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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #58

This is the fifty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous fifty-seven.

This is a special edition, as, for the first time since this thing started, it is coming out on a TUESDAY instead of a THURSDAY! And why is that? Because this is a special Fourth of July edition, and that wouldn’t make sense on July 6th, now would it?

The theme?

CAPTAIN AMERICA!!

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jonathan Frakes used to dress up as Captain America for conventions.

STATUS: True

Commander Will Riker turned down many an offer of being Captain to continue serving under Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but Riker actor Jonathan Frakes had already made Captain years earlier!

frakes1.jpg

In the late 1970s, when the young Frakes had moved to New York to become an actor, jobs weren’t plentiful, so one of his jobs was to work as Captain America for Marvel Comics at comic conventions!

My pal RAB told me about it awhile back,

Back in the Seventies, Jonathan Frakes was employed by Marvel to make appearances at conventions in costume as Captain America. I saw him at one of those conventions, and was impressed by how well he stayed in character, especially when fans were trying to trip him up with trivia questions. He did the job with aplomb under trying circumstances, and I remember thinking at the time that Marvel ought to cast him in a movie or TV version of Captain America. Of course, that was well before anyone could possibly have known he was destined to be anything more than one of the many thousands of struggling actors looking for work in New York City. But in light of his past experience, it’s not surprising that he turns out to be a good guest at conventions today.

Pretty crazy, eh?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The shape of Captain America’s shield was the result of another comic book company.

STATUS: True

As World War II raged on in Europe, the idea of a patriotic superhero seemed like a good idea. In 1940, the first major patriotic superhero debuted in the pages of MLJ’s Pep Comics.

tn_pep01_jpg.jpg

The Shield, written by Harry Shorten with art from the great Irv Novick, became quite the sensation, and the next year, Joe Simon came up with the idea of a patriotic superhero to offer to Martin Goodman, head of Timely Comics, where Simon was working.

Developing the character with artist Jack Kirby, Captain America was a clear winner. Note that Goodman didn’t even bother debuting him in an anthology! Nope, Cap started in his OWN comic book, and the first issue drew a lot of attention.

cap_01_001.jpg

However, SOME of that attention came at the hands of MLJ, who noted that Captain America’s shield bore far too great of a resemblance to the chestplate of, well, The Shield.

John Goldwater, head of MLJ (John Goldwater was the J part), objected to the similarity, so the next issue, the now quite familiar round shield made its debut, and it’s been around (basically) ever since!

cap_01_002.jpg

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Martin Goodman was paid money for a Captain America movie that he never shared with Joe Simon or Jack Kirby.

STATUS: False

In 1944, Republic Pictures did a Captain America movie serial.

Captain_America.jpg

Starring Dick Purcell, the story was drastically different from the comic book, but the name and the costume were definitely all Cap!

rko44cap.jpg

However, Simon and Kirby had a deal with Martin Goodman to receive royalties for money made off of Captain America. It was because of their disapproval over their paltry royalty payments (which, after they left, turned to zero royalty payments) that Simon and Kirby left Timely Comics and their massive comic hit, Captain America, to sign a lucrative (at that time) deal with DC Comics.

Interestingly enough, though, decades later, Joe Simon discovered something surprising about the Captain America movie deal.

Here’s Simon (from his great The Comic Book Makers),

For years after that incident, I was obsessed with the thought of the money that should have been ours. Years later, in 1968, while attempting to secure the copyright renewal on Captain America, my attorney subpoenaed the records of Marvel COmics. The film company, it was revealed, had paid nothing for the rights. The publisher, Martin Goodman, had given them the rights, gratis, expecting to reap his rewards from publicity.

Now, theoretically, you could still make the argument that the PR benefit could be quantified financially, allowing Simon to still go after that money, but isn’t it amazing that Goodman just GAVE the rights away for free?

Movie poster courtesy of Todd Gault’s Serial Experience. Still from the movie courtesy of Once Upon a Dime.

Well, that’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!!

12 Comments

Wow, what’s with the coloring on that movie poster? Was Cap fighting for Uncle Sam or “Uncle Joe?”

two more interesting things about Martin Goodman and MLJ–
Goodman got his start in the mag bizness when he got some of the remains of Louis Silberkleit (the L of MLJ)’s first pulp line (he had been working for Silberkleit). Silberkleit quickly got back on his feet and started his next pulp line….. Goodman and Silberkleit had previously worked together for other companies – thus knew each other real well. Maurice Coyne (the M of MLJ) besides co-owning MLJ was the treasuer of the Goodman pulp and comics company!

