Every now and then, dreams come true. Every now and then, we get a chance to cross from the world of fantasy to reality, and speak to the people who've populated our collective dreams for generations. This is a very special episode of Planet Fanboy, in which we speak to Stan Lee.
Stan the Man (as it is impossible not to call him) is not only the principal creator of all the characters in the forthcoming motion picture "The Avengers" (perhaps you heard of it) but he is also the STAR of his own movie.
"With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story" is making its debut on Epix this Friday. It is a fun and intimate look at the legendary comic creator's life and career. And it's like hanging out with that awesome Great Uncle who tells loud jokes at family functions.
I had the great privilege of speaking with the energetic eighty-nine year old Stan Lee over the phone this week. Please know that 97% of this interview was mixed with joyous laughter on either side. It went a little something like this.
Stan Lee, how are ya?
I'm great! How the hell are you?!
I am wonderful and I have one question before all others: are you wearing sunglasses right now, yes or no?
In a way, yes. They are regular glasses, but when I go out in the sun they get dark.
In this terrific documentary, "With Great Power: Stan Lee," you wear sunglasses through 95% of the movie.
I was a very affected guy when I was younger. Everything with me was image. In fact when I was very young I started smoking these long cheroot cigars because I saw Gary Cooper smoke them. I hated them! They made me sick! But, dammit, I wanted to look like Gary Cooper.
In the film you discuss how your earliest dreams were to be an actor, and now here's a movie about your life. With no additional plot, it's just you, just the life of Stan. How does this make you feel?
I can't believe it. It's EMBARRASSING! Gee, whiz! When they said they wanted to do it, I thought they were joking. They've been working on it for two years and, I tell ya, it must be frustrating for them because there's no good way to end it – I'M STILL AROUND! They're gonna have to do a sequel!
Was there anything you learned about yourself when watching this?
Yeah, I learned I'm not as photogenic as I thought I was!
No, no... I mean the way others see you, others speak about you. All these movie stars like Nicolas Cage, Seth Rogen, Ringo Starr, and then all the fans... you impact other people. How is it to see that?
It gave me only one thought. It occurred to me after hearing all those glowing things they were saying – I shouldn't have to pay taxes!! Why doesn't the government pay attention?! I'm a national treasure!!
Ha, well –
Hey, listen, if you are quoting this and you don't say he said it with a laugh I'll never talk to you again, you hear me?
It is possible you will be on a postage stamp some day.
Yeah, what's takin' 'em so long? Y'know with my luck, there won't be any more post office pretty soon, so that's when they'll do it!!
This documentary shows some sides of your life I didn't know much about. For example, your time in the army during the second World War. You were making propaganda films? Hygiene films
Not exactly, they were instructional films. Me, who had never been in combat, I was teaching troops how to do it. What they did was they would give me a manual with all the information and I would take that and put it in simplistic form using cartoons or any other way to make it quick and easy. I did posters and illustrated books. I worked with some really remarkable people, like for example [Pulitzer-winning author] William Saroyan and some of the biggest names in Hollywood were in that group.
Dr. Seuss and Frank Capra...
Frank Capra, sure. I was the token Nobody in that group. We didn't really work side-by-side, we each did our own thing. There was one time, though, in the beginning, I was with Saroyan and a few others like Charles Addams [creator of the Addams Family] and the Major comes up to me and says, "Sergeant, I'd like you to work a little slower." I said, "Why?" He said, "You're making the others look bad."
'Cause they'd give me an assignment and I'd do the book in a couple of days! Not that I'm so good, but because I hate to write so I did it quickly to get it out of the way. These guys, they'd linger over it, they'd go out for a smoke... I'd finish it real fast and it looked bad on their performance records.
What is it that you love about alliteration?
It sounds good! Simple as that! I used to love Edgar Allan Poe, and he's a master of it. "Hear the sledges with the bells, silver bells. What a world of merriment their melody foretells." And it goes on and on...
"The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth..."
Exactly. I caught the bug from him. But I had another reason for it, particularly with creating names like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner. I have the worst memory in the world, so if I can remember one name it would give me a clue how the other name went and I could remember it. That's the truth.
The other exciting thing about this film is that it gave me the opportunity to meet your wife.
She's the greatest!
I don't think I've seen her on film before, I know she was an actress in her youth...
She did one movie way back when, "Just Tell Me What You Want," with Alan King [and directed by Sidney Lumet] and she also did some voice overs for the "Spider-Man" TV cartoon. She played Madame Web.
Was that because you didn't have to pay her?
Hey, you are a little too sharp! No, no, she got the regular rate – she's damn good! But I told her I didn't need to be overshadowed by her, I told her to "stay and keep house." Yeah, as if I'd ever DARE to talk to her like that, you saw her in the movie.
It was charming to see the two of you, you've been together for over sixty years. What is your key to success?
My friend and partner Gill Champion says, when you wake up in the morning the first thing you say is "I'm sorry," and that keeps you the whole day. No, the trick is to marry the right person is all.
Mr. Lee, I know you have a lot of other people to speak with, so thank you for your time.
Okay, this has been fun. You are a good interviewer! Probably a lousy person, but a good interviewer!
More yuks from Stan Lee await in "With Great Power" on Epix. Do yourself a favor and watch it - and come back every Thursday for more intergalactic musings on Planet Fanboy and follow its fearless leader Jordan Hoffman on Twitter!