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Centennial Alert: Julius Schwartz

Posted in Birthday on June 19, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

I don’t have enough time to research and write a post that does justice to Julie Schwartz, but I can’t very well let his centennial slip by without at least some notice.

Yes, exactly one hundred years ago today Julius Schwartz was born in the Bronx, New York, to parents who had emigrated from Romania not long before. One of several thousand boys and young men who avidly consumed pulp fiction and discovered science fiction via Hugo Gernsback’s pioneering Amazing Stories, Julie collaborated with local friend Mort Weisinger and California-based correspondent Forrest J Ackerman on The Time Traveller, a pioneering “fanzine” that offered extensive coverage of the genre.

By virtue of his work on Time Traveller Julie connected with numerous SF fans who hoped to write the stuff professionally. Gregarious and confident, he set himself up as an agent and peddled their early yarns to the pulp editors based in New York (which was most of them). Beginning in 1934 he represented such young but talented authors as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Alfred Bester. Julie sold the last works of horror scribe H. P. Lovecraft and SF writer Stanley G. Weinbaum, titans in their respective fields, who died too early.

After a stint as editor for Ned Pines’ Thrilling Group, Julie’s former partner Mort Weisinger joined DC Comics and began guiding the destiny of Superman and other four-color favorites. Schwartz, who had counted on Weisinger to buy his clients’ yarns for Thrilling Wonder Stories, not only kept in touch with Mort but followed him into the comic-book business in 1944. Initially Julie edited books in the All-American line managed separately by M. C. Gaines and Sheldon Mayer, but within a few years he became an integral part of the DC organization.

Schwartz spearheaded the mid-Fifties superhero revival that gave birth to the Silver Age of Comic Books; after successfully reviving The Flash in Showcase #4 (October 1956), he commissioned staff writers to dust off such other old favorites as Hawkman, The Atom, and Green Lantern. Then he assigned writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky to bring back the Justice Society of America, which was rechristened the Justice League as part of its renovation.

Julie (seated) with DC artist Sid Greene in the mid Sixties.

Julie (seated) with DC artist Sid Greene in the mid Sixties.

Julie’s biggest challenge was adding luster to the badly tarnished Batman comics, which by the early Sixties were drowning in puerility. He rode herd over scripter John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, who jettisoned the Bob Kane look ably imitated by ghost artist Shelly Moldoff. The “New Look” Batman won back old fans and the Caped Crusader’s magazines, Batman and Detective Comics, enjoyed a meteoric rise in circulation after the character’s ABC TV show became a pop-culture sensation in 1966.

Julie spent another 15 years editing the Superman titles handled for many years by his old friend Mort Weisinger. He retired in 1986 and stayed as active as his emphysemia would permit, attending conventions of comic-book and science-fiction devotees. He never forgot his early days as an SF fan and gladly reminisced about them with anyone who showed even a slight interest. Julie collected some of his favorite anecdotes in a 2000 memoir, Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics, co-written with Brian Thomsen.

I saw Julie at several conventions over the years and exchanged pleasantries with him a couple times. My early Blood ‘n’ Thunder cohort Mark Trost was trying to set up a formal interview for us when Schwartz began failing rapidly. Julie died at 88 shortly after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Right up to the time of his death he was still a much beloved figure in the dual fandoms to which he was so happy to have belonged.

Julie Schwartz, circa 2000.

Julie Schwartz, circa 2000.

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