Part VII– My Pal, My Friend, My Colleague Mark Gruenwald –As Seen In Random Pictures
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Writer’s Writer Roger “Sterno” Stern, chowing down with Mark “Gruenie” Gruenwald. You say ‘simpler times’ I say, cake with chocolate frosting! A well-wishing fan brought in a Spider-Man decorated cake to help us ring in the New Year! Which I think was 1980. A sign of how few personnel we had back then was that everyone got a small piece of this very nice but modestly-sized cake. Only after 9/11 and then having worked at a place that scanned packages with a portable X-ray machine did I even consider not trusting fan food!
Another “favorite” picture of my two old comrades. Monday morning, bright and bushy-tailed, April 26, 1982! The first day in the new digs at 387 Park Avenue South, right after the weekend move. We were all still staggering around from the shock of the new and “modern.” We still had the same old desks and chairs. As I have mentioned before, the new layout had the execs facing out over Park Ave, with the Publisher, Mike Hobson, at the corner office at 27th and park (by comparison, one floor above was President Jim Galton). Rounding the horn, hit a cute little conference room (that did not survive long) then hitting the Editor In Chief’s office. That nexus was almost lined up with a major building feature, which was a through-floor staircase up to the 11th Flr. Continuing past the stairs was the choke point into the Bullpen area. But along that “window wall” was the Editorial offices, given whatever light was to be had down the stone canyon of 27th Street, east of Park. Into this freshly scrubbed office was plonked Mike and Mark—almost the first in the row of offices that marched easterly to the rear elevator bank. (I shouldn’t describe it as so hard-scrabble or unpleasant, the offices at the end of the hall—in fact the one I spent some heavenly time as Louise Jones’ Assistant, had an interesting view of The Armory (ahem, the 69th Regiment Armory) and its dazzling aluminum-painted roof, visible a block through to 26th Street)
Looking at this pic I see that Mark was already irked at having so much distracting window space. He had run his slimline window blinds down and flipped a few rows to shield himself from the view. Already up and running—not a staged pic, by the way – Mark was furiously at work early in the morning. I only realize now that I had taken this picture through the infamous “fish tank” wall of glass. Not that I was ever loath to clamber over anyone’s desk for a shot. I didn’t need to.
The novelty of the super clean windows and walls—behind Mark the rather nice 8-foot tall wall of cork! – and the fresh stink of wall-to-wall carpet with its edging (where they had to splice one piece to another, say in a doorway, they used a hot-melt strip beneath the two edges which smelled to high heaven for days)—was soon beaten from our senses. The relentless business of getting out comics had not abated for one day. As relief from this day-to-day, one could almost imagine Mike and Mark plotting just what to do with this genuine “blank slate…”
©Marvel Entertainment, LLC
Can’t remember a blessed thing about this panel, like where it’s from or what’s going on… but to this moment, if someone yelled “Kodabak–!” I could recite the above. Sadly, Mark told me where this was from, during a long middle-of-the-night, we had a good laugh and it seems to have slipped away from memory… I think it may have had something to do with the “language” of some alien race presented in a radio show he liked. That would have been a long time ago and somewhere in Wisconsin. But Mark really liked it and, like a lot of writers, had a hard time giving up something. So he used it here—at the very least. This bit of artwork was taped to the “Window Wall” of the 387 Park Bullpen. Every editor had an entire wall of glass and hated it. Literal fishbowls to pull the drapes on or cover up with gags.
Here’s some more Editorial window wall silly stuff that Mark perpetuated:
© Mark E. Gruenwald Estate
Yep, Mark or Mike would change the status every day! The layout you see is from the necessity of stacking these rather large things on a scanner. They had to be large to be readable as one scooted by.
Photo Reference For The Hawkeye Limited Series
Look in the engineer’s window…
“Write what you know!” A hard point to make dealing with super-heroes, super strength, flying around, etc. but in this case, Mark used to take the #7 Line between the West and East sides of Manhattan, winding up in Grand Central Station (then, a short hop to the 575 Madison offices). He really liked the exposed beams and crazy ramp angles of the resulting pathways through and around all the other underground things. He wanted to use them in his upcoming Hawkeye Limited Series. I was just down the hall, he comes in late one night and says, I need some pictures. I say, Let’s go! (A random Monday night, April 11, 1983!)
©Marvel Entertainment, LLC
©Marvel Entertainment, LLC
Just a little “behind the scenes” around Mark’s Hawkeye Limited Series work. Mark penciled the whole thing. He knew he wasn’t very good as a penciler, but he did want specific set points, acting and storytelling. Which can transcend conventional penciling. He also knew to make use (er… strongly suggest to the editor) of a consummate professional “strong” inker. One who followed the “acting” and improved the ultimate finish. That ‘consummate professional’ was Brett Breeding. To give you an idea of how loose the office was, Mark could walk back to my office, thrust a page under my nose and say, please add this and fix that. Specifically, pg24’s shots of the escalator and final panel’s down shot of all the exposed steelwork. Mark had roughed in the angle but needed a little more perspective than he felt he could provide. Same for pg9’s (or is it 7’s?—too lazy to look at the book) as he sketched it, Mark’s subway interior needed a little help. I was a student of perspective and could help quite a bit.
