My first year as Marvel Editor in Chief was a tough one in many ways for everybody on staff. We all worked our butts off to get caught up, make things better and keep Marvel alive.
I suppose I could look up the date, but I’m pretty sure it was late in the year, during cold weather, anyway, that the long-awaited Superman movie came out.
I figured the editorial and production people deserved a perk. An early Christmas present, if you will. No, I’m not going to say “holiday present.” I’m old. I get the senior citizen discount. Give me a PC break.
Anyway…the movie opened strong. It was a hit. With a large group, the only sure way to get in without standing in line for hours, at least for the first few weeks after the premiere, was to go to the first show in the morning. No, I’m not going to say “standing ON line.” I’m from Pittsburgh where one stands IN line. I get the Allegheny Plateau discount. Give me a west-of-the-Hudson break.
So, I gathered up the troops one morning, all of us, I think, and we marched en masse over to the theater in Times Square to see the 10 AM show. There were about 30 of us. I paid for the tickets.
I didn’t make a lot of money back then, but I was happy to shell out for what I felt was a meaningful experience.
I thought the movie, and the implications it bore for our industry as a whole were extremely important. I thought it could be, and in many respects it was a watershed in the history of our medium—the first serious, successful super-hero movie. I wanted us to see it all together.
We had a blast.
We talked about it all the way back to 575 Madison and for days afterwards. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive. One thing—someone said they spent $44 million making the movie, an astronomical sum at the time. What they should have done was spend another couple of thousand dollars and hired any one of us to fix up the story a little. But, it was good. Great. Don’t get me wrong.
When we got back to the office, Stan asked me where everybody went? He couldn’t figure out why the place was suddenly deserted. I told him.
He seemed verklempt. He said he wished he had gotten to go with us. He wished he had been the one to take the staff to the movie. He thought it should have been him.
He was like a kid who was the only one not to get ice cream.
I felt bad. It never occurred to me to ask Stan to come. I don’t know why. “Hey, Stan, we’re going to go goof off for a few hours, wanna come?” Those words did not leap easily to mind.
He made me promise that if I ever did such a thing again, I’d include him. A good lesson there. Stan the Man was, and still is, I suspect, Stan the Fan as well.
The Playboy Club
A year or so into my tenure as Editor in Chief, Stan told me I should become a member of the Playboy Club on 59th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue, two street blocks and one avenue block away from the office, an easy walk. Stan told me it would be okay to put the membership on my expense report.
Stan said that it was a great place to entertain visiting freelancers, especially out-of-town types.
So I signed up. Yes, the place had beautiful women, many dressed in bunny suits, but beyond that, it was a really nice place. It was a palace. It had a great restaurant for lunch and an excellent fine dining restaurant on the top floor. It had a nightclub, which, at that time was a discothèque, of course. And more amenities.
Stan was right. It was a great place to take artists, writers and others for business lunches or expense account entertainment. Artists and writers, locals as well as out-of-towners loved it. When they visited, the Brits loved it. Painter Peter Ledger, who was from Australia, who worked on our Weirdworld book loved it.
I guess for some people I took there, it was a sociology field trip, but no one ever complained. It was a good lunch place, and if nothing else, it was interesting to see the place where Gloria Steinem once wore ears and a tail.
Other industry people were also members there, including some DC Comics brass. One of them organized a roast for Marty Pasko (somebody correct me if I have the roastee wrong) and booked the discothèque for the festivities, including dinner, dancing and comedically eviscerating Marty. Steve Mitchell was the emcee, I think. The hot new dance at the time was the “Bump.”
I let the membership lapse when Marvel moved down to 387 Park Avenue South in the early 80’s. It was too far to go, the place seemed to be in decline, and truthfully, its time had passed.
I believe that only twice during my time at Marvel did the board of directors visit our offices. Probably because they were in the city on other business….
The first time was early on in my tenure, late 1978 or 1979, I think. We had a new guy in the production department, Mike Higgins.
Mike’s art table was the nearest the door in the production department. The first thing you saw when you opened the door was him. He was a Grateful Dead fan. I don’t know if it’s fair to call him a Deadhead, but he dressed like one, for the most part. Tie-dyed tees. Deadhead-hip ragamuffin clothes. Okay by me and everyone else. Nobody cared what you wore.
One morning, I went to the production department for something, and there was Mike, working away, headphones on, bobbing up and down in time to the music. For some reason he had a hard hat on.
Oh, well. Whatever.
Later, I got a call from the receptionist on the ninth floor, the executive floor. She warned me that the board members were being given a tour by Marvel President Jim Galton, and that they were on their way down to our floor, the sixth floor.
