Stan Lee is gone, but he left us with a tremendous, history-making volume of enduring work. We’ll miss him greatly. We’ll never forget him. With sadness we reprint this article from 2015, which we penned as an installment of our Diet for Dreamers series.
He’s Still the Man!
Even seemingly “impossible” dreams can come true! Such was the case of a writer and creator named Stanley Martin Lieber, whose aspiration was to pen the Great American Novel. But the road to fulfilling one’s destiny can be long and meandering. It might even hold a surprising detour or two. Stanley never wrote anything quite as revered as Melville’s Moby Dick or Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, but he did manage to … well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves again. First things first.
The oldest of two sons, Stanley was born to Romanian Jewish immigrants, in Manhattan, New York on December 28, 1922. During his teens, Stanley’s family weathered the Great Depression, eventually downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, where he shared the bedroom with his brother, Larry. The boys’ parents slept on a foldout couch.
After attending high school in the Bronx, Lee began his journey to becoming a Great American Author … by delivering sandwiches for a local pharmacy to offices in Rockefeller Center, by ushering at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway, and by selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune. Oh, and he also worked as an office boy for a company that made men’s pants. Lee did, however, get occasional writing jobs: mostly composing obituaries for a news service.
In 1939, with a little help from an uncle, Stanley found a position as an “assistant” at the newly-formed Timely Comics. The publisher of Timely, Martin Goodman, was the husband of Stanley’s cousin Jean — so no one could quite label this as an act of nepotism. Initially, Stanley filled inkwells and fetched lunches for the staff, which included Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish guys who’d just created Captain America! Later, the young writer graduated to proofreading and even got to pen a one-page Captain America filler. When he wrote this first comic book material, he did so under a pseudonym. Stanley was saving his real name for literary fame.
Stanley soon found himself writing full-length comics stories, and when Simon and Kirby abruptly left in 1941, following a dispute with the publisher, Goodman promoted the 19-year-old “assistant” to interim editor. But Stanley demonstrated such a talent for the business that Goodman eventually made him editor-in-chief, a position Stanley held until 1972, when he actually succeeded Goodman as publisher.
Along the way, as he traveled further and farther down the road to his destiny, Stanley watched his dream of writing that novel fade in the distance. He was kept too busy writing the tales of “superheroes” for four-color comic books, a not very respectable “toss-away” medium. Whenever friends asked him exactly what he wrote, Stanley would hesitantly tell them he wrote “children’s literature.” But he kept his chin up and made the most of his opportunities. For instance, when the popularity of superheroes waned during the 1950s, Stanley created and wrote a string of wildly popular horror comics, along with romance and western features — whatever was selling at the time.
By the 1960s, there was a resurgence of interest in superheroes. Over at DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman, many of the company’s previously-mothballed characters were being rebooted. And Goodman took particular notice that DC was enjoying great success by teaming up several of its heroes in a single comics magazine. So he asked Stanley to create a team-up comic for his own “MCG” line of comics. Well, by now Stanley was feeling trapped in a fast lane leading him far away from that Great American Novel he longed to write. Partly as an escape, partly because his wife encouraged him to take creative liberties, Stanley wrote a story about a somewhat dysfunctional team of reluctant heroes for a comic book that would be years ahead of its time: he created The Fantastic Four.
Stanley Martin Leiber, the kid who wrote under the name of Stan Lee because he didn’t want to be associated with comic books, never did write that novel. But Stan “the Man” Lee did go on to create or co-create dozens more characters, including Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor, and he also successfully rebooted Captain America — “literary” characters that became household names and spawned a multi-billion dollar industry; intellectual properties that continue to provide the inspiration for Hollywood’s biggest box-office hits.
Today, at age 92, Stan Lee is still happily working with comic book characters, and after 67 years of wedded bliss, his wife, actress Joan B Lee, proudly proclaims that Stan is still the Man. He continues to guide the characters he created, as an executive producer for each new movie in Disney’s tremendously successful “Marvel Cinematic Universe”; and in every one of these movies, he can be seen in a brief cameo role, hamming it up, having a blast, embracing his destiny — and enjoying his status as one of the greatest, most famous writers of fiction the world has known.
‘Nuff said, True Believers!
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delights in his way.” (Psalm 37:23 AKJV)
Rest In Peace, Stan Lee (December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018)