Stan meets Frank Costello
Vince Colletta told me this story. Vince told me a lot of wild stories. At first, I thought he was, as my grandma Elsie might say, “full of potato soup and monkeys.” Like the time he told me he was cast for a major role in The Godfather. Long story, but ultimately the role was taken away from him and given to a big-name actor who had big-time clout with the director. Vince said that the casting director quit because of that.
1981-ish. Mike Hobson, relatively new publisher at Marvel asked me to go to lunch with him one day. No agenda, just lunch. Mike was making an effort to get to know the creative troops and told me he wouldn’t mind if I brought someone along. Vince happened to be in the office, so….
I don’t know how it came up, but at lunch, Vince told his I-was-almost-in The Godfather story. It so happened that Mike had been working at the William Morris Agency at the time, was fully aware of the casting dust-up and verified everything Vince said.
Later, Vince showed me a videotape of his screen test, in which he played a mobster being questioned by a Senate subcommittee. He was good.
One way or another, many, many of the seemingly outrageous tales Vince told from time to time were corroborated.
So I tend to believe the stories he told me—this one for instance:
Vince knew guys who knew guys. As far as I know, he wasn’t “involved,” as they say, with any real-life people resembling characters from The Godfather, but he actually knew, or at least had met a few.
Sometime back in the sixties, Vince and Stan were at P.J. Clarke’s, a legendary watering hole at the corner of 55th and Third. Vince noticed Frank Costello and his entourage entering. Costello had been head of the Luciano crime family, and though “retired,” was still very influential. He was known as the “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” probably the most famous Mafia figure of his era.
I don’t know how Vince knew him—probably from somebody’s sister’s cousin’s wedding or some such. But he knew him, at least well enough to say hello. So he did. He went to Costello’s table, exchanged greetings, came back and sat back down with Stan again.
Stan asked Vince to introduce him to Costello. Who knows why? Just because he was a larger than life, almost mythic figure, albeit a notorious one? A bad guy? I guess all of us comics types have a fascination with villains as well as heroes.
Vince didn’t think that was such a good idea. Stan, said Vince, wouldn’t let it go and kept bugging Vince to make the introduction. Finally, he wore Vince down.
So, Vince and Stan went over to Costello’s table. Vince introduced Stan. “Mr. Costello, my friend would like to meet you. This is Stan Lee….”
Whereupon Stan stuck his hands up in the air and said, “Pleased to meet you! Don’t shoot!”
While I’m doing first meetings….
Sometime in 1979, I believe, Paul Gulacy called to ask a favor.
Paul lived in Ohio back then, I think. He’d come home from somewhere one day to find a young man sitting on his lawn. A wannabe comic book artist, who absolutely worshipped Paul and his work.
I gather that Paul was polite with the guy. But the guy wouldn’t leave. He had come some distance, from I forget where, Wisconsin, maybe, to see Paul, and he wasn’t about to go away without accomplishing his mission. The guy begged, insisted, demanded that Paul help him get employment as an artist for Marvel.
Paul told him he couldn’t help him. The guy would not take no for an answer. He pretty much camped out on Paul’s lawn. Days passed.
So, Paul called me and asked me as a favor to look at the guy’s portfolio. He wasn’t recommending him, mind you, he just wanted him off the lawn.
Actually, Paul did say that he thought the guy had promise. But mostly he wanted him off the lawn.
I said, sure. For you, Paul, no problem. Paul said the guy’s name was Steve Rude.
A few days later, Steve Rude showed up at Marvel. Josie, the receptionist called to tell me he’d arrived. I went to reception and showed him to my office.
His samples, penciled comics pages, looked stylistically like Paul’s stuff—but the draftsmanship was very weak. Bad, in fact. Figures out of proportion, misshapen, wonky perspectives…. I launched into what I thought was a gentle, helpful, nice-as-I-could critique. Here’s what you need to improve to bring your work up to snuff. That sort of thing.
He argued with me.
He insisted that he was the best artist who had ever crossed our threshold. (!!!)
He declared his work “perfect.” He dismissed my criticisms. I obviously didn’t know greatness when it was right in front of me. I obviously didn’t know anything about art. I obviously didn’t know anything.
Throughout he referred to himself in the third person, as “the Dude.” This is pretty close: “The Dude is the best. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you see that the Dude’s work is genius?”
He absolutely insisted, demanded to be given full time work as an artist. He would not take no for an answer. And, he would not leave.
I’m not as polite as Paul. And I’m huge. And in those days, I was in shape.
I didn’t touch him, no violence, no contact, but I sort of herded him back toward the reception room and pointed him toward the elevators. I went back to my office.
A few minutes later, I had reason to walk down the hall, headed toward Denny O’Neill’s office, I think. And there was the Dude in Al Milgrom’s office, showing his portfolio, having the same, bizarro, Dude-rich conversation with Al as he’d had with me.
I chased him out again. Al told me that he’d claimed that I had looked at his “genius” work and sent him down the hall to see him, Al, who would give him a job. Al thought I had gone insane, or that the Dude must be blackmailing me or something.
Josie told me he’d hung around the reception room and when she’d buzzed the door open to let someone else in, he’d zipped in right behind them before the door closed.
