Gene Simmons and KISS: Channeling One’s Inner Superhero
by Russ Maheras
In 1958, an estranged Hungarian Jew and Holocaust survivor named Flóra “Florence” Klein brought her eight-year-old son, Chaim Witz, to New York City from Israel to seek out a new and better life. Chaim Witz’s name was soon Americanized to Gene Klein, and would eventually become the infinitely more famous double-alter ego Gene Simmons.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After a year in an Orthodox Jewish school, the young Klein made his transition to America complete by entering the New York City public school system. Unable to speak or write English at first, Klein quickly turned to the new and fascinating world of American popular culture to learn his adopted language. While other kids were outside playing baseball or kick-the-can, Klein immersed himself in almost all of the mass entertainment arts: movies, television, science fiction, cartoons, pulps, and especially comic books. Reflecting later about those early years, he said once he saw Superman and Batman, “he was hooked.”
Then, in 1964, at the age of 14, he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and a new world opened up for him: pop music. As he said decades later in his book Kiss and Make-Up, “My first thoughts about pop music were born that night, and they were simple thoughts: If I go and start a band, maybe the girls will scream for me.”
Klein’s first band was Lynx, announced incorrectly as The Missing Links – the name which ended up sticking – and it consisted of Klein, Danny Haber and Seth Dogramajian. Like Klein, both band-mates were obsessed with comic books. Klein elaborated about their four-color passion: “Seth and I used to publish amateur fanzines about comic books and science fiction. We would write articles, review movies, and talk about characters from television shows. His fanzine was called Exile; mine was called Cosmos. But after the Beatles, it became clear to us that, as much as we loved science fiction, it wasn’t going to get us where we wanted to go with the girls.”
But even as Klein began actively forging ahead on his nascent music career, his entrance into the world of science fiction, comic book, and film fandom exploded.