Dorothy Woolfolk Remembered

Sharing a personal reminiscence of a real sweetie pie editor

by Alan Kupperberg
         The inclusion of my story, “Name Dropper” in TwoMorrows’ groundbreaking Streetwise, has led me to renew or refresh several decades-dormant relationships.  Especially Sal Amendola whose acquaintance of 30 years has recently matured into deep respect and solid friendship.

         In October 2000, I received a phone call, after a 20-year hiatus, from my first boss in comics, former DC Production Manager Jack Adler, that left me reeling with nostalgia.  Then in November, I spent an hour or two with Carmine Infantino at the Second National Comic Book, Art, Toy & Sci-Fi Expo in New York City, bridging an almost 30-year gap.

         As with all the fine folks I mentioned before, our conversation eventually turned to Dorothy Woolfolk.  I showed Carmine the portrait of Dorothy I’d included in my Streetwise story.  I was extraordinarily proud of my drawing there because I’d had zero photographic reference from which to work.  I must have done okay, because Carmine chuckled and said, “Nice little art style you got there.”  Thanks, Carmine.  Several of my other “little” friends think so, too.  Shaking his head, Carmine went on, “That Dotty was a little flaky, wasn’t she?”

         Some things never change.  The “boys club” always snickered behind her back.  “Ding-a-ling,” “Wolfgang,” “Dotty Dorothy,” and worse.  Outside of the obvious basic sexism at play at “all-male” DC, I think another reason Dorothy was not very respected comes back to the “no running in the halls at DC” mentality.

         Because Dorothy Woolfolk really was something.  She was a Good-Time Charlie.  She must have set a lot of tongues acluck.  But she was no flake and not a fink.  To me, she was Tullulah Bankhead, the Auntie Mame of comics.

         I thought her books looked good and she got them out on time.  People like Liz Safian got breaks through Dorothy. Not to mention Sal Amendola, Howard Chaykin, Mary Skrenes, and Alan Weiss.

         She certainly gave me my first (and second, come to think of it) one-pagers, “Page Peterson’s Do’s & Don’ts Of Dating,” beginning in Young Romance #183.  Vinnie Colletta inked them, natch.  He made me look professional, bless him.

         I’d lunch or hang out with Dorothy and Carmine Infantino’s “right-hand,” Carol Fein, at Friar Tuck’s tavern after work sometimes.  Dorothy treated me like an adult back in the day when that was definitely giving me the benefit of the doubt.  She was also very nice to my (then) girlfriend Connie.  Dorothy knew that life was too absurd to take very seriously.  So she didn’t.  Would that I could tread as lightly.

         I must have been hanging out with Dorothy more than was seemly for a mere “paste-up” guy at caste-conscious DC.  I returned to work after lunching with Dorothy one afternoon and Jack Adler sternly ordered me into DC Production Manager Sol Harrison’s office and sat me down.  Hard.

         Closing the door, Sol and Jack gravely demanded to know the truth!  To wit:  Was I having an affair with Dorothy Woolfolk?  I was flummoxed, flabbergasted, and several other words that begin with an “f.”  Like fotootsed and catchattered.  That’s Italian.  Even today, to say it wasn’t so is an understatement, to say the least!  And six kinds of yikes.  It’s thinking like that on their part that gave the recording industry the eight-track!

         I was gratified when Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego V3 #6 ran a photo of William Woolfolk and his daughter Donna, who I took as a ringer for Dorothy.  And then in Roy’s wonderful All-Star Companion, he repro’s another photo of William Woolfolk – this time – YAY – with Dorothy herself.  Turns out that my drawing of Dorothy was “spot on.”

         Of course, that same excellent volume almost wrenched my heart out with a very sweet photo of Frank Giacoia.  I hadn’t seen his image since we lost him in 1989.  As I was flipping through that newly purchased tome on the Long Island Railroad, I had to just bit my lip and act manly.  Weren’t easy, either.

         But that photo of Dorothy finally made up my mind for me.  The next day, Friday, December 29, I was back home and I pulled out my Manhattan White Pages, flipped to the W’s and there, in glorious black & white, was a listing for “D. Woolfolk.”  I copied the data onto a Post-It, and smiled in anticipation.  Because Dorothy had been, by my lights and in my experience, a good
friend.  It would be nice to talk to her again.

