|Photo by Eliot Brown. http://eliotrbrown.com|
Today is Pearl Harbor Day. “A date which will live in infamy,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I’m sure it will. It also lives in the memories of Marvel staffers back in the early 1980’s as Morrie’s Day. Morrie Kuramoto, that is.
It started as a joke, or rather as a barrage of jokes. Morrie was Japanese, of course, and an older guy—so the wits and wags who worked in the Bullpen alongside Morrie made outrageous use of the occasion to tease him. Leave it to the likes of Elliot R. Brown, Jack Morelli, Stu Schwartzberg and the rest to suggest that Morrie pasted up recruiting posters for the Japanese Army, was Japan’s spy at Marvel Comics or flew 35 Kamikaze missions.
It wasn’t mean-spirited. It wasn’t nasty. It was funny. Morrie was just about everybody’s favorite human being. Everybody loved Morrie. P.S. Morrie could banter with the best of them. And he laughed at and with the clowns.
With the jokes out of the way, a party ensued—pretty much spontaneously the first Morrie’s Day, more and more planned and organized every year thereafter. A party to honor and celebrate Morrie Kuramoto. Strange how when you have a crew of people working together who really bond and have that sense of family, how love and ribbing go together, but so it seems.
The truth is, if I recall correctly, Morrie served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In Italy, I think.
I’ve told stories before about the first time I worked with Morrie in late 1969 back in the old 635 Madison Avenue offices, and about his quick-n-tricky paste-up techniques—necessary when you’re a one man department. Those tales can be found here: Marvel Cut-Ups.
Here’s a tale I didn’t tell before—Morrie’s fistfight with Rick Parker.
For those of you who don’t know Rick, he did lettering and art production for Marvel. He is also an accomplished fine artist. He had a gallery on Grand Street called the Barking Dog Museum which featured his work and was recognized as a New York City cultural attraction. Rick does a lot of conceptual art (my term, not necessarily his) some serious, some a little whimsical, like this item, which he gave to friends during the 1986 apparition of Halley’s Comet.
Back in the late 1970’s, smokers could light up almost anywhere, restaurants, bars, even at work. There was no law against smoking in the office. Morrie smoked. Rick Parker didn’t. He and Morrie sat near each other, more or less back to back, separated by a narrow aisle, Rick doing mostly lettering corrections and Morrie doing paste-ups. Rick constantly complained about the smoke from Morrie’s cigarettes.
If I remember right, Morrie hardly ever took a puff. But he almost always had a lit cigarette sitting in the ashtray on the tabaret next to him, sending a sinuous column of blue smoke ceiling-ward. I think that infuriated Rick even more. If Morrie wasn’t even going to smoke the thing…!
So, one afternoon, after complaining for the millionth time futilely, Rick stood up and knocked Morrie’s ashtray and offending cigarette off of his tabaret.
Morrie jumped up and punched Rick!
Now picture this: In this corner, Morrie, affectionately known as the “Ancient One,” a short, slight, older-than-dirt guy…
…and in this corner, “Rick-o,” a tall, strapping, young man.
Rick, I suspect, was more surprised than anything.
Other Bullpenners rushed in to separate the two.
Rick walked out. Just left.
Production Manager Lenny Grow sent Morrie home.
And the whole incident was reported to me. Ai-yi-yi….
The next morning, Morrie came in and Lenny sent him to see me. Sort of like being sent to the principal’s office in grade school, I guess. Morrie was very apologetic. I told him we couldn’t have stuff like that, if he had a problem he should come and talk to me, blah, blah, blah….
There is something weird and surreal about a twenty-something kid, as I was then, lecturing a man well more than twice my age.
Morrie assured me that it wouldn’t happen again and went back to his table in the Bullpen.
Then, Rick came in late on purpose for the sake of a grand entrance, wearing a neck brace! I absolutely assure you, it was strictly for drama, strictly to boost Morrie’s ego and to amuse the rest of the Bullpen. That’s the kind of guy Rick is. They both apologized and made up, and all was well. Especially since the next day I moved all the smokers to a different room and left the non-smokers in the main Bullpen room.
