to set up our studio again and operate the way we had before.  Incidentally, before I went into the service, I wrote that I hoped they (National) wouldn't take advantage of this (my absence) and try to take away the production of SUPERMAN from Joe and me, and that's exactly what they did turn around and do, or attempt to do, because when I came out I tried to get things as they were before, where all the material would come solely from Joe and me, and I encountered great resistance on that, and our troubles were on."

In 1947, Siegel and Shuster sued National and the court ruled that S&S owned SUPERBOY, but not SUPERMAN.  According to the COBBLESTONE article, Siegel and Shuster appealed the decision and only then was the case settled out of court with National paying a sum (reportedly $400,000) to the pair. In 1966, Siegel again tried to sue National, this time under the claim that S&S had never signed away the copyright renewal rights.  In 1968, the court ruled against them, and Siegel tried to take the case before the Supreme court.  Of this Siegel says: "We were induced to drop our case and not take it to the Supreme Court because National indicated that if we would do that (drop the case) that they would decide whether or not they would do something for Joe and I, and so we figured after all we had been through, we would take a gamble and trust to the generosity and good intentions of National.  Many years had passed and we thought perhaps there might have been a higher level of thinking up there..."

RETURN TO SUPERMAN THROUGH THE AGES!
COPYRIGHT COVERAGE


July 4th Superman Jacket now on sale!
Entrance ·  Origin ·  K-Metal ·  The Living Legend ·  About the Comics ·  Novels ·  Encyclopaedia ·  The Screen ·  Costumes ·  Read Comics Online ·  Trophy Room ·  Creators ·  ES!M ·  Fans ·  Multimedia ·  Community ·  Supply Depot ·  Gift Shop ·  Guest Book ·  Contact & Credits ·  Links ·  Coming Attractions ·  Free E-mail ·  Forum

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
The LIVING LEGENDS of SUPERMAN! Adventures of Superman Volume 1!
Return to SUPERMAN THROUGH THE AGES!
The Complete Supply Depot for all your Superman needs!