The Sign Said "No Jews or Dogs": How 'G.I. Joe' Creator Responded to Prejudice with Inspiring Work

Ron Friedman says reading comics growing up showed him, "There is a place where you can exist as who you are without fear."
Beck Starr/FilmMagic
Ron Friedman

Even fictional heroes can help people overcome challenging times, and legendary TV writer Ron Friedman is testament to that.

The creator of the 1980s G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons grew up in Weirton, West Virginia, where he says, "anti-Semitism was on board all the way through."

"What gave me and my brother a sense of, 'It doesn’t have to be this way' was reading Superman, reading the comic books. Reading the comic strips," Friedman tells Heat Vision. "There is a place where you can exist as who you are without fear. And if there is fear, there are champions out there to help you overcome it."

One day as children, Friedman and his brother, the late novelist Richard Magill, received a sober awakening when they made their pilgrimage to the local comic book shop, which had changed ownership.

"We went to the store to get our comic books, and there was a sign — 'No Jews or Dogs.' Now how many times do you go back to that store? You don't," says Friedman. "We found another store that was a little more distant. We would take a bus to get there or dad would drive us."

Friedman would go on to train as an architect and later left the profession to make his name in television writing. His enviable list of credits includes Happy Days, The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart and many more. Among animation fans, he's revered for G.I. Joe and Transformers, where he injected the optimism harking back to the heroes of his youth, and worked with a diverse cast of characters.

Thinking back to the experience at the comic book shop all those years ago, Friedman says, "That's the world I despise."

"I hate the idea of a super, master race, and of a Big Brother, authoritarian America in which those, who are not exactly like the self-anointed 'real' Americans, are to be excluded, segregated, feared, hated, and ejected without recourse," he says. "I'm old enough to smell Nazi Germany whenever demagogues seek to revive it, no matter how tightly they wrap Old Glory around their lies."

For more from Friedman, check out or oral history of G.I. Joe, where he delves into creating powerful female characters and the show's message of never losing hope. 

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