Did you know Superman’s friend?

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 8:00pm

For several decades, starting in 1959, Carroll Rheinstrom and his wife Irene had a beautiful house (although, oddly, it had only one room) on a 12-acre Block Island parcel. The house had a beautiful view of Scotch Beach with its wide-open stretches of white sand. The couple enjoyed sailing their yacht, Vaeringer II, out of the Block Island Club and into Long Island Sound.

Rheinstrom, with residences also in New York City and Columbia County, New York, had friends, but few knew the details of his business activities. Not that what he did was illegal. Beginning in 1950, he represented DC Comics by selling its licenses to publishers in Europe and other places. However, perhaps because comics were considered lowbrow, Rheinstrom was tight-lipped with most people about this.

I first heard bits of amazing stories concerning Rheinstrom, who died in 1994, including some about his philanthropy in Columbia County, late last year. The next thing I knew I was researching a biography of this friend of Clark Kent. Why was he Superman's friend? Well, the Superman comic books, which started the comic book industry in 1938, became Rheinstrom's biggest seller, and in the process made him very rich. 

For many years, the Rheinstroms traveled the world pushing Superman and other comic books. In Spain, Superman was called Ciclon; in Italy he was The Nembo Kid (nembo is Italian for nimbus, or cloud); and in Germany, Clark Kent became Klaus Kent. 

Rheinstrom first brought Superman comic books to Spain during the years of the Franco dictatorship. This quickly led the regime to mount an anti-Superman campaign in the newspapers. The Franco regime did not want young Spaniards to be reading about a fictional hero dedicated to "Truth, justice and the American way." So Superman became Public Enemy Number One in Spain.

Closer to home, there was an anti-comic book campaign initiated by an American psychiatrist in the late 1940s that threatened the comic book industry's very existence. 

I am now researching a book on Carroll Rheinstrom. If anyone on Block Island knew him, please contact me via memrevs@gmail.com, or at 55 Lakeshore Drive, Copake, N.Y. 12516.

Howard Blue, an author and part-time journalist, lives in Copake, N.Y. He first heard of Carroll Rheinstrom when he visited the Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Bird Sanctuary. After contacting the Rheinstrom Hill Community Foundation for information for an article about the donor, the plan quickly grew into a book project.