Dag! I knew I should’ve asked my question about the longstanding rumor that Liefeld’s Fighting American stories were just slightly redrawn Heroes Reborn Captain America stories — it’d be the second time that sort of thing happened to Cap, the first being the 1940s stories of the Defender and Rusty. (If the the Defender sounds familiar to you, that’s because he was the minor 40s hero Bendis and Maleev aced in an issue of the “Golden Age” arc in Daredevil.

What about featuring the astonishing story of how the Radio Superman helped fight the real life Klu Klux Klan, as featured in the book “Freakonomics”, (other sources on the web too).

Interesting to see Cap’s head wings in the poster art (which itself looks like a hand-colored still), as the stills–one on the poster itself–clearly show they aren’t on the actual costume used in filming. The midriff stripes don’t go around the back, and even though you can’t tell here, he doesn’t carry a shield, either. Somewhere, probably in Jim Harmon and Donald Glut’s book, “The Great Movie Serials” (Doubleday, 1973), I read that Timely/Marvel complained about all the costume and conceptual changes, and Republic’s response was to claim that nowhere in the comics made available to them was anything in contradiction to their depiction of his secret identity and such (apparently ignoring the costume). THEY had him not as soldier Steve Rogers but a stateside district attorney whose name I don’t recall, but was definitely NOT Steve Rogers. The interesting thing is that, according to Roy Thomas via his 70s comic The Invaders, Timely’s own star-spangled knock-off character, The Patriot, WAS a D.A. Is it plausible–at this late date anything’s possible–that this is somehow not a coincidence? I certainly don’t think it’s a coincidence that Republic never again–unless I’ve missed a serial, which would be quite a surprise to me–licensed serial rights to a pre-existing character/property.

Just now took a GOOD look at the item about the shape of Cap’s shield and why it changed, and noticed something. Any explanation of how a competing company’s executive could know to complain about its resemblance to the chest plate of their own hero’s costume in time for the results of said complaint to appear on and in the SECOND issue? And with a MONTHLY frequency, no less! Given the known lag time in comics publishing, I have to believe there is more to this story than related. I mean, if Goldwater saw something of “Captain America” #1 far enough in advance of publication (which doesn’t sound like an ethical business practice, anyway) for his complaint to affect the designs in #2, wouldn’t it have been early enough for #1 to get retouched? Could it be that someone at Timely saw The Shield on a newsstand or somewhere shortly after “Cap” #1 went to the printers and recommended the change in time for #2? The GCD indicates that your indication of early 1940 for PEP and early 1941 for CA is right on, Brian, so any further details?

MLJ saw it before #1 hit and complained about it then.

So they were able to fix it for #2.

Louis Silberkleit (the L in MLJ) worked with Martin Goodman, as well, and Captain America was a big deal for Goodman (note above where I point out how he got his own title right away, which was extremely rare back then), so Silberkleit probably filled Goldwater in, who, in turn, complained to Goodman before the issue was released.

Ahhhhh! This Silberkleit connection makes sense of it all. Thanks, Brian. Incidentally, I was already planning on tempering my “ethics” remark with a posting admitting that the JSA deal between National and All-American–two separate and competing companies then, of course–certainly suggests that the regulations and the Federal Trade Commission weren’t all that strict about such things at that time anyway.

Anthony Durrant

April 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I finally found the CAPTAIN AMERICA serial online at blip.tv and it is remarkably good for a work of its time. As mentioned, though, it was originally intended to feature Mr. Scarlet and so places the Captain into a situation he was never intended to be in as district attorney Grant Gardner, who fights the criminal known as the Scarab (played by Lionel Atwill). Sadly, Dick Purcell died not long after completing the serial, of a heart attack at his athletic club after playing a few rounds of golf. He remains, however, the first actor to portray Captain America on the silver screen.

Years after the original posting, I’m sure no one will reply, but is there any pics of Frakes in the Cap outfit?

Oddly enough, none that I’ve ever seen, no.

Thanks for responding, Brian!

A Google search turns up a few photos that claim to be him, but I really can’t be sure.

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