Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Book Review: The American Way by Helene Stapinski and Bonnie Siegler

Cody reviews a book that is now available for pre-order on Amazon.


A lot of people are familiar with the ups and downs of the tragically short life of Norma Jean Baker, also known as Marilyn Monroe. A lot of people are also familiar with the fight over the copyright to the character Superman, the popular hero created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1930s. Siegel and Shuster made the mistake of signing the copyright over to their employer at DC Comics, then fought for decades to get proper compensation for their creation. But very few people are aware of the story of furrier Jules Schulback and his wife Edith, a Jewish couple who struggled to escape from their home city of Berlin, Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Or how DC Comics distributor Harry Donenfeld played into their lives. Or what sort of connection Jules had to Marilyn Monroe, on one very memorable day. And that’s why the book The American Way: A True Story of Nazi Escape, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe exists. Written by Helene Stapinski and Bonnie Siegler – who happens to be the granddaughter of Jules and Edith.

If you’re not familiar with the life of Marilyn Monroe or the history of Superman and DC Comics, The American Way does a great job of providing information on them. Chapters follow Monroe from her troubled childhood to her early death, through bumpy marriages and a rise to stardom along the way. We learn a lot about Donenfeld, who some would say was of questionable character. He was a womanizer and had ties to the mob... but he was also a great humanitarian, who truly did save multiple lives in his day.

Sadly, The American Way also has to cover the mass atrocity of the Holocaust – and the chapters that delve into the horrible things that occurred during the reign of Adolf Hitler, the things that happened to people Jules and Edith knew and loved and millions of others, are truly disturbing. But it’s good that they’re in there, as these are things that should never be forgotten. They need to be remembered so history won’t be repeated, and so people won’t take the events of the Holocaust lightly. The lack of humanity that was displayed toward people just because they were Jews is shocking and appalling.

How did Jules and Edith escape Europe and survive? Well, it had something to do with Donenfeld and the money he was raking in thanks to Siegel and Shuster’s superhero creation. How does Marilyn Monroe get involved? It has something to do with the filming of The Seven Year Itch, which was directed by Billy Wilder – a Jewish native of Berlin himself, who lost several family members in the Holocaust. Specifically, it involves the filming of that famous moment where Marilyn stood over a subway grate with her white dress billowing up. The most popular moment from any Marilyn Monroe film... and a moment that drew such a crowd of on-lookers on the streets of New York, it had to be reshot at the studio.

Covering decades in the lives of the Schulbacks, Monroe, Donenfeld, Siegel, and Shuster, The American Way is a fascinating read. It’s a look back at a deeply troubling time in world history. It’s a story of love and loss, success and failure, tragedy and triumph. It’s a story that was absolutely worth telling to the world, so I’m very glad that Stapinski and Siegler teamed up to bring us this story of Siegler’s relatives and the celebrities that impacted their lives.

If you’re interested in any of the elements that make up the story told in The American Way, the book is a must-read. I found it to be a real page-turner; it was difficult to put this one down, I just wanted to sit and read the whole thing at once.

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