A court case between the heirs of Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics over the issue of Kirby’s ownership of the characters that he co-created at Marvel has recently finished. It’s an emotive subject for fans and historians, but in the cold light of a court room Kirby’s contributions were – like almost all comic creators working at Marvel or DC – owned by the company.
So the Court Case was a loss, but it was a goldmine for anybody interested in the facts pertaining to these events. Indeed in the Final Judgement on the case, in a section titled “Undisputed Facts”, the judge states that:
In 1961, Goodman told Lee to create a new team of superheroes to complete with “The Justice League of America,” which was published by National Comics.
So Goodman’s instructions are legal fact. Why he gave that instruction is more subjective. In his deposition to the Court Stan Lee described this situation in more detail:
In the 60s, the ideas for the new characters originated with me because that was my responsibility. And what would happen is the publisher, Martin Goodman, for example, with the Fantastic Four, he called me into his office one day. And he said, “I understand that National Comics,” which later changed its name to DC, “but I understand that National Comics has a book called The Justice League. And it’s selling very well. I want you to come up with a team of superheroes. Let’s do something like that.”
There was no mention of that golf game. However, Roy Thomas remembered hearing the golf story from Stan after starting work at Marvel in the mid-1960s (Alter Ego #43) and Stan published the anecdote in his 1974 Origins of Marvel Comics.
At the 1996 Chicago Comic Con Stan was roasted by various colleagues and former competitors. And the golf game anecdote gets repeated by Roy Thomas, and more importantly by Julius Schwartz! In his speech and in his autobiography Julie states that its Jack Liebowitz who was the DC exec involved. (DC, in the early 1960s, was co-owned by three men and their wives and family members – Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz, and Paul Sampliner. Harry died in the early 1960s and was succeeded by his son Irwin Donenfeld.)
Paul Levitz’s own account appears in the massive DC 75th Anniversary book he wrote. He labels the event “The most expensive game of golf in comics”, but continues Julie and Stan’s pattern of saying that the executive was Jack Liebowitz. However, during the Marvel/Kirby trial Mark Evanier, a close associate of Kirby, relates that Liebowitz denied that he was involved with the game. Likewise Irwin Donenfeld when explicitly asked in Alter Ego #26 about the game also denied he was involved.
The closest we get to the truth may be from film producer Micahel Uslan – who has once been the equivalent of an intern at DC. He remembers Sol Harrison (DC’s art director and later President) telling him the anecdote. He wrote into Alter Ego #43 with the version of events that he hard heard:
But the way I heard the story from Sol [Harrison] was that Goodman was playing one of the heads of Independent News [I.N.], not DC Comics (though DC owned Independent News). I don’t recall the head honocho’s name… Paul Levitz knows it. As the distributor of DC Comics, this man certainly knew all the sales figures and was in the best position to tell this tidbit to Goodman. Now, why would Goodman be playing golf with the head of Independent News? I.N. was distributing “Marvel” then, as well as DC, under a “take it or leave it” arrangement that severely limited the number of comics Goodman could publish monthly. Of course, Goodman would want to be playing gold with this fellow and be in his good graces. It would absolutely be in the best interests of his business. In addition, I understand that I.N. was well known for its golf outings back then.
Anyway, that’s the way it was told to me. Sol worked closely with Independent News’ top management over the decades and would have gotten this story straight from the horse’s mouth.
Independent News was co-owned by the same people – more or less – as DC Comics. If it wasn’t Liebowitz or Donenfeld at the game then it may well have been Paul Sampliner. He was the President of Independent News at the time, but wasn’t involved in the creative side of things at DC. Comics historian Sean Kleefeld is about the only person who has written about Sampliner and says that his money is on Sampliner being the subject of the golf anecdote.
Further, if circumstantial evidence, of the Sampliner link comes from the fact that Martin Goodman once worked for Sampliner at the distributor he ran prior to setting up Independent News. The comics industry is actually quite small and these sort of connections are common, but it at least establishes that these men had known each other for 20-30 years by the time of the golf episode.