This pic was also a background for some hilarious business with a money-collecting nun sitting in front of a subway ad for Penthouse Magazine, but the sharp-eyed among you might spot the big, ole ad for CBS News, “If it concerns you, it concerns us” campaign. Featuring Michelle Marsh!
Ahhhh… Michelle Marsh! The bewitching newscastress who stole Mark’s heart. So we returned the favor and in turn stole what we could back: dozens of subway ads with her life-sized face on it! Us guys all thought she was a knock-out but “news” was an optional thing in those days. We were generally too busy working ridiculous hours to catch news. Recall, that if you didn’t see it on TV the first time, it was gone forever. But for us, Michelle Marsh lives on!
Ms Marsh appeared on the New York City scene in the same year that Mark did at Marvel—roughly 1979. The CBS News campaign featured dazzling, super-sized images of their entire news team that filled the NYC subway system. In the photo above you can see those ads, but the smaller ads that were in every subway car—ahhh… those were what Mark—and Mike, his willing accomplice—sought!
And here’s what they did with them:
One of the many failings I chide myself over, is not “covering” as much detail as I photographically could at the time. These guys put these everywhere. Inside drawers, filling the ceiling light frames (dimming them only a little and leaving us several overhead, glowing Michelles), intricately cut out around light switches, drawer handles, desktops—every flat surface. Above is an every day pic (c. 1983) of Editor-Creator then freelancer, Danny Fingeroth, sticking his nose in the Gru/Carlin office. Legendary Editor but then Assistant Editor, Mike Carlin, greets him with a coffee cup salute. Visible are just a fraction of the many hundreds of Michelle Marsh subway ads that were… uhh… liberated from their advertising role. I can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that Mark needed to ramp up his criminal activity by paying a dollar per subway poster as “M-Day” approached! I don’t think many interns or Assistant Editors made too much money– it was all in good fun.
Mark was only mildly frustrated that he could not get one of the wall-mounted subway posters. There was one more summit to climb in the form of bus kiosk ad. NYC bus kiosks had just become a ‘thing’ and advertising was supposed to help pay for them. On either side of a huge glass expanse, were color, back-lit ads of all kinds. Including the CBS Newsteam! Ever sharp-eyed when it came to minor larceny, Mark spotted a kiosk where the padlock that secured the thing closed had gone missing. Now, it can be revealed, that one night—Mark, Mike, Jack Morelli and myself were in Mark’s green-brown or brown-green Dodge Dart—why? I dunno; could have been this mission or when the car was out and about, Mark would give us a lift home. Our plan was to open the ad framework, undo the prominently visible clips (so close… we could smell those loose clips… ) that held the ad and run off with it! We slowly slid up and parked near to the bus kiosk target… it was dark, late for us… but alas, not late enough for the argus-eyed long-arm-of-the-law, who were parked just far enough down the block to scare us off. That “trans light” form of advertising was huge. Easily 6-feet tall and 4-feet wide. What Mark would do with that was anyone’s guess.
My “M-Day” mask—since I was running around with a video camera, capturing the day, I would not “see” myself on camera. I chopped it out of the full-size sheet but did not cut out the eyes. Still not sure why I chopped it out at all—a spasm of what everyone else was doing around me, no doubt.
So what the heck was M-Day? Just Mark playing around. He and (need I repeat ‘co-conspirator’ –?) Mike putting up dozens of signs of all shapes and sizes, everywhere imaginable, that said: M Day Is Coming. Whipped up everyone. Despite having hundreds of Michelle Marsh posters in Mark’s office, no one figured out that the ‘M’ of “M-Day” was good Ms Marsh. None of us would tell. When we got close to the day, Mark had countdown signs: 7 Days To M-Day, etc.
Then… M-Day was upon us! Ahem, in history, it was a Friday, May 27, 1983. Mark, Mike and I suited up in our Cheap Laffs coveralls and head gear, paraded through the office taking down each and every M-Day sign. I was carrying the elaborate and monstrous camcorder, trying to move like a ‘steadicam’ rig. Again, alas, no still pictures. When all of those signs were taken down, Mike and Mark moved to their office and began taking down all the Michelle Marsh posters. They hacked them up into masks, stapled rubber bands to them and handed them out to everyone in the office.
As any good denizen of Marvel’s underworld does, they lined up, took their masks and waited to be ushered into the Gruenwald/Carlin office… 51 people stuffed into the place! The final, terrifying image in the video is everyone facing the camera. Actually quite weird.
But fun as hell.
When we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with that video. Mark and Mike used it in a mock movie review segment of Cheap Laffs. Mark then doubled the weirdity by laying in a didgeridoo drone as soundtrack. Epic weird fun!
Footnote: I knew someone who knew someone who worked at CBS News… I got a copy of the scene to her and I have it on good authority that dear Ms Marsh got to see “M-Day!” Her reaction did not make it back to me—but what could she think? Probably something along the lines of, send a memo to security…
End Part VII