Copyright © 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation
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SOFTLY; A LEGEND PASSES
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 be 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 gale 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, be 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
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?
Copyright © 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation
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