Sunday, February 17, 2013

BobRo Archives: The Superman Movie Contest

  Someone recently asked about The Superman Movie Contest that DC ran back in 1978 and I have unearthed and lightly edited the online columns from 2000 that told of my involvement with it...

Q: Women with the initials “L.L.” have always played a part in Superman’s life. He met one such woman, Lori Lemaris, the mermaid from Atlantis…
  a)     as Clark Kent while on assignment at sea for the Daily Planet
b)     when he saved the underwater city from destruction
c)     when she telepathically contacted him for help
d)    while Clark was a student at Metropolis University

   That was the first of twenty-five contest questions for the “Superman The Movie Contest” DC Comics ran in late 1978. Readers had to search through two months of DC titles for all 25, list the answers on a postcard, and send them in. (The correct answer to that one, by the way, is "d.")
   First prize in the contest was a cape worn by Christopher Reeve in Superman: the Movie. Ten second prize winners each got a page of Curt Swan artwork. The remaining entrants who got all 25 correct answers would receive a two-year subscription to the DC title of their choice.
   Sound tough to win? Well, some folks at DC thought so. That’s why an extra tier of prizes was added. Every entrant who answered 15 to 24 of the questions correctly would receive a one-year subscription to his or her favorite book.

   So the contest begins and before long, post cards start arriving at the DC offices. First a few a day. Then a few dozen a day. Then we were swamped. And the problems began.
   No one had given much thought about how the winning cards would be isolated from all the entries. What we had, in effect, were thousands of multiple-choice tests that had to be graded. And we couldn’t just toss out every one that had an incorrect answer. Because of the extra tier of prizes, we had to check every answer on every card.
   Guess who did it? That’s right, the vast majority of those cards were “graded” by yours truly. It didn’t take me long to memorize the correct answers and I could rattle them off for myself or for a group of my fellow staffers sitting around a table.

   When all the entries were checked, we had only 21 people who’d gotten 100%. That made it fairly easy to do a drawing to determine who would get to tug on Superman’s cape and who would get Curt Swan artwork. What was going to be an expensive proposition was the one-year subscriptions. There were about 1400 winners! DC President Sol Harrison never anticipated that he’d be giving away quite so many comics and he wasn’t too pleased about it.
    Along came the Answer Man with a suggestion: We were going to have to contact every one of the winners and ask which comic they wanted their subscription to. (Another job -- and expense -- no one had figured on.) The DC library at the time was overflowing with extra copies of books, I pointed out to Sol. Suppose, as an alternative to a subscription, we offered the winners a “DC Prize Pack” of twenty books that would include “classics from DC’s library,” some foreign editions (of which we had plenty) and at least one autographed comic.
   Sol smiled as if to say, “I knew there was a reason I hired you!” He told me to work up a letter to be mailed to the winners, which I did. As it turned out, over ninety percent of the winners opted for the “Prize Pack.”

    Of course, no good idea goes unpunished, so guess who ended up preparing all those bundles of books? Right again! Each day, I’d take the pile of prize responses, make up mailing labels, go off to the library to gather up bundles of books, and supplement them with foreign language versions from our international department.
   The toughest part turned out to be the autographed books. I had everybody on staff signing them – editors, assistant editors, letterers and colorists. And, since I’d been writing a lot of books back then, I signed plenty of them myself.
   Freelancers were roped in, too. An artist or writer would drop off some work and I’d grab them to sign a dozen books.  I remember one day accosting writer Bob Haney when he’d come in to see editor Murray Boltinoff. He agreed to sign “a few” and I presented him with a pile of fifty copies of Brave & Bold he’d written.
   In the end, it cost DC a lot less than 1400 subscriptions would have (which made Sol happy) and cleaned out a lot of books that had been taking up space in the overcrowded library (which also made Sol happy). And I’d like to think we made a lot of winners happy too.

 ***

   As I mentioned, of the thousands of entries, only twenty-one fans scored 100% on the quiz. It was time to pick the winners.
    My memory is fuzzy about exactly why Christopher Reeve came to visit the DC offices. What I do remember is that once it was learned he’d be coming, Sol decided it would be Reeve who picked the winning postcards.
   So, the morning he came in, he was escorted down the hall to Sol’s office and with all pomp and circumstance, Chris reached into the box and pulled out the winner. He was quite surprised that the box was not overflowing with cards, but when we explained about the 25 questions, he smiled and said, “I never would have gotten them all and I am Superman.”  