Soon thereafter, Morrie quit smoking, at least as far as I was aware. And, eventually, smoking in the workplace was outlawed.
Now don’t get the wrong idea about Morrie. That incident was completely an aberration. It’s so out of character for Morrie that, being a comics guy, it is easier for me to believe that “Morrie” that day was really a Skrull than it is to accept what occurred. Morrie was the sweetest, gentlest man you’d ever want to meet. He had some fire in him, though, I guess.
And, he was pretty sturdy and determined for a guy who probably should have been retired years ago.
The Transport Workers Union went on strike in 1980, and for eleven days there were no buses or subways running in New York. Morrie lived in Astoria, Queens, about five miles away, across the 59th Street Bridge. He walked to work and walked home every day except one, when he asked me if he could spend the night sleeping on the couch in the reception room. I lived even farther out and I’d done exactly that the night before. Sure, no problem.
Morrie liked to bet the horses and could often be found at the local Off-Track Betting (OTB) location. Vince Colletta, an amazing handicapper, who freely gave out tips and was known as “the Saint” to his betting friends because he gave them winners with uncanny frequency, tried to help Morrie. But Morrie was stubborn. He insisted on making his own picks. He seldom won. But everyone knew when he did, because the next morning he would come in with donuts for everyone.
I understand that Morrie belonged to an organization that was a worldwide network of people willing to provide a safe, decent place to stay for travelers—mostly students and young people, seeing the world on a budget. Morrie was kind and generous to all. He enjoyed meeting and helping out people from all over.
Marvel in the early to middle 1980’s was a pretty good place to be. We had weathered the really tough, grueling times and were succeeding pretty well. It wasn’t that there was no stress, but it was manageable. It was an “Era of Good Feeling” for the most part.
Which was great for Morrie. During his last few years things weren’t so hectic that he couldn’t spend some time schmoozing with the young pups, or joking with Elliot and company, or giving the occasional, Kuramoto-patented shiatsu shoulder massage to knotted-up production types. The girls, especially, loooved it.
Or, Morrie would doze off once in a while….
He’d earned it. A thousand times over.
Production Manager Danny Crespi would occasionally spoil the fun by asking Morrie to work. “Did you finish pasting up that lettercolumn, yet, Moishe?” Danny called him “Moishe.” He claimed Morrie was really Sephardic. Truth is, they might as well have been brothers. “Leave the girls alone! Moishe, you’re killing me!”
Mock arguments and banter would ensue. Those two guys had the greatest honk-fests. All in fun. They loved each other. What a pair.
And, you know, it was never really about the lettercolumn. It was about the fun. Morrie always did his job, did more work than most of the kids and never let us down.
Morrie passed away in 1985. I gave a eulogy. I had trouble getting through it. Then again, I cry when I hear “The Little Drummer Boy” at Christmas.
But, Morrie was very special to me. I couldn’t and can’t believe he’s gone.
Danny died not too long thereafter.
Somewhere, in that Great Bullpen in the Sky, Danny and “Moishe” are still bantering. Morrie wins at OTB every day and there are donuts for all the production angels in Heaven.
Happy Morrie’s Day.
|Standing: John Romita, Morrie Kuramoto, Mary MacPherran, Arthur Goodman, Gail Munn, Jim Galton, Barbara Maier (Boris Vallejo’s cousin), Barry Kaplan. Seated: Dorothy Marcus, Millie Shuriff, Nora Maclin.|
NEXT: Winner! – Part 2: The House of Harryhausen, or a Day with RayJayJay here. I remember many, many of my fellow Marvel staffers telling wonderful stories about Morrie. If any of you guys read this, please tell a Morrie story in a comment! I seem to recall a Pearl Harbor Day incident involving a recreation attack with paper airplanes… Eliot? Jack? Kenny? Nel? Anyone remember this or am I crazy?
Eliot Brown also has some nice remembrances and photos of old Marvel on his web site: http://eliotrbrown.com