AKA Jerome Siegel
Birthplace: Cleveland, OH
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Creator of Superman
Jerry Siegel was a science fiction geek growing up. After submitting several pieces of short fiction to Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories (all rejected) he started his own sci-fi zine, Cosmic Stories, when he was 15 years old. About two years later he met his friend and collaborator, Joe Shuster, when they both attended the same high school in Cleveland. The two boys first worked together on another fanzine called Science Fiction, where amateur contributors included such future sci-fi celebrities as Forrest J. Ackerman and Ray Bradbury. The zine's third issue featured a story called "Reign of the Superman", co-written by Siegel and Shuster and mimeographed in January 1933, about a miscreant with super powers.
Siegel later reconceived the character as a good guy, and in brainstorming sessions with Shuster they devised Superman's costume and the basic backstory everyone now knows (an infant rocketed into space from a dying planet lands in America). With Siegel writing and Shuster drawing, they tried to sell their idea as a newspaper comic strip, but it was rejected everywhere they went. Eventually Superman was picked up as a 13-page story for the first issue of a new title at DC, Action Comics, published in May 1938 (as the June issue). The character of Lois Lane — beautiful, tough, smart — was modeled on Siegel's girlfriend and eventual wife, Joanne.
An enormous hit from the start, Superman was syndicated as a newspaper comic beginning in 1939, and within a few years the Man of Steel was starring in three different DC comics, a nationally-aired radio series, and movie shorts for Paramount Pictures. In their contract, however, Siegel and Shuster had sold all rights to their publisher, DC, "to have and hold forever" -- for $130.
They continued writing and drawing Superman stories for DC, and they were paid well by comic book standards, but their salary was nothing compared to the millions of dollars their character generated for the company. Then DC introduced Superboy, chronicling Superman's adolescent adventures, but denied Siegel and Shuster any royalties for this "new" character. Lawyers were called in, and Siegel and Shuster eventually settled out of court for a $200K one-time payment -- not for Superman, but for Superboy.
Siegel eventually quit DC and worked for other publishers with no great success, including pseudonymous stints at Marvel Comics and Archie Comics. Shuster dropped out of the comic book business entirely. DC, meanwhile, made millions more off the George Reeves Superman series on television. Siegel returned to DC in 1958, and was fired in 1964 for complaining again about his lack of recompense for Superman. Two years later, the musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman opened its long run on Broadway.
Siegel and Shuster sued DC again in 1975, and lost their case in court, but in light of the resulting bad publicity the company offered them each a "pension" of $35,000 per year. Both men accepted, and three years later Christopher Reeve starred in a big-budget Hollywood Superman that earned $300M in its theatrical release. In the 1990s Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain starred on TV's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, from 2001-11 the CW's long-running Smallville aired with Tom Welling as Superboy, and in 2013 Superman returned to the big screen with the hit film Man of Steel.
Shuster died in 1992 and Siegel died in 1996. In 1999 his family sued DC's parent corporation, Time Warner. The matter is still pending, but a 2008 ruling granted the family an as-yet undetermined share of DC's American income from Superman.
Father: Mitchell Siegel (haberdasher)
Mother: Sarah Siegel
Wife: Bella Siegel (div.)
Wife: Joanne Siegel (m. 1948)
Daughter: Laura Siegel Larson (p/k/a Laura Carter, actress/newscaster)
High School: Glenville High School, Cleveland, OH
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