The late ‘60s/early ‘70s were a good period for Don Rickles, who passed away recently at the age of 90. After appearing in the Beach Party series of movies with Annette Funicello, a few things happened that cause Rickles’ status to change. He first appeared on The Tonight Show in 1965, and that national TV showcase, along with other talk shows and variety shows, would give him ample opportunity to inflict his caustic humor on the American people. He released a live album called Hello, Dummy! in 1968, and in 1970 he had a noncomedic role in Kelly’s Heroes, a war/heist movie with Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland. (Actually, it was Sutherland who was the primary focus of mirth in that movie.)
By the time 1971 rolled around, Don Rickles was indisputably a household name, and as such, in a position to be claimed or appropriated by media entities of all descriptions. Which helps to explain an improbable episode in Rickles’ life occurred, when he was made the star of a two-issue story in Jimmy Olsen as for DC Comics authored by Jack Kirby. It really happened, and in a lot of ways the whole story had almost nothing to do with Rickles as such.
In addition to featuring Rickles in the story, Kirby invented a weird doppelgänger named Goody Rickels (that’s right, e before l), an underling in the employ of a slick media mogul named Morgan Edge. For no comprehensible reason, Goody wears a superhero costume with a cape, even though he has no super powers and is something of a weirdo lickspittle.
All of this stemmed from the spawn of an idea of DC Comics employees, whose original idea was to have Rickles appear for a couple of panels and zing Superman with one of his patented put-downs. An Kirby’s assistant Mark Evanier explained in The Collected Jack Kirby Collector Vol. 4 by John Morrow:
Steve [Sherman, another Kirby assistant] and I, at the time, were enormous fans of Don Rickles. Like many people at that time who were our age, we all went around doing Don Rickles, insulting each other. Rickles used to say, “I never picked on a little guy, I only pick on big guys.” Somehow, this gave us the idea that we should have Don Rickles make a cameo appearance in Jimmy Olsen to insult Superman. It was gonna be like a three-panel thing. So we wrote out a couple of pages of Don Rickles insults. One of them was, “Hey, big boy, where’re you from?” And Superman says, “I’m from the planet Krypton.” And Rickles says, “I got jokes for eight million nationalities and I’ve gotta run into a hockey puck from Krypton!”
As you can see, the idea of incorporating Rickles into the DC universe began as an idea for a quick gag, but they didn’t count on the kudzu-like nature of Kirby’s imagination:
Jack was a big fan of Rickles. And he says, “That’s great, that’s terrific.” And, of course, he used none of it. He said, “We’ve gotta get permission from Don Rickles for this.” So Steve contacted Rickles’s publicist, and they gave us permission to have Don Rickles do a cameo. Then Jack tells [DC Comics publisher] Carmine Infantino about it, and Infantino thinks this is great; this is something promotable; it’s gotta be a two-issue story arc. So instead of us writing two pages, it’s now Jack writing two issues.
In the story, Edge sends Goody to investigate a UFO, and he ends up beating up some “space baddies” through sheer luck. Eventually there is the inevitable encounter between Goody and Don, right before which we get a full page of Don insulting some of his many adoring fans, who basically treat him as if he’s the Beatles. Don’s put-downs were written by Kirby and don’t really sound like Rickles’ stuff at all. You can see them below.
Don is in Morgan Edge’s office when Goody bursts in, and we get that moment where the two men scrutinize each other in disbelief. Fortunately, the ostensible hero Jimmy Olsen is there to fix everything, as seen in this amusing panel:
As Abraham Riesman skillfully explained in Vulture a few weeks back, the whole thing was a bit of a fiasco, as “the real-life Rickles was just as displeased as his four-color counterpart.” Rickles “felt exploited” by the story, which “had been pitched to him as a brief cameo in which he insulted Superman, but the finished product was long, bizarre, and featured no such insult.”
The story didn’t really make any sense, and has to be counted as a missed opportunity.
via Ken Jennings
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The drag adventures of Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen: Solving crime decked out in a dress back in 1966