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Celebrating 75 Years of the Man of Steel

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s Superman’s 75th birthday!  On June 30, 1938, Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, marking the unofficial birth of superheroes in comic books.  Through decades of films, TV shows and comics, the Last Son of Krypton has permeated our culture and become as American as baseball and apple pie.

The creation and history of Superman is as fascinating and heartbreaking as Kal-El’s own fictional backstory.  In 1932, a young Jerry Siegel’s father died of a heart attack brought on by the robbery of the family’s small clothing store.  Within a few years, he and his artistically-minded friend Joe Shuster created Superman – an orphan who is virtually invincible, and who fights tirelessly to rid Metropolis of evildoers.  Siegel and Shuster are eventually commissioned to tell the character’s story in Action Comics. They agree to sell the rights of Superman for $130.

Superman radio serials, television shows and motion pictures soon followed.  While the radio was Superman’s preferred medium in the 40’s, come 1951, Iowa-born actor George Reeves donned the red and blue suit to portray the first live-action Man of Steel in the TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.”  Reeves stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way for the better part of a decade until he was killed in 1959 by a single gunshot wound to the head.  The circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery.

After a twenty year absence, the Man of Tomorrow returned, this time played by Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner’s classic 1978 film, “Superman.”  Not only was the film a commercial and critical success, it holds a significant historical importance – “Superman” was the first major superhero movie ever released, paving the way for future blockbusters like “Batman”, “Spider-Man”, “Iron Man”, and “The Avengers.”  Reeve held the role for three more films, consistently surrounded by an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Richard Pryor.  Tragically, the Man of Steel proved to be all too human off screen, as a horseback riding accident in 1995 left Reeve paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair until his death in 2004.

The 1990’s and 2000’s were a transitional period for Superman.  He appeared in two very successful television series, first in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent, and then in “Smallville”, with Tom Welling taking the reins.  Both series took root in the hearts and minds of a new generation of Americans, and once again, Superman was soaring. In 2006, Brandon Routh took the lead in Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.”  Cast partly for his likeness to the late Christopher Reeve, Routh’s Superman faced off against his arch nemesis Lex Luthor, portrayed by Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey.  While the film was critically successful, it didn’t resonate well enough with audiences’ wallets to warrant a sequel.  For the last seven years, Americans haven’t seen much of Smallville’s favorite son.  Even the most recent actors to portray him – Dean Cain, Tom Welling and Brandon Routh – have all but faded from memory, as they struggled to find quality roles in Hollywood.

But that all changed last week with the record-breaking release of Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”, starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod.  The blockbuster proved that Americans’ fascination with Superman is only growing.  That love for the character will only continue to grow in the next few years, as star Cavill and director Snyder have both signed on for a sequel.  Additionally, Superman is slated to appear in the upcoming “Justice League” film, surrounded by fellow superheroes Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.

If your own interest in the character was piqued by the movie, feel free to fly in to Special Collections and check out our awesome assortment of Superman comics, graphic novels and books.  Everything you see here, and so much more, is available to you.  And unless you have X-Ray vision, you’ll need to get here faster than a speeding bullet and take a look yourself!

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Posted in Comic Collection

F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is seen by critics and the general public as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quintessential novel, and is the novel he is most famous for.  It tells the story of a rich man named Jay Gatsby and his quest to regain a past love. As its most recent movie adaptation is currently playing in theaters, Special Collections invites you to take a look back on the novel and the man that created it.

The frontispiece of an edition of The Great Gatsby featuring the man Gatsby himself.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota and named after his second cousin three times removed, the Francis Scott Key of national anthem fame. While on academic probation at Princeton, Fitzgerald enlisted in the army in 1917.  In June 1918, he was assigned to a camp near Montgomery, Alabama, where he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre.  In late 1919, after being discharged from the army and quitting his job in advertising, Fitzgerald began his career of writing short stories for magazines and other publications, with The Saturday Evening Post becoming his best story market.  He published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in March 1920 and married Zelda Sayre soon after.  His success and the extravagant lifestyle of the young couple soon earned him a reputation as a bit of a playboy.  He also became known as a heavy drinker, though he always wrote sober.  After the publication of his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, and the birth of his child, Frances Scott (Scottie) Fitzgerald, in 1921, the Fitzgeralds moved to Long Island where F. Scott wrote short stories to cover the family’s debt after his play, The Vegetable, failed to make it into production.  The family moved to France in the spring of 1924 so that F. Scott would be able to focus on his newest project, the novel that would become The Great Gatsby.

Before it became The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel went through many revisions and forms. Special Collections has in its possession a facsimile of one such early edition, entitled Trimalchio. This is an allusion to a Roman novel, The Satyricon by Petronius.  In this novel, Trimalchio is a freedman who has amassed power and wealth and shows this off by hosting exceedingly lavish dinner parties for his numerous guests.  This copy includes correspondence between Fitzgerald and a man by the name of Perkins, Fitzgerald’s friend and an employee of his publishers, in which Perkins makes suggestions for revision and suggests using a different title (pictured below right).

Shortly after this, Fitzgerald rewrote several aspects of his novel and reordered key scenes, such as the one where Gatsby’s past is illuminated.

Fitzgerald restructured the plot to make certain elements more meaningful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gatsby we know today comes in many different forms and editions.  One of the more unique Gatsbys at Special Collections comes in the form of a fantastical graphic novel adaptation by Nicki Greenberg, in which Jay Gatsby is portrayed as a seahorse
and the others as any number of creatures.

Votes are now being taken for guesses as to what kind of creature Daisy is.

 

There are also a number of more conventionally illustrated editions of The Great Gatsby in existence, such as the 1980 Limited Editions Club which is illustrated by artist Fred Meyer, whose recognizable style brings the Jazz Age to life on the page.

An illustration by Fred Meyer of Gatsby's mansion during one of his famous parties.

 

Most people are familiar with The Great Gatsby after having spent some time studying it at either a high school or college level.  From Professor Lago’s collection, we have her copy of The Great Gatsby, which has been heavily annotated for use as a teaching tool.  Her extensive notes comment on such key themes as morality and hope.  On the page shown here, she notes the importance of color symbolism, among other things.

In the years after The Great Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald began work on his fourth novel, Tender is the Night.  Work on this novel was put on hold throughout the years due to Zelda Fitzgerald’s declining mental and physical health.  During her stay in a clinic in Switzerland, F. Scott returned to writing short stories for income.  He completed Tender is the Night in 1934, though it was ultimately a commercial failure.

In the summer of 1937, Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter.  It was there that he began an affair with columnist Sheilah Graham.  After MGM Studios dropped his contract at the end of 1938, he worked as a freelance script writer and continued writing short sories.  He began work on his last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, in 1939 and had more than half of it written when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.

Though Fitzgerald was not much of a commercial success during his lifetime, he is now considered to be the author of one of the “great American novels” and is esteemed for his accurate portrayals of the Jazz Age.  Many of his works, including collections of his short stories, are available for use by patrons in the Reading Room of Special Collections.

 

Bruccoli, Matthew J. “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.” Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org/biography/index.html.

“Trimalchio.” Trimalchio. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2013.
<http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Trimalchio.html>.

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Posted in Comic Collection, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections
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