I ran to our reception room and warned Josie the receptionist to be at her professional best, then I started down the hall, spreading the word, office by office, room by room, essentially saying “Bigshots coming through on a tour. Don’t do anything weird for at least ten minutes.”
The tour group came in. I was literally preceding them down the hall by a barely safe distance. I could hear Galton trying to conduct the tour. He had very seldom been to our floor before, and probably only to Stan’s office, so he was a lousy tour-giver. I heard him say things like, “Here are some artists drawing Spider-Man,” pointing to three guys doing paste-ups for the British department. And “What are people working on?” to an editor and his assistant. Please don’t say “comics” I thought. “Comics” said the editor.
At the end of the hall was the production room. I opened the door to sound the intruder alert. And there was Higgins….
Someone had attached a helium balloon on a string to the top of his hard hat. Someone had pasted a big thought balloon, beautifully lettered in big, display letters to the balloon that said “What me worry,” or something equally inspired. Someone had made horns and taped then to the hat. And more. You get the drift. Higgins, his table and his area were thoroughly decorated. Absolutely oblivious on purpose, Higgins was still bouncing, be-bopping and working, utterly unconcerned.
The tour group was coming around the corner….
If I could have done anything in time, I wouldn’t have. I hid and watched.
Galton flung open the door and announced that this was the production room. And saw Higgins. The whole board did. Red-faced, Galton quickly pulled the door shut and got very busy showing the group the photostat room, the last stop before the back door beyond which was the mailroom and mercifully, the elevator lobby.
I somehow managed to restrain howling laughter until they were safely gone.
The events of the tour were never spoken about upstairs.
The Secret Theater
When I was associate editor, I worked on a number of Don McGregor’s scripts. Killraven. Power Man. What else? The Black Panther? Somebody help me.
Anyway, I thought his writing was outstanding. Really interesting and thoughtful. A bit too wordy, sometimes. For instance, on more than one occasion he would write a lengthy caption describing something that appeared in the panel. Why? And then he’d place the caption over the thing being described, covering it completely.
Anyway, I had a great deal of respect for his stuff. He’d come into the office fairly frequently. I’d go over whatever comments or proposed corrections I had.
Don took great pride in his work. He didn’t want me or anyone rewriting his words. We always worked it out to his satisfaction, I believe.
(ASIDE: I’m talking about early 1976 here. I believe Archie Goodwin had to let Don go later that year, shortly after taking over as Editor in Chief. Don did some fill in work for me a couple of years later, when I was EIC. That didn’t go quite as well, possibly because they were someone else’s stories he was being asked to dialogue.)
Don showed me a page of his that Marv Wolfman had rewritten. It was a splash page. Don had written a caption or several expressing thoughts about the “nuclear family” in Killraven’s time. Marv misunderstood the reference and rewrote the captions so they spoke of bombs falling. The book went to press that way. With Don’s byline.
I think Don believed that I was actually trying to help. He thanked me when I caught slip-ups. He could tell, I think, even when we didn’t agree, that my goal was making the book better. Like I said, we worked things out.
Anyway, we were friends, or friendly, at least.
One evening, after work, Don asked me to come with him. He wouldn’t tell me what the destination was, but assured me that it was great. We walked west. Way west. Past Eighth Avenue below 42nd Street. Maybe past Ninth. Not the nicest neighborhood in those days. Old buildings, in various states of decay. Street people in various states of decay. A little creepy for a kid from the burbs of Pittsburgh. Don walked through the Dark Side of Manhattan with ease and confidence.
We arrived at a door to a brick building that had long ago passed the “aging” stage and maybe the “condemned” stage.
Don knocked on the door. A secret knock?
A guy slid open a little peephole. Like a speakeasy, I kid you not. I restrained myself from saying “swordfish.”
The guy recognized Don. He was suspicious of me. Don assured him I was okay.
We were allowed in. The inside matched the outside. Don led me down dark hallways to a room in the back. There were a dozen or so men sitting on mismatched chairs watching the end of a movie. An old movie. Black and white. A western.
So. A totally illegal underground theater. Showing old oaters.
When the film ended, a guy who seemed to be in charge walked over and greeted Don warmly. He was suspicious of me. Don assured him I was okay.
He said, words to the effect, “Hey, you’re in luck. We’ve got a Hoppy coming up next.
So we watched Hopalong Cassidy. I’d seen that one before, as a little kid. It was great seeing it again.
Enough for now.
NEXT: More Strange Tales and Stuff