Excelsior! The Life and Legacy of Marvel Legend Stan Lee



Dankwa Nnoma-Addison, Staff Writer

Captain America. The Avengers. Black Panther. Infinity War. These are all characters and movies Stan Lee helped create. This Marvel legend and executive made a large impact on American pop culture as we know it today. As a huge Marvel fan, I thought it best to dedicate this publication to talking about his life and legacy, after his recent passing in November 2018. Lee was a very diverse man; he was a man of many sides and led a very interesting life. So what’s the deal? What’s behind the man who created such a heroic empire?

Stanley Martin Lieber was born on December 28, 1922 in Manhattan, New York City, in his parents’ apartment. He was born to Romanian-born Jewish parents Celia Solomon and Jack Lieber, and had a younger brother named Larry Lieber. His father worked as a dress cutter at random intervals after the Great Depression. At one point in their lives, Lieber’s family lived in a third-floor apartment where he and Larry shared the bedroom and his parents slept on a fold out couch. As a child, he was influenced by books and movies, especially those that portrayed American actor Errol Flynn as the protagonist. He used adventure, movies and creation as a way of escaping a life full of struggle. They gave him escape, comfort, advice, and inspired his imagination.

Lieber attended school at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. He worked part-time jobs. He also wrote obituaries & press releases for a news service & the National Tuberculosis Center, delivered sandwiches to Rockefeller Center, worked as an office boy at a trouser manufacturer, and ushered at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway. He loved writing and dreamed of writing the “Great American Novel” one day. When he was fifteen, Lieber entered a writing contest for high school-age kids sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. He claims he won the prize three straight weeks in a row and that the judges begged him to let someone else win. According to thedrive.com, Lieber graduated high school early at age 16 ½ in 1939; and after high school, he joined the WPA Federal Theater Project, as sponsored by the New Deal.

Lieber first started working at Marvel Comics when it was Timely Comics, as an assistant in 1939, with the help of his uncle Robbie Solomon. He filled inkwells, got artists their lunch, proofread, and erased pencil marks from finished pages. At the time, he worked for Martin Goodman. Stanley’s cousin, Jean, was Goodman’s wife.

Lieber moved up at Timely Comics, beginning with his comic book debut in may 1941 by writing the text filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge,” from the third installment of Captain America Comics. This is where and when he started using the pseudonym Stan Lee, which he would come to be known by globally. He went on to write in his autobiography that he used this pen name because he was embarrassed of his job because at the time –  writing comic books was considered lowly. In August 1941, Lee created his very first characters: the Destroyer, Jack Frost, and Father Time. As he created more characters, his superiors took notice of him, naming him head editor at just 19 years old.

This time period was not all make-believe and imagination, however. At this time, men were being shipped off to fight in World War II. Lee, too, awaited the same fate. Stan Lee entered the United States Army in 1942 and served in the Signal Corps until he was transferred to the Training Film Division, where he worked with films and cartoons once in a while. He was designated in the Army as “playwright,” which was special, as only nine men in the entire U.S. Army were given that call sign. He also had many famous creators in his company: Oscar-winning director Frank Capra and children’s writer and illustrator Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, among others, served with him.

None of this service, however, deterred Lee from his passion. At one point during his military and civilian career, he tampered with the Army mail service to retrieve a letter from Timely Comics detailing what needed to be submitted for the following week. He faced charges and almost went to military prison. However, a superior stepped in and saved Lee from further trouble.

This time was very personal for Lee. He married Joan B. Lee in 1947, and their relationship would go on for 70 years. He had two children: Joan Celia Lee, who grew up to be an actress, and Jan Lee, who died as a young child.

Timely Comics transitioned in the 1950’s to Atlas Comics, which evolved into Marvel Comics in the 1960s. Stan’s role changed too. He served in many roles over the years as co-creator, director, editor, figurehead, and eventually the title he deserved all along, president. He later stepped down from the executive role because he did not get to enjoy much of the creative process he was used to. He did, however, make cameos in the early TV shows and movies, a tradition he continued all the way until his death, and even long after. He had a cameo in Into The Spider-Verse, and will likely feature in Avengers: Endgame.

Lee had a very accomplished career, and received some rewards: the Producers Guild of America Vanguard Award, the National Medal of the Arts, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to name a few, according to IMDb. Even with a long list of iconic characters and credits underneath his belt, it may still be hard to see why Stan Lee was so memorable. It was because the characters he created were real. He created heroes with relatable private lives, from dealing with bills to illness to impressing love interests. He told his stories in a way that made them relatable to everyday people. He also touched upon many social issues and created a diverse world of people of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations. He defied racism, misogyny and bigotry by standing up to it through his characters. He invested excellence in his work. Most importantly of all, he put his heart and everything he had into each one of his productions. That’s why so many people try to copy his work, and today why the vast majority of people love his Marvel  films.

Lee’s comics and films have also touched me on a personal level. For elementary school, I attended a smaller school where everybody was the same. When I was in 7th grade, I transferred to SSFS. I felt different from everybody else. When I came here, I was talking to some classmates, and they were discussing their opinions on the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  This helped me build a bridge and become more social with those around me.

That was the first Marvel film I ever saw, and it introduced me to your world, Stan. You helped me connect with my peers on some level. You help me find a portion of myself that I’m so happy I found, and that has stuck with me for the past four years. You wrote the Great American Novel, with characters unlike any other. You showed people what hard work and dedication looked like, giving us all you had to offer and putting your whole heart into it. So thank you, Stan Lee. You changed my life. Excelsior!