Woman who inspired the “Supergirl” look

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, October 31st, 2015

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TOM WARD
tompward@sbcglobal.net

Earlier this week CBS-TV unveiled what it hopes will become a major contribution to the popular superhero genre with their new series “Supergirl” starring Texas born actress Melissa Benoist in the title role.
“Supergirl” made her debut in Action Comics No. 252 in May of 1959. The story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by my late friend, legendary artist and illustrator Al Plastino.
Plastino had worked for nearly a decade, starting in the late 1940s, drawing the “Superman” comics. He is an American comic book icon who may not have created “Superman”, but he certainly helped the legendary character take flight with his terrific drawings in the comic books for generations of fans around the globe.
Plastino was also a terrific writer, editor, letterer and colorist throughout his long career.
During his time with DC comics he also worked on other titles like Superboy, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and other spin-offs from the comic books series.
Then, in the late 1960s during the Adam West “Batman” TV show, Plastino was chosen by DC editor Whitney Ellsworth to take over for fellow artist Joe Giella.  Giella decided to return to inking comic books to draw the “Batman” syndicated newspaper strip, which ran until 1972.
When that strip ran its course, Plastino continued to be in demand, working on the pantomime (no words) comic strip ”Ferd’nand”, which ran in over 400 newspapers worldwide. Later, he would take over the “Nancy & Sluggo” strip when creator Ernie Bushmiller became very ill. Sadly, Plastino passed away on November 25th, 2013.
Author Eddy Zeno, who wrote Plastino’s biography Last Superman Standing: The Al Plastino Story, has some terrific information in the book regarding “Supergirl”. The following is an excerpt from his book with Plastino talking about Supergirl:
“Mort Weisinger (DC Editor) talked to me about the idea of ‘Supergirl’. I wasn’t aware that Otto Binder was involved in creating these characters. It was just a job. I went home and later brought a sketch to show Mort. I made her blonde and as attractive as I could, putting a black wig on her for her disguise. I wanted to maintain the same type of costume, but with a little skirt to be more girlish. No need to make her big and Muscle-y. She had the power already.”
During my numerous phone conversations over the years with Plastino, he mentioned to me that he had used his wife as his image for how “Supergirl” should look when it was decided to bring her to life in the comic books. Plastino knew beauty and all he had to do was look across the table everyday to see his beautiful bride, Ann Marie Perkins.
Recently, I spoke with Plastino’s widow who filled me in on some of the details of how they first met.
“Al was 17 years older than me,” recalled Ann Marie. “At the time he was 35. We met at a hamburger place. My friends and I used to go out and get hamburgers at night. We were at this diner and Al was in there having his coffee. He looked over at me and said, ‘Would you like to meet me?’ Then he started telling me that he was the ‘Superman’ artist and liked to get sketches of people when he sees them so he can apply it to his work. That’s how when we met he started the conversation by asking if he could draw some sketches of me and everyone there thought that was so great. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I was with a lot of pretty girls and we were young and hung around together and I thought it was complimentary that he chose me out of the group. Al was such a kind person and I liked him right away as we hit it right off. We got married about a year later on October 21st, 1957 in a chapel in Maryland.” I asked Ann Marie if Al asked her permission to use her likeness for the cover of “Supergirl”“Oh Yes!” she replied. “Al always liked to use my picture and I always thought that it was so nice of him to do that.”
Ann Marie came from a long line of beauties in her family. Her father was a sea captain for the Merchant Marines, originally from Austria, and her mother was a hat maker. They had a good-sized family with 5 girls (Christine, Mildred, Janet, Catherine and Ann Marie) and one boy (Jim) who were raised in New Jersey.
“Some of my siblings had blue eyes and dark hair, but I was a natural blonde with blue eyes,” she explained. “We were all natural blondes growing up, but some of my sisters’ hair colors turned dark because of our Spanish-Irish heritage from my mothers’ side of the family. Over the years I changed my hair color to brunette, but I would always go back to being blonde because Al really liked blondes.  My one sister, Millie Perkins, was a top fashion model in New York city,” she added. “She worked for agencies like Eileen Ford and was on all kinds of covers of magazines. Millie’s first acting job was playing ‘Anne Frank’ in the film ‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’. She had a chance of a lifetime getting that part. She was very ambitious and was like that as a kid growing up.”
The Plastinos had 4 children (Mary Ann, Arlene, Janice and a son named Fred). I caught up with Mary Ann Plastino Charles, Al and Ann Marie’s oldest daughter, and their son Fred to talk about their parents.
“My mother was about 19 years old when my dad drew her as the model for Supergirl,” said Mary Ann. “My dad got his inspiration for how ‘Supergirl’ should look from my mother. When ‘Supergirl’ first came out she had the hair style that my mom had back in the late 1950s. It was a short little bob style. My mother was really very pretty and still is. Also, two of her sisters were well-known models.”
I asked their son Fred if he was going to watch the new “Supergirl” series?
“I’ll definitely check it out,” he replied. “You know it’s tough when they try to take a lot of the comic book characters to the big screen, TV shows and such because something always seems to get lost in the translation and it just doesn’t come out the same. Anything we’ve ever seen together as a family, especially when my pop was alive, we kind of cringed and go, ‘Oh! They don’t get it.’
After talking to Ann Marie, Mary Ann and Fred Plastino I could tell how much Al Plastino was loved by his family. Both of Al’s children told me that their father was definitely a real character and is greatly missed. Ann Marie and Al were married for 56 years before his untimely passing.
Before ending my conversation with Ann Marie she mentioned, “I think Al would have liked nothing better than to have lived to be 100 years old. He loved all the attention he was getting.”
Al Plastino’s legacy is forever cemented in the annals of comic book history with all the great superheroes he illustrated for decades. I remember when he once told me that he may be credited as one of the creators behind the fictional character of ‘Supergirl’, but he knew he was lucky to have found his real life ‘Supergirl’ (Ann Marie) who gave him 4 great children and shared a wonderful life together.
Tom Ward can be contacted at www.teetimewithtom.com

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