UrselD: How did the Stan Lee cameo in the Marvel movies thing start?
Born Stanley Martin Lieber almost a century ago in 1922, the man who would become far better known by his pen name, Stan Lee, was born into a family of very modest means with Stan, his brother, and Romanian immigrant parents sharing a single room apartment in New York during the 1930s.
As Lee would recall, I grew up in New York City during the Depression. My earliest recollections were of my parents, Jack and Celia Lieber, talking about what they would do if they didnt have the rent money. Luckily, we were never evicted. But my father was unemployed most of the time. He had been a dress cutter, and during the Depression, there wasnt much need for dress cutters. So I started working when I was still in high school. I was an office boy, I was an usher, I wrote obituaries for celebrities while they were still alive. Lots of jobs.
Showing an interest in writing from his teens, Lees mother was his #1 fan at that time, She thought I was the greatest thing on two feet. Id come home with a little composition I had written at school and shed look at it and say, Its wonderful! Youre another Shakespeare! I always assumed I could do anything. It really is amazing how much that has to do with your attitude.
Stan Lee in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
In 1939 at the age of 17, Lee landed a job with a company owned by his cousin, Jean Goodmans, husband, Martin Goodman. The company was called Timely Publications. While the pay wasnt much, a mere per week (about 7 today), it was potentially a path to a professional writing gig, though not quite the one he originally envisioned for himself.
Two years into the job, he was finally granted a chance to write filler text in the 1941 Captain America #3 comic. Called, Captain America Foils the Traitors Revenge, the story, along with being warmly received by fans, introduced the idea of Captain America being able to throw and ricochet his trademark shield, now a defining aspect of the character. It was also the first comic in which Lieber, as he was then known, wrote under the pseudonym Stan Lee. According to Lee, he chose not to write under his then real name since he still hoped to one day write proper literature and had dreams of writing the great American novel. Thus, he didnt want his name to be sullied by his work in comics.
Plans changed, however, when he randomly got a promotion to head editor of the comic department at just 19 years old.
At this point, in order to give the illusion of a large staff, Lee took to using a variety of other pseudonyms as well.
In 1942, a temporary editor was hired while Lee served in the US Army with the Signal Corps. He never saw combat, instead working at repairing communications equipment and later writing field manuals and military slogans as a part of the Training Film Division. Also in that division were the likes of Frank Capra, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and the creator of The Addams Family, Charles Addams.
Despite being in the army, Lee still kept up with his work at Timely as best he could from afar, with weekly letters mailed to him explaining exactly what he needed to produce content for that week. Once he was done, hed mail it back.
Lees service ended in 1945 and he went back to Timely full time.
It was two years later that Lee, with an awkwardness befitting a man who would come to create the characters nerds the world over would grow to love, Lee met and wooed his future wife.
There are conflicting accounts on whether one of Lees friends dared him to ask out some red headed model or his cousin set him up on a blind date with said model. Either way, Lee went to her office to see about that date. However, when he arrived and knocked at the door of the modeling agency, the woman who answered was someone completely different a hat model from England by the name of Joan Boocock. Joan had come to America after marrying one Sanford Dorf, who had been serving in the UK during the war.
Stan Lee in Doctor Strange.
Stunned when he saw her, rather than play it cool, instead Lee apparently almost immediately professed his undying love for her, and then followed this awkward exchange up by telling her hed had her face in his mind and been drawing it since he was a kid (According to Lee, this wasnt any sort of cheesy line, but the absolute truth.)
Rather than finding any of this weird or creepy, despite being married at the time, Joan agreed to go out on a date with Lee. As to why, despite by her own admission being in a happy marriage, she found it completely boring. (I guess as youd expect from marrying someone named Sanford Dorf.)
But Stan Lee, she states, He wore a marvelous floppy hat and scarf and spouted Omar Khayyam [an 11th/12th century Persian poet] when he took me for a hamburger at Prexys. He reminded me of that beautiful man, [British actor] Leslie Howard.
As for Lee, he said he knew right on his first date he wanted to marry Joan. Two weeks later, not caring in the slightest that she was already married, he proposed and she said yes.
The problem was that she now needed a divorce, which was prohibitively difficult in New York at the time. Where there is a will, theres a way, however, and she simply moved to Reno temporarily. You see, in Reno, you only needed to live there six weeks before you could file for divorce in the area, and the judges there were much more accepting of such.
However, during her time in Reno, being a beautiful young model and all, suitors flocked to her like the salmon of Capistrano. With Lee back in New York and their relationship not exactly built on a firm foundation, Lee said at one point he got a letter from Joan with the implication being she was thinking of breaking off their whirlwind courtship.
Not going to give her up without a fight, Lee took a trip to Reno and convinced her he was the love of her life and she his. The two then got married in Reno on the same day she got a divorce, and by the same judge who granted it, mere minutes after the divorce papers were signed.
While you might think such a relationship was doomed to end in failure. In fact, the couple spent the next 69 years together, before Joans death in 2017 at the age of 95.
Stan Lee in The Amazing Spider-Man.
Said Lee of Joan in their twilight years together, My wife and I are really so close. And yet, Im not sure if shes ever read a story I wrote. Shes not into comics at all.
Going back to Stan Lees career, as for Timelys strategy in those days, it was essentially just copy whatever the competition was doing.
