A Tribute to the of

Here is part one of the interview I enjoyed with Barbara Friedlander:†

Bryan D. Stroud: Miss Barbara, Iíve been looking forward to this as a chance to learn more about how DC operated back in the Silver Age, my favorite era. Did you interact with a lot of the freelancers?

Barbara Friedlander: I knew in passing these artists who were doing the superheroes, but I mostly was on the other end with Jack Miller and so I didnít have conversations with them unless they wanted to be friendly. They were mostly going in to see Murray (Boltinoff) or other people for their own stuff. Some people were just naturally friendly with one another and had relationships, but mostly it was all business. You walked in, took care of your business, you complained and you left. (chuckle). DC freelancers by and large had good senses of humor. You had to.

BDS: Where were you born and raised?

BF: Iím a New York baby if you canít tell by the New York accent. I loved the city. This is important to me and I always mention it. When I was born and raised, my dad was in the hardware business and he had a hardware business on 52nd Street and 6th Avenue. If you can imagine 6th Avenue, which is now the Avenue of the Americas, with little shops, which it was at that time. Going up and down there were brownstones and little shops and thatís the era that I grew up in. But now itís all built up and recently I went into the city and I always love to go by 6th avenue because I get a good feeling around 52nd Street.

BDS: Oh, of course. Lots of memories, Iím sure.

BF: Yeah, it was lots of memories and so very different today. But thatís the era I grew up in and I went to a public school on 54th street between 6th and 7th avenue, which would be impossible today. I loved the city for what it was. It was my lifeline. I couldnít imagine ever leaving it. I did. I donít know how I did, but I did.

BDS: Itís interesting. When I spoke to Carmine Infantino or Irwin Hasen or any of the others who had lived in the city virtually their whole lives Iíd heard the same thing. They couldnít imagine living anywhere else. Iíd love to see it sometime, but I think perhaps the era Iíd really love to see is only a memory now.

BF: Yes. Thatís the unfortunate part. Itís only in memory. I remember being able to walk, which I did, often, to the Museum of Modern Art and just walk right in. Now itís a big production number. Itís a place everyone wants to go to, so you have to order tickets in advance. All kind of stuff. Metropolitan. I used to go to it every other week because I just enjoyed it and now you canít get in there. Now you canít get in anyplace.

BDS: So, what led you to DC Comics initially?

BF: Iím going to go back to that hardware store and tell you that I was graduating from high school at the time and my father had passed away and I didnít know what to do with myself. My friends were going to college or they were getting married. It was a different time. I was sort of stuck. I didnít know what to do, so I went to Hunter at night and I enjoyed doing that, but I realized I had to earn some money. I was living with my mother on 54th Street and 7th Avenue. That was my neighborhood, of course.

So, I had a friend who had an agency and he sent me on a couple of job interviews and I had no skills. I was really bad at typing. I still am bad at typing. I couldnít take shorthand or anything like that, but first I went to a watch company and then I went to DC comics and I said, ďOkay, Iím going to work here,Ē not realizing what DC Comics actually meant. Because I liked Katy Keane and I liked Archie and all that other stuff, but I didnít really love romance books and I didnít really read that kind of stuff.

I loved Brenda Starr in the Daily News. I liked pretty stuff and I was 18, 19 years old and I needed direction. It was a very traumatizing thing for me when my dad passed. So, thatís what I did. Have you read any of the stuff that Iíve done before?

BDS: A little bit. Like most young boys I was drawn more to the superhero titles, but I do own a copy of Girlís Romances and looked at a copy of Swing with Scooter. So, Iím not completely unfamiliar with the things you were working on.

BF: Iím currently working on an article talking about a lot of the people I worked with, including Jack and Nelson (Bridwell) and the illustrator works in kind of a cartoony style, which I think is wonderful. She was asking me how to draw Nelson, for example, and I said, just go ahead and draw him in the cartoony style with his black glasses and his crewcut. My stuff is a very tongue in cheek story in this magazine and itís going to be several pages of just that. How I got started and then I left. (chuckle.)

BDS: Iíll look forward to hopefully seeing that. Youíre absolutely right, too. Nelson was a walking caricature.

BF: Yeah, a lot of these people actually were walking caricatures. (chuckle.) Except for the ones who didnít really do anything creative. They were very much themselves.

BDS: Were you familiar with the Inferior Five series? I believe Jack Miller edited that as well.

BF: I was there when they created it. I shared that office and I remember all of those people and I remember Joe (Orlando) coming in and creating the look for all those characters.

BDS: I realize Iím really getting into the weeds here, but I actually have a copy in front of me, and issue #6 was where Nelson did the story that lampooned the staff.

