It's no secret that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived in poverty for a long time while fighting for what they felt was their fair share of the money that their superhero generated for his publisher. But the announcement of the first Superman movie in 1975 led Siegel to take things to a whole new level.
20th Century Danny Boy has unearthed a lengthy—and we mean lengthy—press release that Siegel issued upon hearing the news that Warner Bros. Pictures was going to make a multi-million-dollar big-screen version of Superman. DC Comics (then known as National Periodical Publications and owned by Warner Communications) had already made and was continuing to make large amounts of money off Kal-El through comics, TV shows, cartoons, toys and assorted other avenues, while Siegel and Shuster were living virtually hand-to-mouth, with both in failing health.
Well, Siegel had had enough. Right at the start of his press release, he states:
It has been announced in show business trade papers that a multi-million dollar production based on the Superman comic strip is about to be produced. It has been stated that millions of dollars were paid to the owners of Superman, National Periodical Publications, Inc., for the right to use the famous comic book super-hero in the new movie. The script is by Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather and Earthquake. The film is to have a star-filled cast.
I, Jerry Siegel, the co-originator of Superman, put a curse on the Superman movie! I hope it super-bombs. I hope loyal Superman fans stay away from it in droves. I hope the whole world, becoming aware of the stench that surrounds Superman, will avoid the movie like a plague.
Why am I putting this curse on a movie based on my creation of Superman?
Because cartoonist Joe Shuster and I, who co-originated Superman together, will not get one cent from the Superman super-movie deal.
Superman has been a huge money-maker for 37 years. During most of those years, Joe Shuster and I, who originated the character Superman, got nothing from our creation, and through many of those years we have known want, while Superman'S publishers became multimillionaires.
Read the following and you will get some idea of how it feels to create one of the most successful fiction characters of all time...and be cheated out of your share of its profits.
The publishers of Superman comic books, National Periodical Publications, Inc., killed my days, murdered my nights, choked my happiness, strangled my career. I consider National's executives economic murderers, money-mad monsters. If they, and the executives of Warner Communications which owns National, had consciences, they would right the wrongs they inflicted on Joe Shuster and me.
He continues to chronicle in detail every single twist and turn that his and Shuster's decades-long battle had taken, while also specifically calling out Warner Communications board member Jack Liebowitz, saying he "stabbed Joe Shuster and me, Jerry Siegel, in the back ... He ruined our lives, deliberately, though Joe and I originated Superman, which enriched Liebowitz and his associates." He ends with:
As far as Joe and I are concerned, we have been victimized by evil men and a selfish, evil company which callously ruined us and appears to be willing to abandon us in our old age, though our creation Superman has made and continues to make millions for them. Newspaper articles state National was paid $3,000,000 for the rights to make the Superman movie and that $15,000,000 will be spent to produce the movie. And the originators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, are not to receive one cent.
WHAT AN INFERNAL, SICKENING SUPER-STENCH EMANATES FROM NATIONAL PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS, INC. We hope the public will never forget this when seeing the Superman character, or National Periodical comic books. Do not patronize Superman because of this injustice.
Siegel's plan to demonize National and Warner worked, for a time, with the help of fellow comic book legends Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson. They helped get Siegel and Shuster's plight into the news media and on TV, embarrassing Warner enough so that the corporation gave both men a pension and medical benefits. Superman: The Movie, meanwhile, went on to become a blockbuster and the first successful film to be based on a superhero comic.
Of course, both men are long gone, but sadly their heirs are continuing to fight with Warner/DC over what they feel are their families' rightful earnings.
Read Siegel's entire press release, complete with letters and documentation, at the link above. What would you have done in his place?