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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Irwin Donenfeld, Veteran RTM Member and Comic Industry Giant, Dead at 78

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Iriwn Donenfeld: giant in comic industry. Westport Historical Society photo
Irwin Donenfeld, one of the longest-serving members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) but better known outside of his hometown as a giant in the comic book industry, died Monday night at Norwalk Hospital. He was 78.

His wife, Carole, said he had been in ill-health for some time. Donenfeld was forced to retire from the RTM in 2003 after 22 years because of health problems. Only two others in the legislative body’s 55-year history had served the same period or longer.

“The town has lost a treasure,” said Westport First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell. “He always had Westport’s interests at heart. He kept his sense of humor and on many occasions brought discussions back to the right perspective. He will be missed.”

Gordon Joseloff, Moderator of the RTM (and editor and publisher of WestportNow), said as longtime chair of the RTM’s Public Protection Committee, Donenfeld had left Westport a much safer place.

“Irwin was a powerful supporter of the town’s emergency services,” he said. “He fought hard to give them the best equipment and training, but every penny had to be justified. He was also an ardent supporter of education and children. We all feel his loss.”

Donenfeld was first elected to the RTM in 1981. Only two others served as long or longer than he did on the legislative body the late Alan Parsell also served 22 years and former First Selectman Joseph Arcudi served 24 years.

Donenfeld was the son of the late Harry Donenfeld, founder of DC Comics, and after his father’s death in 1965, took over much of the company’s operations, serving as editorial director and then publisher. He often boasted that he was the first kid to see a Superman comic, a DC Comics superhero.

In Westport, Donenfeld was also the longtime owner of Coastwise Marine on Riverside Avenue along the Saugatuck River. In addition to boating, he was an avid private pilot and in his younger days was a skilled skier. During his time in the Air Force, he fought as a boxer, winning coverage in Ring magazine.

At New York’s Columbia Grammar School and later Bates College, he was an accomplished athlete, playing baseball and football.

Donenfeld is survived by Carole, his wife of 34 years; five children: Luke Donenfeld of Manhattan; Harry Laurence Donenfeld of Maui, Hawaii; Mini Rachel Foss of Mystic, Conn., Ben Allen Donenfeld of Westerly, R.I., and Amy Ruth Donenfeld of Yorktown Heights, N.Y. three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Private funeral services will be held Thursday with a memorial service scheduled for some time in January in Westport. The family asks that contributions be made to local charities.

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Donenfeld’s influence on the comic book business was legendary, as reported by the Web site www.comicbookresources.com.

Paul Levitz, DC Comic’s president and publisher, said, “Fans of the Silver Age of comics owe Irwin a debt both for his influence on DC’ s publishing program, and especially for his decision to preserve the film negatives of DC’s titles, making possible the beloved 80-page Giant Annuals and 100-Page Super-Spectaculars in a time when recreating or scanning comic art was prohibitively expensive.”

The son of Harry Donenfeld, one of the founders of the publishing company that would become DC Comics, Irwin Donenfeld was born March 1, 1926, in the Bronx. He joined DC (then Detective Comics) in 1948, not long after the company’s merger with sister publisher All American Comics.

As Donenfeld reminisced during a panel discussion in 2001 at Comic-Con International: San Diego, “In 1948, I was already married and had a child. I graduated from college and went up to DC and I showed them that I was a college graduate; I had a keen intellect, and they hired me because my father was the boss.”

From the start, Donenfeld applied himself to two crucial sides of the industry: business and editorial. This approach began with his work with distribution, it is widely believed, when he received reports from representatives who reported the types of magazines that were selling around the country.This input guided Donenfeld to recommend that DC publish comics in those genres.

In the late 1940s, with the popularity of super-heroes waning, Donenfeld led DC into more diverse genres, starting with westerns and later expanding into romance, crime, war, mystery, and science fiction.

Donenfeld served as DC’s Editorial Director from 1952 to 1957, overseeing the company’s publishing at the start of the Silver Age of Comics. From 1958 to 1967, he was Executive Vice President and Business Manager. In 1967, DC was purchased by Kinney National Services.

For another perspective on Donenfeld and his influence on the comic book industry, click here.

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Posted 11/30/04 at 10:00 PM  Permalink



Comments

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I will always remember Irwin as a SUPER MAN. He was a pleasure to serve with on the RTM. And, he delighted kids and adults alike when he shared his memories of the history of the comic industry during his visits to the Westport Historical Society. Irwin, we’ll miss you!

Posted by Alice Shelton on December 01, 2004 at 12:08 AM | #
 

Irwin was one of Westport’s greatest assets. I was very fortunate in getting to know him some during the time we were on the RTM together. While he struggled with medical problems over the last years, you would never know it by talking to him. He and Carole have been outstanding role models for those of us couples who are in public service.

Condolences to Carole and the rest of his family. Irwin will be missed.

Charlie Haberstroh

Posted by Charlie Haberstroh on December 01, 2004 at 02:35 PM | #
 

I was privileged to work with and get to know Irwin during the time we shared together on the RTM. I will remember Irwin as a kind and thoughtful person who frequently identied and promoted community needs and often used his personal resources to make sure they were met. He was an active listener with a warm smile. We all will miss him.

Posted by Gene Cederbaum on December 03, 2004 at 03:53 PM | #
 

Around five years ago, i was honored to be able to begin a series of taped interviews with Irwin regarding the comics magazine company his father Harry bought into with Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson back in 1936 when Detective Comics Incorporated was created.

I found Irwin charming, pleasant and a true gentleman. He knew a lot on a great many subjects and was always protective of his father’s memory.

He began working in his father’s pulp publishing company in the late 1930s doing odd jobs, joined the army during WW2, went to college and upon graduation, went back to work for his father Harry in the comic book business. By 1953 he was named Editorial Director - running most aspects of the corporation through the 1950s, dealing with his father’s tragic accident in 1962 and his subsequent death in 1965, until corporate trade offs forced him out of DC Comics in 1968.

My sincere Condolences to Carole and the rest of his family. Irwin will be definitely be missed and I feel lucky for the time i spent with him.

Posted by Robert Beerbohm Fremont Nebraska on December 03, 2004 at 05:12 PM | #
 

Irwin (and Carole) were both big supporters of public safety. In the mid 1980’s (when firefighter’s salaries just barely nudged 5 figures) Irwin set up a scholarship fund for college-bound firefigher’s children. It has grown over the decades, and the Donenfeld’s generous deed has assisted dozens and dozens of kids. Irwin probably wouldn’t want attention for this (I can see his smile-scowl now…) and that’s what made him such a great person: kind and generous. Westport’s Firefighters salute him- and send our thoughts and prayers to Carole and his family.

Posted by Nate Gibbons on December 03, 2004 at 09:48 PM | #
 

I met Irwin when I purchased my first boat from
Coastwise Marine. We spent many hours discussing
boating and the pleasures of cruising Long Island
Sound.He convinced me to join the Power Squadron
and then the Coast Guard Aux.Flotilla 72.
When I was Flotilla Commander, Irwin was always available to help us with our equipment and safety requirements and also always donated the grand prize for our annual fund raising event.
He was a true friend of the Flotilla and shall be
long remembered by our members and by local boatsmen as a champion of safe boating.

Posted by marvin gelman on December 04, 2004 at 05:50 AM | #
 

Irwin was my father’s cousin. Haven’t seen him since I was ten years old. I probably only met him a few times when he lived in Sands Point. The family stories I remember sure aren’t in the obit!

Posted by Miriam H. Weinstein on February 09, 2005 at 08:50 PM | #