The widow of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel died yesterday in California. Joanne Siegel was 93.
As Joanne Carter, she met writer Jerry Siegel and his fellow Superman co-creator, artist Joe Shuster, in Cleveland when they were getting their start as teens during the depression. Carter had placed a classified ad in The Plain Dealer offering her services as a model. Shuster contacted her and she became the model for Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane. She married Siegel in 1948, following his divorce from Bella Siegel.
Siegel and Shuster tried to sell Superman for years without success. They eventually sold the character to National Allied Publications which later became DC Comics. The man of steel debuted in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938.
In 1946, near the end of their 10 year contract, Siegel and Shuster sued National over the rights to their creation. They lost and settled for $94,000. Their byline was soonafter dropped from Superman comic books. Siegel continued to write comics for different publishers and Shuster drew mostly horror comics. The latter’s eyesight eventually got so bad that he couldn’t work anymore and by 1976, he was living in a nursing home in California.
In the 1970s, when Warner Bros. (DC Comics’ parent company) was readying to release the Superman feature film, Siegel spearheaded a publicity campaign that protested DC Comics’ treatment of the creators. Warner Bros. agreed to give them a $20,000 a year stipend with health benefits, as well as to reinstate the pair’s byline. Shuster died in 1992 at 78 and Siegel passed in 1999 at age 81.
Ms. Siegel returned to Cleveland to try to find a place to lay half of her husband’s ashes according to his wishes and to create a permanent memorial to him where she could donate his typewriter, scripts, and other items. No one was interested. Some of the items ended up at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage as part of a permanent Siegel and Shuster exhibit.
A few years later, the Siegel and Shuster families filed for partial ownership of Superman. In 2008, a federal judge ruled that they indeed own a large share of the character. Litigation with Warner Bros. continues.
In 2009, Ms. Siegel returned to the area for a convention and visited her husband’s former house. An Internet campaign had raised over $100,000 to purchase and restore the home where Superman was born. A Superman-style shield has been erected at the house, similar to one found near the apartment building where Shuster lived. Last week, the city put up special street signs noting honorary street signs called Joe Shuster Lane and Lois Lane.
Many Siegel and Shuster relatives are members of the Cleveland-based Siegel and Shuster Society. Laura Siegel Larson, Siegel’s daughter, is preparing funeral arrangements for her mother.
Images courtesy Cleveland.com.