We thought you might enjoy hearing a sample of Shel’s voice. The following clip was extracted from a recording of a conversation that took place between Jack Kirby and a group of San Diego fans back in December 1970 at Jack’s house in Thousand Oaks, California. In it, Jack and Shel discuss Jack’s name change and his early attempt at an acting career.
Just click on the player button below to have a listen. (If you’re reading this via news reader or email, you may have to visit the web site to play the clip.)
Here’s a transcript of this audio clip:
JACK: My name isn’t Kirby. Nobody ever used their real name…see? In other words, Errol Flynn’s…I mean…uh…there was one guy called “Ricardo Cortez” and his name was no more “Ricardo Cortez” than my name is “Jack Kirby,” but that, that was the kind of world it was. I mean, when you say…when I tell you my generation lied or died, I’m not kidding. My generation lied to survive. I…I…you know, I changed my name, you know, maybe out of the fact that it might change my luck or…or…uh…In other words, if it took luck to survive, I would change my name.
SHEL: Did you have a Jewish-sounding name? Is that it?
JACK: I had a Jewish-German sounding name, you know, which I am.
SHEL: So there was automatic prejudice: when people heard the name they would hire someone whose name was…
JACK: No, well, yes there was, but I…I never ran into it. I never ran into it. I changed my name not because of that. I only ran into it when I, you know, uh, when I came face to face directly with people who almost…I was almost alien to. For instance, a guy from the streets of New York is an alien to a Texan from, say, uh, from the…uh…uh…
JACK: No. What do they call that land? The, uh…
JACK: Panhandle. A Texan from the panhandle is a total foreigner to a guy from the New York ghetto, New York City ghetto. I would be a total alien to a farmer from the Midwest, and he would be brought up in a sealed environment just like mine. My, my environment was sealed. It was hermetically sealed. I was in a mold. And, uh, he was in his mold, and another guy was in his mold, and, uh…I, I bunked with a guy who came from a population of one-hundred-fifty, in a town I never heard of, in a place I still don’t know where it’s at, and the only Jew that he’d ever seen was a statue of Moses that Michelangelo did and he said, well, Jews had to have horns. And I said, “Why?” And he says, “Well,” he says, “Look at that statue of Moses: he was a Jew and look at the horns he’s got.” And, of course, you know, the effect of the curls on Moses’ head looked like horns. And…uh…to him, Jews were devils, so I…you know…when he saw me, he, uh, couldn’t believe I was a Jew. And, uh, he never did. And if I told him I was a Jew a hundred-fifty times, a hundred-ninety times, he might nod his head but he’d never believe it.
SHEL: Is your name legally changed now?
KIRBY: Yes. It was changed, thirty years ago. And I…I…I don’t think it, you know, that kind of thing means much…you know…doesn’t mean much to me.
SHEL: You know, Jack Benny, it’s more of a…a…anglicizing the names more than anything. Jack Benny was originally Benny Kubelsky. Danny Kaye was Danny Kaminsky…
KIRBY: I don’t think it’s anglicizing the name. I think it’s making the name exotic. For instance, uh…I think if I named myself, uh, Ramón de la Flores, see what I mean?
KIRBY: See what I mean? What if I, what if I took a shine to a Latin name, you know, I didn’t like…uh…my real name is Jack Kurtzberg, see. That’s my name. And…but…you know, I said, I would say to myself, well, Jack Kurtzberg, you know, I mean, who’s going to believe that kind of a name? So I said…
SHEL: Harvey Kurtzman would.
KIRBY: Uh, so, I said well “Jack Kirby sounds great,” you know, it just sounded great to me. And I said, that’s what I’d like to be called, “Jack Kirby.” Now if I’d say, “Gee that Ramón de la Flores, boy now there’s a name for you,” see?
KIRBY: Now I would sign my, I would sign my name today, “Ramón de la Flores,” if I liked that kind of a name, see?
KIRBY: And, uh, I see nothing wrong with that. I, I don’t think I’ve done anything illegitimate.
KIRBY: But it was simply for that reason.
SHEL: Could you…wait, drink your juice.
KIRBY: No, that’s OK.
SHEL: OK, because I wouldn’t want to wear you out, but I just wondered if you could tell the guys…uh…last time Rich Rubenfeld and I were talking to you, you mentioned something about that you, you tried out for a roll that John Garfield got or something, you…you once wanted to be an actor, right?
KIRBY: Oh that, that was a movie syndrome, everybody had it. It was a kind of a…like I say, everybody was raised by Warner Brothers.
SHEL: You got pretty close to it, though.
KIRBY: Yeah, I got close to it because, uh, uh, because I was driven that much by wanting to, uh, do anything to, uh, become a person. I, I never considered myself a person. You couldn’t where I was.
SHEL: What were the circumstances?
KIRBY: Because you were not a person unless, you know, uh, unless you did something.