BF: No, I donít remember that. I was there? Tell me about it.

BDS: You actually appear in several of the pages. I was kind of hoping you didnít know that so that I could share something with you.

BF: Please do.

BDS: Initially when I pulled it out, I thought, ďOh, maybe she can explain to me this one inside joke that I never understoodĒ and then I got to looking more closely and there you were in a couple of panels. Anyway, it showed Jack Miller surrounded by a bunch of miniature Hong Kong tailorsÖ [page 20]

BF: Thatís true.

BDS: Theyíre making a suit for him while heís standing there and he kept saying, ďMake it tighter. Make it tighter.Ē So, I wondered what that meant.

BF: This is very funny. Jack Miller had all of his suits made. I think he had everything made. When I became engaged, my husband to be had terrible taste in clothes and I took him to Jackís tailor and as a wedding present I had suits made for him.

BDS: Chuckle.

BF: No, really, because Jack was impeccable. And I wanted my husband Marshall to look good. He was an attorney and I thought he should look good. (chuckle.)

BDS: Oh, absolutely.

BF: So, I did that and then I took him to where Jack bought his shirts. He had these beautiful shirts. It was a place called Hertzfeld and I took him there and I continued to buy shirts there long after Jack was gone for my husband. And Jack always had beautiful, impeccable clothes. It was his thing.

BDS: Okay, so any idea what the tighter reference meant?

BF: No idea, except to say that he was a perfectionist, so he wanted every little angle and line and seam to be perfect.

BDS: Maybe thatís what Nelson was getting at in his story. The shots of you show you on the telephone and itísÖ

BF: With my mother.

BDS: Exactly.

BF: Yes, because I was a motherís girl. (chuckle.) My mother had no idea what I did at DC. None at all. All she wanted out of me was ďGet married. Just get married.Ē

BDS: (Laughter.) Well, thatís precisely the point here, it says in the first panel where youíre on the phone, ďOh, hi, mother baby. No, mother, Iím not married yet. No, nothingís happened since breakfast.Ē

BF: (Laughter.)

BDS: And then in another shot it says, ďYes, mother, I hear you,Ē and youíre carrying the phone with an extension cord into the other room.

BF: Itís true. Now that you mention it, itís all come back into memory. I have seen it, but I donít have it.

BDS: Well, Iíll gladly send you a copy. Now backtracking a little bit, where was DC located when you worked there?

BF: 575 Lexington. Which was wonderful, because I lived on 54th and so when the weather was good, I used to walk or take a taxi.

BDS: Who hired you?

BF: Gutowitz. I think his first name was Jack. He was a lovely man. I worked in the clerical department. Anyway, one of the first things he said to me was, ďWhat are you doing here? You should be married.Ē (chuckle.) All of them said that to me. They looked at me like I was dropped in from a spaceship. Like it was an experiment or something.

So, I worked in the clerical department. I can name all the ladies and Mr. Gutowitz was the only male. He was the head of that department. I took subscriptions for the various titles. Mostly boy titles, Superman, Batman, that kind of thing and there is a very funny story that Iíve told before, but Iíll tell it to you because itís so typical.

As I moved along, days went by and I would go to classes at night. Irwin Donenfeld wanted me along with another girl I worked with, Jeannie, she was my boss at the time and I was the new girl on the block and he was very upset about Marvel being wonderful and creating angles for their characters. You know, they werenít just straight heroes, they had problems. So, he put out this huge mailing, which I was in charge of doing. He wanted to know what the readers wanted to see. If the characters should have different personalities or if we should do X, Y and Z. I wish I still had a copy of that mailing, but I donít.

It was several pages and it was not done in the days when they had a machine to put it all together. It had to be done by hand and it must have been 5 or 6 pages. I think the post office took care of the stamps. The post office was actually in that building. He asked the editors to volunteer their time and come in and fill in these things for this mailing. Now he could have hired other people that didnít have to put out books and didnít have to do actual work, but he didnít. He said, ďCome out and help me with this mailing. It will be very good for your books.Ē Or whatever the hell he said.

And thatís how I really got to know some of the editors and Jack Miller, who also said to me, ďWhat are you doing here?Ē It became embarrassing after a while. I donít know what they were getting at, but I guess I needed to be in another realm.

Anyway, I was going to school at night and I was taking writing courses, so Jack said, ďLet me see some of your writing,Ē and thatís how our connection began. He was very nice to me. He said, ďWhy donít you do something and make some money.Ē So thatís what I did. I wrote love stories. And he helped me. He mentored me so that I learned how to do it. And actually, I am doing it again. Iím working for Ken Wheaton now, who is experimentally putting out a book of four love stories that I have written.

