Stan Lee has lost the love of his life. His wife Joan died Thursday (today) in Los Angeles, surrounded by family. She had suffered a stroke earlier in the week and was hospitalized. She was 93.
Joan and Stan met when the Marvel boss was supposed to take her friend on a date – they were married for 69 years.
The former British hat model and Lee were married on Dec. 5, 1947, and were by all accounts hopelessly devoted to each other. They had two children: J.C. (Joan Celia), who was born in 1950, and Jan, who died three days after her birth in 1953.Last year, Lee told the story of how he met his wife in a story for The Hollywood Reporter. After a childhood sweetheart wed another woman, Joan Clayton impulsively married an American soldier during World War II and moved to New York, where she was extremely unhappy. Meanwhile, a cousin of Lee’s wanted to set up the struggling writer with a hat model. Lee tells what happened next:”When I was young, there was one girl I drew; one body and face and hair. It was my idea of what a girl should be. The perfect woman. And when I got out of the Army, somebody, a cousin of mine, knew a model, a hat model at a place called Laden Hats. He said, ‘Stan, there’s this really pretty girl named Betty. I think you’d like her. She might like you. Why don’t you go over and ask her to lunch.’ Blah, blah, blah.
“So I went up to this place. Betty didn’t answer the door. But Joan answered, and she was the head model. I took one look at her — and she was the girl I had been drawing all my life. And then I heard the English accent. And I’m a nut for English accents! She said, ‘May I help you?’ And I took a look at her, and I think I said something crazy like, ‘I love you.’ I don’t remember exactly. But anyway, I took her to lunch. I never met Betty, the other girl. I think I proposed to [Joan] at lunch.”
In those days, the quickest way to get divorced was to move to Nevada and stay for six weeks to establish residency. Soon after Joan arrived in Reno, Stan received a letter from her addressed to “Jack,” and that worried him.
“Now I’m not the smartest guy in the world,” recalled Lee, “but know my name isn’t ‘Jack.’ And so why did she write ‘Dear Jack?’ Maybe I better go to Reno and see what’s going on. I got there and she was waiting for me. And there’s three guys with her. They all look like John Wayne. Big Western guys! Rugged! And I get off the plane fresh from New York with my little pork pie hat and a little scarf and my gloves. And she’s with me. I thought, ‘I don’t have a chance.’ Luckily, I had a chance.”
The couple returned to New York, where Lee worked at Marvel Comics forerunner Timely/Atlas Comics, a job he initially landed because his cousin Martin Goodman owned the company. Comics were a middling enterprise until Lee and Jack Kirby co-created The Fantastic Four in 1961 (followed by the Hulk, Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men and other characters) and turned the company, renamed Marvel Comics, into a pop culture powerhouse.
In some versions of the origin of the Fantastic Four, Lee credits Joan with inspiring him. Lee had dreams of becoming a serious novelist, and was depressed about his career. At the time in the 1950’s, the comics industry was mostly preoccupied with war, science fiction and romance, genres Lee didn’t like. He was contemplating leaving the business entirely.
“Before you quit,” Joan told him, “why don’t you write one comic you are proud of?” The Fantastic Four was born of that.
In 1981, the Lees moved from New York City to California so Stan could work on developing Marvel TV and film projects. Joan did voice work on two 1990s animated Marvel shows, Fantastic Four (as Miss Forbes) and Spider-Man (as Madame Web). She also made a cameo in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
Joan Lee also wrote a 1987 novel, The Pleasure Palace, about a man striving to build the most luxurious ocean liner ever while romancing several women at once. According to her daughter, she had three more unpublished but finished novels at home).
As for Stan, we don’t really expect him to show at San Diego Comic-Con this year as had been previously announced. Or maybe, he will decide that the best therapy is the love of a hundred thousand of the children he helped raise.
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