Charlotte Kant Kaplan and Lev Gleason

GleasonLevInscriptionToMom1 CharlotteAtWorkWithLevGleason1

CHARLOTTE KANT (my mom) AND LEV GLEASON (comic book publisher)

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Right after college (SUNY Teacher’s College, Albany, math major), my mom (Charlotte Kaplan, 1928-2012) who was from Poughkeepsie, New York, moved to the big city, Manhattan. She worked as a secretary (1950/51-55?) for one of the founders of the modern comic book industry, Lev Gleason, at 114 East 32nd Street. His series included Silver Streak Comics, Daredevil Comics, and Crime Does Not Pay.

Lev Gleason was a brilliant, visionary man. His idea of a comic book written for adults heralded the age of graphic novels in which we now live. My mother valued people like that and looked up to them. She was an extremely practical person, detail-oriented, but she deeply valued vision and imagination. And Lev had that in spades. Gleason was strongly anti-Fascist and opposed Hitler in his comics and other writings. After enlisting in World War II, he continued to publish anti-Fascist comics. For his leftist politics, his association in the 1930s with the communist party (which many on the left in those days had supported because of Hitler, Mussolini, and others, as well as because of the Depression), and his refusal to name names, he was cited for contempt by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Of course, that was the committee associated with the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy (though he was a senator and not directly involved with house committees).

Along with the decline of the comic book industry in the mid-1950s (spurred by attacks that it encouraged juvenile delinquency and moral laxness), the congressional attacks ruined Gleason who ended up becoming a small-time real estate agent. However, his work inspires comic book writers to this day.

For some time, in the 1950s, my mother brought him food and a little money to help support him. What the U.S. government did to people like Lev was reprehensible and wrong.

I’m sure that Jewish youth at that time would have seen Lev (who was not Jewish, though most of his peers in the comic book industry were) as a heroic figure for his fight against Fascism and Hitler. My mom lost one of her mother’s sister’s (Bunya) and much of Bunya’s family in the Holocaust (murdered by the Nazis in Bobruysk, Belarus, in 1943). This affected our family deeply. Still does (unconsciously for the most part). My grandmother (Leah) cried about it for as long as I knew her, and there was always a hole.

For that reason among others, my mother no doubt saw Lev as a figure to admire. My mother was an extremely practical and detail-oriented person. However, she deeply valued people with imagination and vision. And Lev Gleason had that in spades.

Above is a photograph of Lev autographed for my mom and another photo of her with Lev and the staff of Lev Gleason Publications: mom is the one in the middle with the black top; Lev Gleason is the man with the glasses at the far left.

The man on the far right of the photo (to the the right of the woman whose name I don’t know) is Charles Biro, who created the comic book characters, Air Boy and Steel Sterling, and edited Daredevil Comics. He saw comic books as “illustories,” the forerunner of our graphic novels. He’s a major figure in graphic arts and editing.  Stan Lee was asked about his success at Marvel Comics, he said “The secret is Charles Biro” (with whom he spoke by telephone on a regular basis): Here’s more on Charles Biro: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Biro

In Crime Does Not Pay (1942-1945), Gleason and Biro had artists and writers interview real criminals. Though standard operating practice now for crime writers, this was groundbreaking at the time.

The man directly to the right of my mom is Bob Wood, a talented artist who worked for Lev Gleason on many of his comic book series and helped to created the Crime Does Not Pay series. Wood became most famous for murdering his girlfriend Violette Phillips in 1958 and going to Sing Sing for it.

If anyone knows who either of the other two people are, I would appreciate the information.

For more on Gleason, see the following items:

http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/05/leverett-gleason

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Gleason_Publications

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daredevil_(Lev_Gleason_Publications)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Streak_(comics)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_Does_Not_Pay_(comics)

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Technically my mother was a secretary. According to one of my sisters, she talked about doing menial things, such as retrieving staff dry cleaning and lunch. However, my mother was one of those organizer types, a take-charge kind of person and was extremely sociable. She was magnetic and would walk into a room, and everyone would gravitate toward her, as the photo suggests.  She was the type of person who could organize big events, pull a lot of details together, and make everything work. If she were born now, she would probably end up a CEO. Obviously, that wasn’t possible in those days.

In spite of her extroversion, she was an excellent listener and very private. She did not talk about herself a lot and used her outgoing nature very discreetly. One would never know what was going on inside her, and she would never spill a secret.

What she told me and what I remember is vague. She was also not a person who bragged at all or talked about private matters.  So I wouldn’t take this for fact. But she suggested indirectly to me that she shouldered some responsibility for the business, financial side of things. She may have helped keep the trains running, as some might say, and kept the books straight. She also was a social butterfly who I believe organized some of the parties and get-togethers there.

From what I can gather, Lev was not exactly adept at business, but my mother would have been. She would certainly have helped out in that way. I assume that Lev Gleason Publications comprised an extremely artistic, creative group of people. Mom was very attracted to those kind of people, and she would have wanted to organize them and make things work more effectively. She looked at artists, scholars, inventors as people to manage and keep on track. Of course, she was probably also doing all the things a secretary and female employee did in those days, a lot of which was grunt work.

My mother always mentioned that she brought Lev food and a little money to Lev in jail and that he was destitute for some time. At least, that’s what I thought. I asked my wife, Dianne Bazell, again whether she heard my mother say this, and she said that she had. So it’s not just my own memory here. My mother was not the type to exaggerate or embellish. If anything, her personality would lead her to minimize something like this. She played things down more than she played things up.

But I realize this doesn’t fit with what we know about Lev Gleason. All the stuff I’ve read (cursorily, I admit) mentions nothing about jail or prison. And there’s nothing about poverty. One of my sisters does not recall hearing about any of this from mom. I recognize that there’s something that doesn’t jibe here and hope that more information will come to light.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.
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