Photographers and camera crews jockeyed for position on Tuesday amid the palm trees along Hollywood Boulevard as they sought the perfect angle for a historical moment: Stan “The Man” Lee, the biggest name in comic-book history if you don’t count the heroes and villains, got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as fans and friends cheered.
As a writer and editor, Lee had a hand in the creation of hundreds of heroes and villains and in collaborating with artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and John Buscema he gave the world the modern mythology of Marvel Comics with Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor, the Silver Surfer, Daredevil, the Avengers, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury. Those characters have gone well beyond the comics, too, inspiring massive Hollywood blockbusters, dozens of television series, video games, comic strips, novels, a Broadway show and enough toys, T-shirts and tie-in products to choke Galactus, the planet-eater.
Thanks to the film exploits of his creations, Lee now has a shining star in front of the Live Nation building at 7072 Hollywood Blvd. The comic book guru, who celebrated his 88th birthday on Dec. 28, was hailed at the event by POW! Entertainment COO Gil Champion and fellow comics creator Todd McFarlane.
“He is that American dream that we all look for,” McFarlane said. “He comes up with the ideas that we all look for to move us forward.”
It was then announced that in Hollywood, Jan. 4 would be Stan Lee Day. Lee, ever the showman, then took to the stage for a few words. “Some Stan Lee Day — the schools are still open,” Lee deadpanned. “They’re still delivering the mail too!”
During his speech, Lee thanked director Alfred Hitchcock for giving him a bit of advice and shared a tall tale. “I remember as a young man when he dangled me on his knee and said ‘Don’t waste time with the screen [acting], get into cameos!’ The reference is to Lee’s major moonlighting effort; he has two dozen cameos in films based on Marvel characters and that number will go up soon with the release this summer of “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Stanley Martin Lieber was born in New York City three days after Christmas 1922 and times were tough. The youngster worked as a movie-house usher, a sandwich-delivery kid and selling subscriptions for the New York Herald-Tribune. He found his future, though, in the early days of the American comic book industry, which took flight in a big way after Superman made his debut in the summer of 1938.
Young Lieber worked at a rival shop, however, publisher Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics. It was there, in 1941, that the teenager got his first credited work in the superhero business (it was a “filler” story in Captain America Comics) and the pseudonym that would later become his legal and world-famous name. The early motivation for the pen name was a telling one – the youngster wanted to save his real name for “legitimate” writing opportunities later in his career.
It was at Timely in those war years that Lee crossed paths with Kirby, the prolific artist and cosmic dreamer. Two decades later, Timely was known as Marvel Comics and Lee and Kirby would collaborate for a new sort of comic-book hero – instead of boy-scout boring, these humans bickered among themselves, struggled in their personal lives and wrestled with doubts and personal demons. Essentially, they put the human into superhuman stories and the melodrama was pitch-perfect for a 1960s audience that was far more interested in rebel souls and haunted heroes than morally polished authority figures.
Lee has been a master at marketing and creating a community that kept readers invested far beyond the final page of the comic book in their hands. His relentless energy and the intricate, ever-widening Marvel Universe contributed mightily to the tone and texture of the fanboy culture that has turned Comic-Con International into the world’s largest pop culture expo. Lee has endured some bumpy years, certainly. There was a nasty business scandal in 2000 that resulted in the bankruptcy of Stan Lee Media and the securities-fraud conviction of co-founder Peter F. Paul, but the company’s namesake was never implicated. Lee also become a figure of controversy to some fans and students of comics history who argue that he has gotten too much credit for bottling up the creative lightning of Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Ditko.
On Tuesday, though, there were cheers, not criticisms. With a look of pure joy, Lee let loose with his trademark declaration — “Excelsior!” — and then watched as his star, the 2,428th on the sidewalks of Hollywood, was unveiled and put him in the same firmament as his old heroes, Bogart, Stewart, Cagney and Gable.
– Jevon Phillips and Geoff Boucher
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UPDATE: An earlier version of this post had typo in the name of Gil Champion.