I told Josie if it happened again to call me right away.
A few minutes later, on my way to the production department, as I passed Jim Salicrup’s office (I think) there he was again! Same drill. Dude!
He’d hung around the back door, by the mailroom—no receptionist there—and when someone opened it to go in or out, he’d slipped in again.
I threw him out again and threatened to call the police.
Three times in the space of half an hour I threw Steve Rude out of the Marvel offices.
Geez, Louise. Rude, indeed.
Over the next two or three years he changed his style, got better and turned out okay, I hear.
I haven’t had any dealings with him since the Day of the Rude Dude at Marvel, other than saying hello at conventions and such. From people at Dark Horse, who have had dealings with him, I’ve heard that he’s still, shall we say, not humble. Not the easiest-to-deal-with Dude. Genius, though. He got that down.
I wonder how he tells that story?
Going Bananas with Dino DeLaurentiis
Final “meeting” story for now.
Sometime during the spring of 1980, Dino DeLaurentiis optioned the rights to the Ghost Rider.
Because the Dazzler movie treatment I’d written had gotten good reaction, I was asked to write, or pick someone to write a treatment for the potential Ghost Rider film. And DeLaurentiis was going to pay for the treatment!
If it had to be done for free and in a hurry, I would have taken the bullet. But there was money! And it wasn’t a killer deadline! So, I asked the best comics writer I knew, possibly the best writer, period, Archie Goodwin, to give it a go.
Archie wanted to do it, and he certainly had use for the dough, but as I’ve said before, he was a very slow writer. He was reluctant to commit. He said it might be okay if we did it together.
My plan was to let Archie do as much of it as he wanted to or could and pitch in when and where he needed a hand. Deal.
First, we had to meet with Dino DeLaurentiis to get the marching orders. One afternoon, we trudged from 575 Madison over to the Gulf & Western building where Dino had an office.
Dino’s stupefyingly beautiful secretary, dressed for a Paris Fashion Week catwalk (didn’t they used to be called runways?) escorted us into his basketball court-sized office.
The office décor was interesting. It was basically a shrine to King Kong. Framed posters and giant-sized stills from the film. Bronze statues of Kong. Paintings of Kong. Artifacts and souvenirs from the film on display. Even items from the original 1933 movie. Welcome to the King Kong Museum.
Dino had a thick accent. I’m not good at replicating accents, but bear with me for just this one attempt. His very first words to us were: “Didda you seeya my Kong?”
Well, both of us had, and mumbled some praise. I was still thinking about the secretary….
Then we got down to business. Dino explained what he wanted from us. As he was talking, I noticed Archie looking around at all the Kong stuff and I sensed that some switch had been tripped inside his brain.
Archie had a fairly dignified look about him. He was 14 years older than me. He was respected and admired by everyone. Oh, but if they only knew…!
Arch could clown with the best of them. He was, for instance, the master of the pratfall. He could appear to fall face down, hard, causing great consternation among onlookers, then bounce up, face un-smashed, laughing.
The very first day he was Editor in Chief, production manager Big John Verpoorten came to his office, loomed menacingly in the doorway and growled, “Everything is late! What are you going to do about it?!” Archie said nothing, went liquid, and melted out of his chair down to the floor under his desk, leaving Big John staring at an empty chair. “Now what am I supposed to do?!” John fumed, and stomped away. Archie came back up and started working again as if nothing had happened.
Once as we were crossing the street, a pickup truck with a gun rack was sitting at the light. Archie leaped up onto the fender shouting, “Look at me, I’m a deer!”
Get the drift?
So Dino says he wants us to really think it through, explore every possibility.
“Okay,” says Arch. “We’ll monkey around with it.”
Dino says think big….
“You want us to go ape?” asks Archie.
Don’t worry about budget….
“We’ll go bananas!”
It got worse. Every simian reference conceivable.
About the deadline….
“When do you want the whole Magilla?”
All of this went waaay over Dino’s head. English not his first language.
I, however, couldn’t keep a straight face. I was giggling like a schoolgirl.
Dino kept looking at me as if I were crazy, weird or on drugs.
“This,” said Arch, deadpan, “is going to be more fun than…”
No, no, no! Don’t say it!
“…a barrel of monkeys!”
As we marched back to Marvel, Goodwin looked smug. I was just glad I didn’t wet my pants laughing.
So we wrote the thing. The basic idea was Archie’s and he wrote most of the first half. Then he went on a trip with the family he’d had planned, so I wrote the last half. The ending is mine. We hadn’t worked that out before he left, but when he eventually read it, he seemed happy with it. A “this is okay” from Archie was as good as gushing praise from anyone else.
Nothing came of the project.
Here’s a letter I got from Dino’s organization:
Use of Proceeds
To date, donations given to support this blog have totaled $989.00. Of that, a small amount has been put aside for basic blogging expenses that JayJay can explain and I can’t. The rest of the money has gone to buy food pellets for her and/or whatever Blog Elves require to survive. Because JayJay spends a lot of time and puts in a lot of effort to get this thing online and I haven’t been able to pay her since May.
At the point that any revenues we may get from ads is sufficient to cover expenses and keep the Blog Elf well-fed and sleek, I will stop asking for donations, and in fact, refuse them.