Today, I'm going to tackle one of the biggest mysteries of comic book history: who was Paul Sampliner?
Well, perhaps, it's not the biggest mystery, but it's the biggest one that's bothered me personally. And I'm not likely going to solve that here in this blog entry, but I am hoping to use this to collect everything I have found out about him so far.
Paul H. Sampliner was born in 1898 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Sophie had two children, Joan and Philip.
Sampliner teamed up with Frank Armer in 1922 to launch a magazine entitled Screenland. It's relative success prompted them to continue with Artists and Models and other such magazines. In 1923, Harry Donenfeld bought out his brothers' interests in Martin Press with Sampliner and Armer as clients.
Possibly due to Armer's adding "snappy, spicy stories and art" to their growing line, Sampliner left to found Eastern Distribution with Charles Dreyfus in 1925, which was known for handling Hugo Gernsbeck's publications. That company filed for bankruptcy in October 1932 and almost immediately afterward, he and Donenfeld founded Independent News, a new comic book and magazine distributor, largely using money Sampliner borrowed from his mother, Giselle Frank. The relative success of Independent allowed them to pick up Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's distribution from McCall's by April 1937 and, while details about the next two years are sketchy, Sampliner and Donenfeld are later listed as owners of Detective Comics, Inc. beginning in September 1939.
One thing I've found particularly interesting are the connections made so early on in comic book history. Louis Silberkleit, for example, was the Circulation Department Supervisor for Eastern from 1927 until it closed. Silberkleit, along with Maurice Coyne and John Goldwater, worked briefly for Independent before founding Columbia Publications (which later became MLJ, which later became Archie) in 1934. Martin Goodman, who went on to found Marvel Comics, also worked with Silberkleit and Sampliner at Eastern from 1927 to 1932.
Sampliner remained a relaively silent in his role as President of Independent as well as owner of National Periodical (which owned Detective Comics). He and Donenfeld, now with former head accountant Jack Liebowitz, ran much of the periodical market, handling the distribution (and in some cases, the production) of many of the most popular titles, including Playboy, Superman, and Mad. Indeed, it was easy for the three of them to turn away James Warren's idea for Famous Monsters of Filmland in 1957.
As Sampliner grew older, he became more involved in interests outside of publications. Likely, because he could afford to. He was a member of the New York City Anti-Crime Commission and the New York State Commission Against Discrimination. He also served on the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith's commission for over two decades.
Sampliner's life seems relatively comfortable by this point. Certainly, he was well enough off to have owned at least one original Degas bronze, The Masseuse, which he auctioned off in 1961, a few years before his retirement. Although he left Independent in 1965, he remained one of the owners of DC until 1967 when the company was bought out by Kinney National Service (later known as Warner Communications, now known as Time Warner). He was later named chairman of the board of Independent in December 1969.
Sampliner died not far from his New York City home on January 7, 1975.
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