         But, as it was Friday – and noon at that – I was off to stretch my legs.  A short walk to Village Comics on Sullivan Street (just around the corner from Roy Thomas’ legendary 1960s Bleecker Street digs he shared with Bill Everett and Gary Friedrich).

         As I crossed Sixth Avenue, I realized how tickled Dorothy would be if a bunch of young guys she gave a break to were to take her out to dinner 30 years later, as some small token of thanks.  I know Alan Weiss and Sal Amendola would be up for it.  This was starting to sound like a lot of fun.  And maybe even a “mitzvah,” to boot.

         I purchased the new Comic Buyer’s Guide (#1417, January 12, 2001) and I even picked up several extra copies of Streetwise, so I’d have one for Dorothy.

         Back home I happily perused the CBG – until page 56 – and the first item in the regular “Clipping Service” column – Norman Tippens of The Daily Press of Hampton, Virginia reported December 6 the November 27 death of Dorothy G. Woolfolk.  In an August 1993 article in the Florida Today newspaper, she was involved in the introduction of kryptonite to the Superman mythos.  She was DC’s first woman editor and indicated in that article that she had found Superman’s invulnerability was boring.  “She told the newspaper she reasoned that since superman came from the planet Krypton, he would be helpless before a piece of kryptonite.  She also was instrumental in developing the personality of Lois Lane and directing a wardrobe makeover for Clark Kent.”  The obituary said she met her former husband, William, when she rejected a Superman script he’d submitted.  She was a lifelong resident of New York City until moving to Norfolk, Virginia in 1996 and later to St. Francis Nursing Center.  A memorial service was held at the center December 2.
Woolfolk is survived by her son Donald, and daughter, Donna, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  The family requested memorial donations be made to Avalon – a center for Women and Children, P.O. Box 1079, Williamsburg, VA. 23187.  Sent [to CBC] by David Weaver of Benders Books & Cards.

         “No!”  Not two hours after I copied out her phone number!  And then hot tears wet my cheeks in a rush.  Because there was no one to put a front on for, and I was feeling real sorry for myself and the whole sorry world for losing another pioneer.

         Dorothy Roubicek was a pioneer.  Quoting shamelessly and verbatim from Roy Thomas and his All-Star Companion:  “Roubicek was an [All-American Comics] editor from 1942-44.  From 1945-46 she was an editor for Timely/Marvel, and in 1948 for DC Comics.  During 1971-72 she returned to DC to edit Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, and other titles.  She scripted an occasional comics story – including Wonder Woman at some point in the 1940s, making her the first female to do so.  In the early 1950s she also wrote for Orbit.  She was married at one time to comics writer (and best-selling novelist) William Woolfolk, and is thus often listed as “Dorothy Woolfolk.”

         Thank you, Roy – again.  Dorothy certainly did oversee Clark Kent’s wardrobe makeover for a big spread in GQ magazine.  GQ had photos taken of Dorothy’s tantalizingly-togged models.  Then Murphy Anderson provided art overlays for the faces of Lois and Clark, etc.  (Hmm – do you suppose DC thought Jack Kirby was the photographer?  Nah!)  So DC must’ve respected Dorothy’s media savvy.  Besides, can you picture Murray Boltinoff picking ties for GQ?

         In the face of the same smugness that allowed Marvel to overtake DC in a romp in those days, Dorothy Woolfolk more than held her own and had fun while she did it.  Unencumbered by a male ego, Dorothy didn’t make her freelancers submit to abuse, as some of her male counterparts did.

         One does not need to be a very keen observer to note that our business and we are losing our founding fathers and mothers at an ever-accelerating rate.  It is, of course, the way of things.  I guess the best we can do is try not to put off, for that extra day, reaching out to those who blazed our trail and still walk among us.

         As for Dorothy Woolfolk, she still walks – in my heart – along with Frank Giacoia, with Wally Wood, with Vinnie Colletta, and all the rest.

         Creators then.  Inspirations still.
(c)2006-2008 Copyright Alan Kupperberg

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