I came late to the party. I was a Marvel reader as a boy, and didn’t know anything outside of that universe until years later. I hadn’t grown up on DC Comics and was far from expert on their history, but it didn’t make a difference. Julie Schwartz and I talked about jazz. Or about science fiction. Or the pulps during the Great Depression. He was a man of many worlds, not just science fiction and comics, and he could chat about anything. With this young upstart, he enjoyed talking about the legends he’d known. He was one of them, a legend, and he liked it. There was no arrogance there?just a man happy with the friends he’d made and the path he’d chosen. The path he’d blazed.
Do an Internet search on Julie’s name; the accolades are endless. But he’s probably best remembered for his work as an editor at DC starting in 1944. Twelve years later, he refurbished the line, reintroducing many of the Golden Age characters, such as Flash and Green Lantern, with new SF elements. It was a natural: Long before he’d come to comics, he’d discovered Ray Bradbury. And Robert Bloch. To hear him tell it, he’d discovered Arthur Conan Doyle, too. And Shelley. And H.G. Wells. And Edgar Allan Poe. He really did represent Lovecraft. And Alfred Bester. And Asimov. Julie loved talking about the fellas he’d known and worked with; to kid about how he was older than Methuselah.
Of course, he’d put a lot of guys on the map. His Solar Sales Service with lifetime pal and business partner Mortimer Weisinger was the first of its kind, representing the biggest SF writers of its day, and discovering many others. Julie knew everyone and, as time went by, he outlived most of his friends.
That’s how I got to know him. He’d just outlived another one. Robert Bloch was gone, taken by cancer, and everyone was sad about it. Harlan Ellison called me Saturday afternoon with the news, and asked me to do the obit for The L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire. I spent the next day on the phone with Bob’s friends?guys like Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Julie Schwartz.
“Do me a favor, kid,” Julie said to me. He always called me kid on the phone. In person, it was rabbi. He never remembered my name. “Do me a favor?call Ricia and tell her you’ll help me with that thing I have to write.” Ricia was Ricia Mainhardt, an agent and sometimes editor who was often in Julie’s company. That thing was a tribute book of Bloch stories with introductions by his peers and admirers. Julie wanted to be part of it, but getting the words down at his age was getting harder. Sure, I said. Sure, I’d do it. The piece, “The Good Old Days,” appeared in A Tribute to the Master (Tor Books, 1995).
Here’s some more first facts about Julie: He co-edited The Time Traveler (1932), the very first science fiction fanzine (which included pre-Superman work by Jerry Siegel); he helped organize the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City (1939); he won the first Fandom Hall of Fame Award (1986).
I liked Julie. Everyone did. To know him was to like him. I knew to never call Harlan Ellison on Wednesday morning because that was Julie’s time. No one else had a standing appointment with Harlan, but Julie’d call from New York every Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. Los Angeles Time. They had their coffee together.
I knew not to call Harlan this morning either. I did it anyway. But he was too upset to talk. He missed his friend.
I called others. Had to. It’s the yucky part of the process, like sitting shiva, or trying to find words for the loved ones left behind. This is what you do. You put a man in the ground with dignity and tears, but love (as William Zander wrote) calls us to the things of the world.
I asked Stan Lee for words. It’s the first time I’ve known him to pause. Then, “Although I’ve known Julie for years, I never really got to know him as much as I would have liked to. We’ve never actually worked together so the only times I saw him were at comic book conventions and similar occasions. We’ve been on innumerable panels together and he was always cheerful, witty and friendly?one of the most likable guys imaginable. I deeply regret that I never had the chance to know Julie better, because from all I’ve heard from those who’ve worked with him, and from what I’ve observed myself, he was certainly one of the nicest guys in our field?or in any field. Judging by all the calls I’ve had these past few hours since his death, Julie Schwartz, a comic book giant, is already greatly missed?”
Paul Levitz had to share the news with his staff. “Julie was an iconic figure,” said Levitz. “A true original?not only in his 60 years of association with us, but in his contributions to our collective world before crossing DC’s threshold? Even a cursory summary shows an astounding life? Julie continued his association with DC to the end of his life, providing guidance and inspiration, and coming in most weeks to keep in touch and ‘let ’em see what a real editor looks like.’ He was an editor who entertained and educated millions over three generations, performed the near-impossible feat of getting great work out of his contributors without ever ruffling their feelings, and taught many of us our craft. If the measure of an editor is the respect of his peers, Julie was immeasurable?for his peers who loved and respected him were often legends in their own right, and most of us were simply left in awe.”
He wasn’t kidding about that ruffled feelings bit. You can’t find anybody out there?no one at all?who didn’t love the old man. I hated to do it, but I called Murphy Anderson and asked if it was true.
“Didn’t he ever get mad?” I asked. “I mean ever?”
“Well,” said Murphy, who’d worked with Julie since 1950, “he’d get mad at Gil Kane. He’d rant and rave because Gil was always late with his work, and one time he was ranting at me, and I said, ‘Aw, cut it out already, Julie. You know you love Gil.’ And that stopped him right there, because he did. He loved everybody.”
“I used to send him sketches of characters when I was just a fan,” recalls Dave Cockrum. “When he hired me years later, he pulled a stack of those drawings from his desk and showed them to me. Gawd, they were awful! After that, every time I’d visit, he’d take them out again, or threaten to. He was always kidding around.”
“He loved to kid,” adds Murphy, “but he knew what he wanted. I always thought he should be a writer because he’d work for hours fixing a script that wasn’t quite right. But if it was good, he also knew to leave it alone.”
Murphy pauses, thinking back over their half-century friendship. “I spoke with him two weeks ago,” he says. “That’s the last time we ever spoke. He was happy to be home from the hospital and he was his cheerful self again.”
What a nice way to be remembered.
[Ed’s Note: Thanks to Matthew B. Tepper for allowing us to use a photo from his terrific site to promote this column. Please visit his site at: http://raybradburyonline.com.]
© 2004, Clifford Meth