I know Paul (Kupperberg) does love stories in his book, but they have something of a tough edge to them. These are the old-fashioned sweet love stories. And I just finished it. I just sent in my copy and I hope it goes someplace, because I really enjoyed doing it. It was something from the past with a todayís kind of edge to it, but it looked more likeÖit was lovely. Letís put it like that. Lovely stories without too much heartache.

BDS: It sounds wonderful. I share your enthusiasm and I hope thereís a market for it. I think that would be a nice resurgence.

BF: I hope so. I really hope so. And I had e-mailed Ken and I e-mailed a couple of other people that Iíd done some work for recently because I wanted to promote their stuff, but they havenít gotten back to me. I also did a thing where theyíre reviving Jetta from the 50s. I had wanted to say some things about it, but obviously I canít.

BDS: Right. So other than everyone wondering what in the world you were doing there, especially as a single woman, did it feel at all like a boyís club?

BF: Yeah. It was a complete boyís club. At the first production meeting that they had with just the editors, I was not invited. That was the nature of it. A lot of the men, and I wonít mention any names, but a lot of the men did not like the idea that I had gotten this far so fast. Not that I blamed them because Iím a very practical person and I can understand what they were feeling.

I had gone into Irwin Donenfeld, who had hired me and he really liked me, but he had such a gruff manner about him that I had no idea that he really liked me. (chuckle.)

I was completely bulldozed by this whole thing and you have to remember this is the 60s and you have to remember that when I went in and asked for a raise, Irwin looked at me and he said, ďBarbara, you live with your mother. These men have families to support. I canít justify giving you a raise.Ē And I had so little self-esteem I agreed with him. ďOf course. You gave me all the facts. Absolutely correct.Ē What he did do, I think, was give me a higher page rate. Maybe a dollar. (chuckle.)

BDS: Just a token.

BF: A token to shut me up. You just went along to get along. There was a great fear in that office. Really, you could feel it. Even for the people who had really been established and had a strong personality, there was great fear that they were going to be fired. Especially in the bullpen. All kinds of craziness, because people were screaming at one another. The higher-ups were screaming down at the lower people. It was just that kind of atmosphere. They all heard about Marvel and what Marvel was doing and that made everyone afraid. And of course, you couldnít work for Marvel and work for DC and have anyone know about it. That would have blown Irwinís mind.

BDS: Right and thatís why a lot of the guys used to use pen names when they did Marvel work.

BF: Absolutely.

BDS: But you couldnít blame them. The freelancerís life is not an easy one. It looks like you both scripted and edited. Did you have a preference between the two?

BF: Oh, Iíd rather do scripts. I was horrible at editing. I finally learned to use my computer and itís smarter than me. (chuckle.) It corrects my spelling. Sometimes it corrects my language. And Iím very happy about that. I donít know why I didnít know about this before.

BDS: In my research I see you used a few aliases. Do Jill Taylor, Nilda Storm and Carol Andrews sound familiar?

BF: Oh, yes. Jill Taylor was the column that I wrote. She was my girl and I created her and I think Tony drew her. Tony Abruzzo. I adored Tony. She was a very practical young lady who told you about your makeup and your dating and stuff like that. Now I wasnít a big dating person, obviously (chuckle) and I had to write those columns. You just have to do what you have to do. People say to me, ďHow did you do that?Ē And I will say, ďI did it because I had to do it, not because I wanted to do it.Ē

When we did Swing with Scooter, I had never written anything like that before. But I learned how to do it on the job. Jack was very helpful to me. And I hated it. I mean I really hated writing it. Because it was not something that came natural to me.

BDS: Yeah, out of the comfort zone. I wanted to run a theory by you. Once upon a time I used to do a little radio and people used to ask me why I used an air name instead of my real name. I would tell them that it allowed me more freedom to do some showmanship by being someone else. I wondered if the aliases were helpful for you for the same reason.

BF: Actually, I was too dumb to realize that. (Mutual laughter.) I didnít have direct contact with the audience like you did. As a matter of fact, Jack and I had to write to the lovelorn letters ourselves. The ones we tended to get were so pathetic. I mean really pathetic. Everything had to be rosy in the comic books, so most of them would say, ďSpeak to your religious advisor,Ē or ďGo to your mother.Ē Nothing was resolved. But they continued to have them, so we really had to write them ourselves in order to have resolutions and solve things for people because after all, how brilliant do you have to be to write to comic books when you have a problem? I feel sorry, but thatís the truth. But at least they were reaching out to somebody and certainly they deserved some sort of a semi-intelligent response. It was very sad. Most of the subscriptions, when I was doing that, came from people in prison.

© 2020 by B.D.S.

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