|Photo courtesy Comic-Con International|
Copyright © 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.
Softly: A Living Legend Passes
obituary by Harlan Ellison
(with Brian M. Thomsen)
There are great men, and there are good men. Seldom are both qualities met in one person. But even Mel Brooks knew how to honor this great, good man: May the Schwartz be with you. And now he has gone through that final doorway, if not the last of the great Golden Age editors, then surely the oldest. Julius Schwartz died peacefully from complications of pneumonia at Winthrop Hospital, Mineola, New York, at a minute or two of 2:30 AM, Saturday night/Sunday morning, 8 February 2004.
His vita of achievements will read, to anyone even passingly familiar with 20th Century literature and popular culture, as if someone had combined the dossiers of a dozen men and women working overtime, 24/7 for decades. He was the quiet, balding, gentle taskmaster whose creativity was pumped into hundreds of writers, artists, editors, and fans of the heroic milieu on a daily basis for at least three generations.
His name again, was Julius Schwartz, though everyone called him Julie; and his going confounds all of us who knew him, truly, as a Living Legend; and stuns us because we were convinced he was immortal.
And until Sunday, none of us had lived in a world where Julie did not exist. Now he is gone, and eighty-eight-plus years doesn't seem, somehow, nearly as amazing a run as we'd thought. The great educator and social reformer John William Gardner once noted, "Some people strengthen the society just by being the kind of people they are." Great, but also good.
That he was Ray Bradbury's first agent, you may know.
That he was the editor of Superman for close on a quarter of a century, you may also know.
That he was the man who got Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" published, is also common legend.
But here is a skeletal chronology of the Horatio Alger-style climb of Julie Schwartz from child of poor immigrants to, well, Living Legend:
His parents, Joseph and Bertha, emigrated from a small town outside Bucharest, Romania. Julie was a Jew, and damned proud of it, despite the tsuriss that pride would later bring. He was born at home. 817 Caldwell Avenue in the Bronx. 19 June 1915, smack in the middle of World War I. There is no truth whatever in the canard that he emerged from Bertha waving a New York Yankees pennant. But he did teethe on one.
He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School and was the humor editor of The Square Deal, the high school paper at that time edited by his mentor, the famous Norman Cousins. Mid-teens, and already an editor; already reading science fiction pulp magazines; already writing (his column was called "Jest a Moment"); the cultural amber in which he lazed was already setting firmly. He graduated high school at age seventeen.
In 1931, a mere five years after Hugo Gernsback published the first science fiction magazine, Julie made contact with a kid named Mort Weisinger, through the letter column Gernsback had initiated in Amazing Stories. In 1932 he and Weisinger and Allen Glasser started the first science fiction amateur magazine, the fanzine titled The Time Traveller. Letter columns that solidified a literary community, amateur publications that had the imprimatur of professionalism and editorial acuity, friendships with writers struggling to find their voices ... foreshadowing.
1934, the year the writer of this encomium was born, Julie, with Mort, started the first sf literary agency, Solar Sales Service. Their first sale was of Edmond Hamilton's "Master of the Genes" to Wonder Stories. They got 10% of the magnificent fee. The sale was for $35, do the math.
In 1935 Julie actually met H.P. Lovecraft, the great recluse, and somehow convinced him to let Solar Sales market one of his stories. An astounding $350 sale to Astounding Stories, the only time the supernatural scrivener managed to get into the top-paying market. By the time Weisinger left the agency for editorial jobs, Julie was representing the absolute caviar of that pool of imaginative writers: Henry Kuttner, the magnificent Stanley Weinbaum, Leigh Brackett, Manly Wade Wellman, Eric Frank Russell, Otto Binder, and even Robert Heinlein for one story. 1938: Julie snags Robert Bloch, eventually selling 75 stories, including the memorable, many-times-reprinted "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." 1940: a kid named Alfred Bester comes to Julie, is mentored by him, and Julie makes his first sf sale, "Life for Sale," to Amazing Stories. 1939: Julie meets a kid named Ray Bradbury, takes him on, sells "The Pendulum" to Super Science Stories, and it appears on the newsstands on Bradbury's 21st birthday.
