If you have ever read Stan Lee’s Soapbox collection, you may have come across one where Stan suddenly bursts into Gaelic: “Ceud Mile Fàilte, he correctly asserts, “means 100,000 welcomes.” And yet, in his biography Excelsior! He says of himself, “I who can speak no language but English.” So, how come he knew some Gaelic? Well…
In 1976, through my friends at the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, I learned that Stan Lee would be having a meeting in the hotel at Glasgow Queen Street station. I figured I had nothing to lose by turning up at the hotel. I bribed the guy at reception to go upstairs and ask if it would be OK if I joined them. Boy, was I nervous.
The receptionist soon came back down and informed me someone was coming to see me. “This is it,” I thought. “Security are going to throw me out.”
The guy who came down was not security, but a very nice guy from Conde Nast. “Stan has invited you to join us upstairs.”
I have a habit of looking cool outside even when my heart is racing. We went upstairs in the lift and the nice guy invited me to help myself to a drink because Stan was in the middle of talking to some people. The girl at the drinks table told me Stan was drinking vodka and orange, so that was good enough for me.
Then I scanned the room and saw a guy in a suit, sitting on a couch talking to some people. Unlike them, however, he was wearing a Captain Britain mask. Surely that couldn’t be Stan? But it was. After a little while, he finished his interview, took off his mask and… headed over to introduce himself to me. Gulp!
Thus began a two hour conversation.
“What city is this, John? All hotel rooms eventually look the same.”
“It’s Glasgow, Stan. Did you just come up from Newcastle?”
“Yes, I did. How did you know that?”
“Well, your wife’s family live there. Remember the time she was visiting them and on her return journey via London she picked up some artwork from Barry Windsor Smith who was running a bit late on Conan?”
“No, I don’t remember anything about that. But if you say so.”
Then a guy from a leading distributor who had made liberal use of the free bar came up to talk to Stan. He began talking about all sorts of things about the UK distribution of comics that Stan would have been very unlikely to know. I also felt that Stan was not understanding everything the guy was saying since his heavy Glaswegian accent was even giving me problems. When the guy finished his questions, all Stan said was:
“You’d be better asking John. He knows more about me than I do.”
Stan asked me if I’d received any Marvel honours. I mentioned I had a Q.N.S. and a No-Prize. Stan made me kneel in front of him and, laying a pen (which is mightier than the sword) on each of my shoulders, announced I was now an F.F.F. Who needs the British Honours List?
What a night!
Just before he left, Stan asked me for an anecdote for the Soapbox. My pal Andy who was with us suggested I give Stan a phrase in Gaelic which I was studying at the time. So, I figured Ceud Mile Fàilte would fit the bill. Stan always kept a little reporters notebook in his pocket and I wrote down the phrase for him and told him what it meant. And thus, a while later, it ended up in the Soapbox in every Marvel comic published that month.
I came across Stan a few times in San Diego. One evening was particularly memorable. My friend Glenn Kaneda introduced me to – of all people – Jack Kirby. Jack spoke to me about his time in the UK; unfortunately, he was here to train for war. Imagine he hadn’t survived! Anyway, I wandered away from that meeting on cloud nine and went to the annual concert given by the band Seduction of the Innocent.
After a while standing watching the band, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar figure. Standing right beside me was Stan! I reminisced about Glasgow, but he had, of course, forgotten most of it. No wonder. He hadn’t exactly been idle in the intervening years.
Another time, back in Glasgow, I met some folks from the film business. One of the guys was introduced to me by my friend Claire who must have told him something about me. So, he told me he had once dated Stan’s daughter J.C. Finding this a bit of a coincidence, I asked him various questions about her and he answered correctly. Then I asked him to name a movie she had been in.
Without hesitation he replied, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
I knew that was correct because Stan had told me during a conversation about movies. So it seems that guy had indeed dated J.C.
Back in the 70s Stan was trying to get a decent movie made of the Marvel heroes, but he knew that the SFX of the time just could not compete with what Kirby and Ditko could create with just pencil and paper. However, he did tell me that Olivia Newton John had been suggested for the part of Shalla Bal in a proposed Silver Surfer movie. A pity Stan’s ideas were way ahead of the technology at the time. But look what’s happened since!
So, that was Stan. In the 70s he struck me as a nice version of J. Jonah Jamieson, always treating people with respect, always quick-thinking with his responses, always generous with his time.
In Glasgow we gave him 100,000 welcomes and he in return gave us 100,000 stories. We shall ne’er see his like again. ‘Nuff Said.
Read more about Stan Lee on our website and in ComicScene UK Issue 3 available from http://www.comicscene.tictail.com