130 Dollars: A Superman origin story
Article by Karen Sheard and George Eugeniou
In 1938 broke teenagers Siegel and Shuster sold the entire rights to Superman for a sum they would later regret. Living a life of poverty and of legal battles, that would end up leaving nobody involved on a moral high ground, the story of Superman is laced with tales of men being less than super in their actions towards each other. This new play 130 Dollars, directed by a superman himself George Eugeniou only months after a stroke, explores this story of the battles surrounding the life of Superman.
Jerry Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster were shy eighteen year olds who were bullied and humiliated by the other kids at school and ignored by the girls they fell in love with, when Jerry had a dream. It started off with an idea whilst walking unnoticed down the corridor at school... what if someone like him could have a double life. A life where in reality an awkward, unpopular boy in shabby clothes could actually turn out to be a super man.
That night images of what would become the opening scenes of the Superman movie were played out in Jerry’s dream. A child from the dying planet Krypton was sent into this world, where he would have special powers, allowing him to fight for the innocent and oppressed.
Jerry shared his dream with his friend Joe, who brought life to the story by adding illustrations of a man, with a cape and a large “S” on his chest, to make him stand out. Superman. They named his alter ego Clark, in honour of Clark Cable, and Kent, from Kent Taylor, two leading Hollywood men at the time. Thus Superman was born.
Their cartoon first appeared in their school magazine, Pyrsos, at Glenville high school in Cleveland, USA, where Jerry, was a writer and Joe a cartoonist. But they believed Superman was destined for greater things. They tried to find an established publisher for their stories. They approached many places, but nobody was interested, except for the publisher of Action Comics, who agreed to buy Superman, but at a hefty terms. They offered them130 dollars but in return wanted the entire copyright to Superman, without any time limitations.
To be fair, at the time, for two poverty stricken kids, $65 each was a fortune. The times were hard, the industry uncertain and Action Comics were taking a risk buying and promoting Superman. But the risk paid off. The publishers Jack Leibovitz and Harry Donnefield, and many others associated with Superman along the years, became multi-billionaires, whereas Joe and Jerry spent most of their remaining lives in poverty. After initial disputes with Action comics over their rights, their names were not even included in the comics anymore.
Towards the end of his life, when the Superman film was announced without Jerry being consulted or his name attached to the project, Jerry, out of desperation wrote a newsletter to the press, cursing the production... a curse that some people believe to have come into fruition with a string of illness accidents and deaths affecting many of the people attached to the production. Christopher Reeve was paralysed in a horse riding accident, the actor playing Clark Kent never acted again and tragically short himself. After Richard Prior, developed MS and died from a heart attack, his wife asked for the production to be exercised believing in Siegel’s curse. Whatever the truth behind the idea that a curse exists, in 130 Dollars Siegel believes it to be true, and it is this belief that is the key to his regret.
What is interesting about this play is that out of everything that happened, it is this act of writing the cursed letter that Jerry ends up being regretful about, rather than the secondary regret of signing the contract in the first place. Like all of the three plays that night 130 Dollars represents an apology before death. In 130 Dollars it is his own creation, Clark Kent, newspaper reporter coming to conduct what will be Jerry’s last interview to bring a few home truths to Jerry.
Lead actor, and Director, George Eugeniou is himself known for his ability to overcome adversity, at an almost super human level. Just months after a stroke that left him in hospital requiring an operation, he has taken on the task with gusto that belies his 87 years of age and recent health scare.
130 Dollars is part of a trilogy of plays, performing from 29th Jan to 3rd Feb at Theatro Technis at 7.30pm.