That began a ten year period of friendship that was as deep as it was wide. Flo came up every three months and we would have 2 hour lunches, usually at her favorite place, Burger Heaven on Lexington Avenue and 62nd street, occasionally joined by my wife Maggie. Before you know it, Nick Caputo and Barry Pearl, Flo and I were frequently having dinner together, a "real" Yancy Street Gang we were, with a bonafide charter member in our midst! For real! We were regulars at places as diverse as the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal and The Pastrami King on Lexington Avenue. What great times we had, talking about everything under the sun, and rarely about comics. One evening, after a New York Comicon that Flo didn't even attend, she met us afterward for a nightcap of coffee and apple pie at her favorite diner on Lexington Avenue.
Dubbed "Fabulous Flo" by Stan Lee, she answered the phones, greeted guests, made sure the art went to the printer and answered fan mail that would bear Stan's signature. And she was a beloved figure in that tiny office with only a thin partition separating them from Goodman's Magazine Management department.
Flo early on dealt closely with the small production staff...Sol Brodsky, Stan Goldberg, letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen, then later Roy Thomas, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe, but all the freelance artists who came through the door adored her. She had nothing but nice things to say about all of them. Literally! Asked about some of them, her replies were spoken in that wonderful, warm and distinctive voice with a partially Bostonian, partially something else I-quite-can't-put-my-finger-on accent/inflection.....
"What was Sol Brodsky like, Flo?" "Sol was nice!"
And take a good look at Jonah Jameson's secretary Betty Brant, as drawn by Steve Ditko starting in 1964 ... It's Flo!
Here is a later gift from Forry to Flo, the June/69 issue of the science fiction digest SPACEWAY, hand inscribed and annotated in red pen by Forry, and opposite a Frank R. Paul illustration on a reprinted story from the 1930's.....
Flo's post-Marvel years were a swirling dive into the early Underground comix scene, taking her to San Francisco and Oregon before returning to work for Jim Warren. In 1975 she published BIG APPLE COMIX, becoming one of the very first Independent comics of all time. A "who's who" of top talent, both indie/underground and mainstream, all lent their skills to Flo's baby...... Wally Wood, Neil Adams, Al Williamson, Denny O'Neil, Archie Goodwin, Ralph Reese, Marie Severin, Paul Kirchner, Stu Schwartzberg, Alan Weiss, Herb Trimpe, Mike Ploog and Larry Hama all contributed. Production was handled by Linda Fite (who also contributed a strip inside), John Verpoorten and Michele Brand. Flo herself edited the issue.
Musician Todd Tamanend Clark took this photo with Flo at Phil Seuling's 1975 Comic Art Convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York City that ran July 3-7, presented here with Todd's permission...
In 1978 Jack Kirby cast Flo as "The Invisible Girl" in his early Marvel bullpen send-up of the Fantastic Four in WHAT IF? #11 (Oct/78).
In 2002 TwoMorrows Publications and Editor Jon B. Cooke devoted an entire half issue of the magazine COMIC BOOK ARTIST #18 (Mar/02) to a "Fabulous Flo Steinberg Celebration." A labor of love, four different articles were published over the course of 46 pages, including a great in-dept interview with Flo. Marie Severin rendered a beautiful homage to Jack Kirby's iconic Fantastic Four #51 cover, complete with Kirby Krackle. Flo provided tons of old photos of herself from the early days of Marvel.
Here is the original Marie Severin artwork to the cover above....
And Marie's pencil layout...
In the photo above, Flo is holding the original response card sent to Kendall Whitehouse. Kendall sent me an image of the original card he showed Flo at the con that Flo originally send him back in the mid 1960's.
A private person, Flo never felt comfortable with all the attention fandom focused on her. Over the years, in this century's golden-age of comics history research and book publication, every time someone wrote a book on some aspect of Marvel's sliver-age history, one of the first people to be contacted was Flo. She would field phone calls from fans and authors alike, patiently answer as best she could, but confided to me she grew tired of it as time went on, repeating the same stories over and over. "It was just a job, I tell them what they want to hear," she'd say to me.
Flo also was not keen on taking photos with fans. I knew this and never in 10 years ever asked her to take a photo with me. Now I wish I had. She wouldn't have refused. My pal, author Dewey Cassell, a close friend of Flo, took a great photo with her in 2012 outside one of Flo's favorite eating haunts downtown on a visit to New York. I cropped out several background individuals that Dewey said Flo thought looked straight out of central casting! Flo didn't want Dewey to publish the photo until she passed away, a morbid request to be sure, but showed the depths of her privacy wishes. I'm jealous, Dewey.
Additionally, Flo did not suffer fools well and was annoyed by incompetence. This is why she was still in-demand as a proof-reader for Marvel. Flo would constantly complain about today's generation's inattention to proper grammar. It drove her crazy. She would say, "people think I'm always so nice, but I'm not." I would then call her a liar to her face and she'd break into a wide grin and laugh, saying, "Oh Doc, you just know me too well!"
Here is a sampling of those books....
I took Flo's number with me to San Diego, planning to call her from out here and tell her how the con was. I go to San Diego every year and every year Flo wanted a day by day account of what I did and who I saw. In fact, on my cell phone voice mail is a long message from Flo last year asking about all I did and saw at last years con. This message is now priceless to me as she asks about Barry, Nick and my wife Maggie. I don't believe Flo had ever attended the San Diego con. She was occasionally invited as a guest there over the years but always turned the honor down, not wanting to travel, nor deal with all the crush of fandom that would certainly occur.
Flo was no shrinking violet, all appearances to the contrary. Neither of us being terribly religious, we'd spoken about and discussed the concept of death and mortality many times over the course of the years. Knowing Flo and knowing how she felt about facing life head-on, I'm sure she faced a Ditko-rendered vision of eternity the same way. Head-on.
The GPS told us we'd arrived at our destination and it was the middle of nowhere. Tracking backwards, now we were lost. A half hour later, after talking to shop attendants and passer-byes on a main road, to no help at all, I found an online direction to the cemeteries in Ulster County and the proper direction we needed. We had been only a mile away all along and wasted 30 minutes going in the other direction.
- Betty Brant / Flo Steinberg comparison image is from http://sauropennacchioli.blogspot.it/2015/11/linattuale-steve-ditko-e-luomo-ragno.html?spref=fb&zx=9711068aa1d73a7e
- Photo of Flo and Dewey Cassell is from Dewey himself and used with permiossion.
- Photo of Stan Lee is from Maggie Vassallo and used with permission.
- Scans of comic books, artwork, paperbacks and Flo's letter to me are scanned from the author's original copies
- Voices of Marvel recording linked from Youtube.
- Photos of Flo from younger days were originally from Flo herself, used copiously through the years in various publications.
- The two photos of Flo at the 2014 NY Comicon as well as the image of the response card are courtesy Kendall Whitehouse. That card Flo is holding in the second photo is Kendal's actual original response card from Marvel that Flo wrote!
- Photo of Flo in 1975 courtesy of musician Todd Tamanend Clark.