Monday, December 10, 2007

Goody Rickles

By now, most of you have seen the documentary "Mr Warmth", all about Don Rickles and his long career, running this month on HBO. If you haven't, it really is a treat to see the man on stage still at it after so long and getting respect from lots of his peers and newer comics. So after watching it one night, I happened to remember that one of the very first comic books I bought as a kid was Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olson # 141 in 1971 simply for the reason that it had two very familiar characters that I just happen to know one real and one not so real. I'll let you guess which one was which to me.

After seeing the special and having that flashback, thought that I would ask the one man who would know about that comic and that comic, my (sort of, kinda) blogging mentor, Mark Evanier , he of the great News From Me, as he knows all things Jack Kirby, who was the man behind the story and also a man who has seen his share of good and bad stand up after writing for television over the years ( Mark was the only person who made Garfield bearable for me) . So I says to Mark, via email...

I saw the Rickles special again for the second time today and laughed again at how much Don is still Don after all these years. I particularly thought that the story Steve Lawrence told about Rickles doing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in the middle of his act confirms the complaints in your post. However, being the guy that I am in that I must always ask questions, just how in the world did Don Rickles become part of the Fourth World. I thought I would ask as you worked with King Kirby. Also, did you ever have any contact with Mr. Warmth?

So he says back to me...

No contact. Here's how those issues came about. This is from aforeword I wrote recently for a reprint collection...

Jack's most famous issues of Jimmy Olsen were probably his weirdest.Cartoonist (and Oddball Comics authority) Scott Shaw! called one ofits cover blurbs -- "Don't Ask! Just Buy It!" -- the greatest coverline in the history of comics. And things got even weirder inside.

Here is how this epic came about: Comedian Don Rickles was thenenormously popular, and Steve Sherman and I were big fans of his.Rickles plied his insult humor on many a talk show, forever claimingthat he never picked on a little guy...only on the biggies. Steve andI thought, "Who's bigger than Superman?" So we wrote up someRickles-style insults of Superman and suggested to Jack that DonRickles make a brief cameo appearance in Jimmy Olsen. The idea wasfor him to insult The Man of Steel the way he went after Sinatra.

Jack was also a Rickles fan and he liked the idea. Steve contacted Rickles' press agent and obtained the necessary permission. In the meantime, a press agent working for DC decided it presented tremendousopportunity for publicity...but it had to be cover-featured and runover two issues. That was how Mr. Rickles -- and his look-alike, Mr. Rickels -- wound up in Jimmy Olsen #139 and #141. (No, you're not missing an issuethere. #140 was a non-Kirby reprint special) Steve Sherman and I plotted the Newsboy Legion sub-plot. Jack did everything else and,somewhere along the way, lost track of the original premise. As you'll see, at no point in the story does either version of Don Rickles meet, let alone insult Superman.

But readers loved it. Or hated it. Don Rickles more or less sided with the latter faction, annoyed that the brief appearance he'd okayed had turned into what it turned into. I'm with the "loved it" people, if only because I can see how much fun Jack had doing it.

So that's the story of how Don Rickles came into my life. By the way, if you love a good read, Mark is teaming up with Mad cartoonist and his good friend and collaborator Sergio Aragones for a new version of the comic book classic, The Spirit starting next year. When you pick it up and you want to send the writer an email on how much you liked it, tell Mark I sent ya.

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