This all changed, ironically, from copying someone again
At this point in his career, Lee had grown weary of writing comics, seeing the medium as stagnant and devoid of interesting characters. He was, in fact, planning on quitting.
Thats when Joan told him he should take the opportunity in trying to copy the Justice League concept to create the characters hed find interesting. Lee says she stated, Why not write one book the way youd like to, instead of the way Martin wants you to? Get it out of your system. The worst thing that will happen is hell fire you but you want to quit anyway.
Simultaneously, Lee states, [My wife] Joan was commenting about the fact that after 20 years of producing comics I was still writing television material, advertising copy, and newspaper features in my spare time. She wondered why I didnt put as much effort and creativity into the comics as I seemed to be putting into my other freelance endeavors [Her] little dissertation made me suddenly realize that it was time to start concentrating on what I was doing to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books.
Lee then decided,
While this might all seem pretty normal today, at the time in the superhero genre it was groundbreaking. Said Lee, Thats what any story should have, but comics didnt have until that point. They were all cardboard figures.
The product of this was The Fantastic Four. The results surpassed his wildest expectations.
With business booming, Lee states, [We] realized we were onto something. I figured we needed a new name, because we were not the same company we had been. I remembered the first book Martin published when I started there was called Marvel Comics. It had the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, and it was very successful. Why dont we call the company Marvel? There are so many ways you can use that word in advertising. I came up with catch phrases like Make mine Marvel and Marvel marches on!'
At this point while Martin was open to giving Lee fairly free rein, he still had his limits, which was a problem for Spider-Man, who Lee dreamed up as follows:
The concept of Spider-Man, however, was a little too far out.
Stan Lee in Spider-Man.
With business booming, Martin decided to sell the company, with Perfect Film and Chemical aquiring Marvel in the late 1960s. Not long after that, Lee got a promotion,
This brings us finally to the cameos and how that whole thing got started.
His first cameo of sorts was text only, occurring in an All-Winners comic in 1941 where various characters petition Lee to add more characters. Next up, Wayne Boring and Hank Chapman decided to put their boss in the 1951 Astonishing #4.
Where the cameos really became a thing though started in 1963, when Lee and his long-time collaborator, Jack Kirby, appeared in The Fantastic Four #10 in which the pair are featured on the cover, as well as inside. On the cover, it shows the duo with Lee saying, Hows this for a twist Jack? Weve got Doctor Doom as one of the Fantastic Four!! With Kirby adding, And Mister Fantastic himself as the villain!! Our fans oughtta flip over this yarn!!
Stan Lee in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Beside them, it also states, In this epic issue surprise follows surprise as you actually meet Lee and Kirby in the story!! Plus a gorgeous pin-up of the invisible girl!
As for inside the issue, it has Doctor Doom demanding that Lee and Kirby get the Fantastic Four to walk into a trap, which they then do.
Said Lee of this sort of thing, The artists back then would draw me in as a joke or just to have fun. And I would put some dialogue balloons there and it looked as if I intended it. I didnt try to do cameos in those days.
But fans loved it, as well as the chance to get to know the people behind the comics, which were featured in a section of their own as well. The point of all of this, along with the little quips and notes in various areas was, according to Lee, [For] the reader to feel we were all friends, that we were sharing some private fun that the outside world wasnt aware of.
From here the occasional cameo caught on, with Lee stating, Anything that seemed fun and anything that the readers seemed to enjoy we kept doing and those things brought in a lot of fan mail. And we werent doing movies or television, our whole existence depended on comic books, so if you see that something is interesting to the fans you stay with it.
Since then Lee, and to a lesser extent Kirby (who was notably more camera shy), appeared numerous times across many forms of media. These cameos range from simple background characters in comics bearing Lees likeness to full on self-referential roles in Marvels numerous works. The most egregious example of the latter is arguably the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon in which Spider-Man is transported to the real world via magical comic shenanigans and meets Stan Lee, who reveals that he created Spider-Man and spends some time conversing with his creation before being left stranded on a roof.
Moving on to Lees first cameo in video form, this appeared in the 1989 The Trial of the Incredible Hulk where Lee appears in the jury at the trial.
Arguably Lees most unusual cameo is one in a property owned by Marvels single biggest rival, DC Superman: The Animated Series. In the episode, Apokolips Now! Part 2, Lee, along with characters who bear a striking resemblance to members of the Fantastic Four, appear in a brief crowd shot of the funeral of the character, Dan Turpin. Said characters appearance was largely based on the aforementioned Jack Kirby, whod sadly died the year earlier. Out of respect for his memory and his contribution to the world of comics, the animators for the episode snuck in a character who looked like Lee along with several other Marvel characters Kirby had helped create. The commitment to accuracy was such that the graveyard shown in the episode was modeled on the one Kirby is buried in, in real life and the crew hired an actual rabbi to read a kaddish that was included in the episodes audio. Lees cameo was removed in the subsequent DVD release of the episode, but he can still be seen in the episodes storyboards.
Speaking of cameos, a slightly lesser known fact is that Lees beloved wife, Joan, who was the inspiration for a few female characters in the Marvel universe, also did voice work for the 1990s Fantastic Four and Spider-Man animated series, as well as a cameo of her own in X-Men: Apocalypse where she appears alongside Stan Lee.
This all brings us to Stan Lees final cameo, where he appears as a de-aged hippie alongside a woman who is meant to be a de-aged Joan Lee very fittingly for them both, this final cameo appeared in Marvels Endgame.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
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