Christopher Reeve picks the winning postcards with yours truly and DC President Sol Harrison.
(Photo courtesy of Jack C. Harris)
    He picked the additional ten cards for the artwork winners and then graciously settled in to sign autographs for all the DC staffers who asked. At the time, DC was nowhere near the size it is now. In fact, the company shared a single floor at Warner Communications headquarters at 75 Rockefeller Plaza with another division.
   Word spread quickly that Christopher Reeve was there and signing books. Suddenly, people who worked in the other division were showing up in Sol’s doorway to get autographs. Then people from the floor above started to arrive.
   After about two hours, Chris announced that he really had to go. Even Superman could get writer’s cramp. Fellow staffer Jack C. Harris and I were entrusted with the duty of escorting him out.
   We walked Chris up the hall, but when I opened the door to the lobby, I was startled to find it packed with people. Word had spread throughout the building and fans from everywhere were showing up, hoping for a signature or three. Far more quickly than I had opened the door, I shut it.
   “Now what do we do?” Jack asked.
   “More than one way to get out of here,” I replied and led them to the freight elevator. Moments later, it arrived. We stepped in and I told the operator to take us to the building lobby.
   “Can’t do that,” he replied. “You have to take the regular elevator for that.”
   “We can’t take the regular elevator. We’re sneaking him out of the building.”
   The operator looked at Chris for the first time. His eyes widened in recognition. “Say, aren’t you--?”
   Chris smiled and nodded.
   “Wow…” whispered the operator.
   “Down, down and away!” I said.
   Moments later, Chris walked out of the building and Jack and I went back upstairs in the regular elevator. The lobby was stilled mobbed. One woman grabbed my arm and said, “Say, I see you on the subway platform every morning. Can you get me in to see Mr. Reeve?”
   “I’m sorry, he’s left the building.”
   “No, he hasn’t. I’ve been right here for an hour.”
   “Well, ma’am, he is Superman.”

 

6 comments:

  1. It was a tougher quiz than you thought. I was one of the 21 -- or, rather, two of the 21. A non-comics-reading friend of mine sent in a postcard with the answers I provided, and he gave me the prize he received. We both won two-year subscriptions. We selected two Dollar Comics titles; World's Finest Comics for him, and I took Batman Family -- which was soon canceled, so the subscription was switched to Detective Comics.

    A few years later, I met a fellow fan who did the same thing with his brother and two other friends. Two of them won original artwork, and two got subscriptions. So between us, we were 6 out of 21 winners -- which means that only 17 people (or fewer) scored 100%. And I have to confess -- Michael Fleisher's The Great Superman Book and Gary Grossman's Superman: Serial to Cereal helped a lot.

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  2. "Down, down and away." You are too funny!

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  3. What a great, great story, thanks for sharing!!

    I've linked this post to my latest on my blog SUPERMANIA;

    http://supermania78.com/2013/04/the-second-stm-contest/

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  4. I got a couple of subscriptions! Does that mean I got them all right? I wanted that cape SO BAD! STILL DO!
    Tony Republicano

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    1. If you got a two-year sub, then you were one of the very few who got all twenty-five questions correct.

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  5. Bob--Why was Christopher Reeve at the DC offices on that particular day? He was there to draw the winners for our win-the-cape contest! Here's the rest of the story: Sol Harrison had charged me with the task of finding "someone from the movie" (Superman" the Movie") to draw our winners because of my contacts with the Warner Publicity Department during my editing of "Superman: the Movie Magazine." I called my contact upstairs and told him what we were looking for. Proving the theory that no one in New York City is more that two phone calls away from anyone else, I called the agent. I asked him if any of his clients would be willing to help us. He said, "Oh, there's someone here in my office right now who can probably help you." In another second I was talking to Chris Reeve himself! Chris told me he was appearing on a morning news show the next morning in a studio right across the street from the DC offices at Rockefeller Center and that he would be happy to stop by! And, as they often say in stories, the rest you know.

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