In February of 1944 (Julie remembered it was the 23rd of February; he remembered that at age 87; he was old, he wasn't senile) Julie entered the next phase of his career when he went to work for All-American Comics as an editor. All-American was one of the divisions that we know today as DC.
He wrote for DC and edited for DC and created for DC from 1944 till 1989 when he retired as Editor Emeritus, Comics Ambassador Plenipotentiary without Portfolio, and endless resource for the comic book industry.
But for those forty-five years, nearly half his life, during which he went to the office every day in jacket and tie like a real adult, during which time he worked on virtually every important DC title that shaped the morality and ethics of kids everywhere in this country, editing more than 160 issues of Strange Adventures, and more than 90 issues of Mystery in Space, and shepherding the revival of Batman - one of DC's two most important, flagship characters - with his assumption of the editorship of Detective Comics with issue #327, and in 1970 becoming the group editor of all the Superman comic books, a job he held for twenty years, even through the legendary Neal Adams revamp and The Man of Steel's appearance on the cover of Time Magazine, for those forty-five years he supported and encouraged what came to be known as the finest cadre of writers and artists who worked in the era now famed as The Silver Age. Silver, because Julie brought back to life a pantheon of great comics heroes who had been dormant since the demented witch-hunt days of Wertham, the Kefauver hearings, and the Legion of Decency. He started by redesigning and reintroducing, in contemporary terms, The Flash. Then Green Lantern; the Atom; Hawkman; and then The Justice League of America from the ashes of The Justice Society in the 1940s.
He was the turbine that drove the resurgence of comic book popularity. He saved from near-extinction one of the few truly American art-forms. He was the Simon Bolivar of his genre.
And all through those times, those decades, no matter how many friends he had - and anyone who met him usually came away with a smile, an anecdote, and a tiny lapel pin of Superman - he was also the loving husband of Jean, and the loving father of Jeanne. Though few who knew him, however intimately, knew of the pain and the difficulty that existed in his marriage to his beloved Jean. Not my place to speak of such here, but Julie lived to see not only his children grow into estimable adults, but the grandchildren, as well. He doted on them, brought them into his comics world, and led two separate and equally beguiling lives. Jean's death ... well, he never got over it.
This is his story, and I won't shoehorn myself into it, save to say that one of the delights of the last eighteen years for me was the weekly call from Julie. Every Wednesday morning, 8:15 Los Angeles time, 11:15 in the DC offices whence Julie made his subway hegira every week, Julie called and we talked about what each of us knew of the week's gossip, events, scandals, and hiring-firings. He was amazed that if he called me, 3000 miles away from the office in which he sat, I knew secret stuff that no one in the halls would talk about. He always wanted to know who my "inside man at the skunk works" was. I never told him.
We talked about the Yankees (which he loved), we talked about pea soup (which he loved), we talked about Dixieland Jazz (which he loved), and we talked about various people (some of whom he did not love). We practiced our Yiddish on each other, and he told me stories of the grandkids. He sent me fanzines with anecdotes about himself outlined in red marker.
When Ed Kramer and the Dragon*Con instituted the Julie award for excellence in multi-media, he was beside himself with pride. It is a large, awfully handsome sculpture, and speaks to Julie's belief that artistic excellence in one venue can lead to outstanding efforts in several forms. The award is a great prize.
As was his friendship.
He was great, because from behind the scenes, softly and sweetly, he nuhdzed and kvetched and chivvied and prodded a plethora of talents from Alfie Bester to Len Wein to Neal Adams to Ray Bradbury to Paul Levitz to be better than they'd been before. To work at jobs that would pay their rent till they could move on to the production of landmark creations.
He was good, because he was gentle and kind and loyal and a dear loveable pain in the ass who always had time for a smile and a bad pun and a note of encouragement to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of otherwise-strangers who, having met him even once, felt he was their fondest friend. The outpouring of pain and loss at his passing has startled even those who knew him all their lives.
He was a Living Legend. He told me so himself.
And how could I doubt anyone I loved so much?
Julius Schwartz is survived by his sister Lillian, son-in-law Andy Kunkel, grandchildren Michael, Patty, and Andrea, and five great-grandchildren. They request, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to The Julius Schwartz Scholarship Fund, c/o DC Comics, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.