For more than seven decades, Superman has entertained the masses. From comic books to television shows and feature films, depictions of the hero from a foreign planet have captivated audiences. But how much do you really know about the Man of Steel? An upcoming event in New York City marking the 75th anniversary of Superman will showcase never-before-seen sketches of a real-life guy who resembled the superhero (we’ll explain), while also delving deeply into the character’s Jewish heritage.
Now, this latter mention of ethnicity may intrigue you. Some may not be aware that Superman’s features may come, in part, from sketches that were drawn of Stanley Weiss, a real-life individual who resembled the image that Superman co-creator Joe Shuster had conjured in his mind. The comic book artist met Weiss on the street in 1945 and was instantly captivated by his look, so he asked if the young man would pose for some sketches (at the time, he was already illustrating the comic hero). This resulted in pieces of art that have gone widely unseen for the past 70 years.
At the time that the two met, Weiss was only 24. The New York Times reports that the chance meeting happened either in New Jersey or at a resort called Green Mansions in the Adirondacks. The young man was an accountant who later helped run a family furniture and appliance business. Superman, his alter ego (or so thought Shuster), was still in his infancy, appearing in comics and radio shows — but not yet gaining the level of international attention he has garnered today.
According to Weiss’ son, David, his father found the sketches of him “amusing,” however he did not see them as a big deal. David cited modesty as a family value, although he did note that the sketches were, for a time, hung on the wall in his home. He contended that his mother seemed proud of the sketches.
“It seemed a bigger deal to her, but that still doesn’t mean that either of them considered it a big deal,” he wrote to the Times in an email. “The Jewish and family culture I grew up in had a fundamental modesty.”
When it comes to ethnicity, Weiss isn’t Superman’s only Jewish connection. Larry Tye, author of “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero” told the Times that Jewish culture played an important role in crafting Superman’s story. Shuster and his co-creator, Jerry Siegel, were both children of European Jewish immigrants — something that likely impacted their formulation of the character.
“They were planting little hints as to his ethnic heritage and the fact that he was Jewish,” Tye told the Times. “It was not just the creators and the publishers and all the people around them that were Jewish — and I love the idea that the first guy that he comes across, who looks just like Superman, is Jewish as well.”
Among other sentiments that may corroborate this notion is the character’s arrival to planet Earth. While he came as an infant in a rocket ship, Moses arrived as a baby in a basket to the Pharaoh’s daughter in the Old Testament. Plus, Superman’s name on Krypton was Kel-El, which sounds like the Hebrew for voice or vessel of God. So, there you have it. Superman was purportedly Jewish.
On Jan. 27, these sketches of Weiss, the Clark Kent doppelgänger, will be shown publicly at an event at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.
(H/T: New York Times)