What Famous Jewish Person Was Born on October 17, 1914? Originally Published October 15-16, 2021.

Jerome Siegel was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Michael & Sarah Siegel (born Mikhel Iankel Segalovich and Sora Meita Khaikels), who immigrated from Lithuania in 1900.  Jerry was the youngest of six, and his father was a tailor who owned a clothing store.  Michael died in 1932 after he was assaulted in his store and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Jerry spent many hours at his typewriter and many more hours reading science fiction.  He was already a published writer at the age of 12, having written in to the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the “Seckatary Hawkins” column.  Living in the Jewish neighborhood of Glenville from 1928, Jerry Siegel befriended Joe Shuster, who was pretty good at drawing, and they came together in their love for science fiction and movies. 

After high school, while working delivery jobs, the friends began writing comic book stories.  They had read Gladiator by Philip Wylie about a person with superpowers, and they began developing their own character.  They were already selling their work, but not the character with superpowers (who initially was a villain).  So they started their own magazine, which was where they (finally) introduced “The Reign of Superman.”  In 1935, National Allied Publications began buying their work, and eventually hired them to work on their current properties.  That company would evolve into DC Comics.  Soon Superman generated the Action Comics division of DC. 

In 1939 Jerry married Bella Lifshitz, with whom he would have a son.  In 1943 Jerry was drafted into the Army as a technician and sent to Hawaii.  He would serve writing for the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes, especially a column called “Take a Break with T/5 Jerry Siegel.”  In 1948 he divorced Bella and married Joanne Carter, who had been the inspiration for the Lois Lane character; they would have a daughter.

After working for many years on Superman, Siegel and Shuster expressed their resentment that DC reaped huge profits from their character; as employees they had essentially signed away their rights for $130 and a job (though their salaries were not inconsequential).  In 1946 they sued for a share of the rights to Superman.  Finally in 1948, they settled for only royalties on Superboy (which Siegel had created, DC used, and DC hadn’t bought), but Siegel and Shuster had to sign away all rights to Superman.  In 1947, their collaboration on a new superhero Funnyman fell flat.

Shuster got out of the business.  Siegel got work writing, and worked as comics editor at Ziff-Davis Publications in 1951 until it closed down, but he found it difficult to work without his partner.  By 1959, living in a one-bedroom apartment, the family couldn’t pay its bills.  Eventually his wife went to DC Comics and asked, “Do you really want to read the headline ‘Superman Creator Starves to Death’?”  She asked that they send some work his way, even without credit.  He would write for Superman through into the 1960s, including about the planet Krypton, but in 1964 they terminated him. 

After the Superman movie (1975) produced a whole new raft of interest, Siegel and Shuster sued DC again for recognition and royalties.  Eventually the company was talked into reinstating their names on the masthead as creators, and they granted each a $35,000 annual stipend.  As a postscript, Jerry Siegel’s heirs succeeded in a court case against DC and received 50% ownership and control of Superman. 

In their halcyon years, Shuster moved across the street from Siegel (who was living in San Diego languishing with debt and an inability to work), and they picked up where they had left off with their friendship.  Jerry Siegel died on January 28, 1996, from a heart attack.  The friends are now credited on all Superman products.