I was writing about Stan Lee’s hot-chick covers of the 1940s and mentioned P. G. Wodehouse. I see some resemblances between the two fellows. They’re cheery and upbeat and they see their job as entertainment, pure and simple. In person Wodehouse was very shy; no one could call Stan shy, but he is fairly private. The Raphael-Spurgeon bio tells how, back in the 70s, Stan decided he would take the guys at Marvel out for drinks; once at the bar, Stan realized he had nothing to say to them and slipped away. The reason he took them out drinking was that he heard that Carmine Infantino would take the fellows at DC out to dinner once a week. I don’t think anyone would call Infantino especially charming, and Stan is especially charming. But Infantino liked being with the gang and Stan, from appearances, would much rather be with his wife and daughter and, these days, his grandkids.
Stan’s Babe-o-Dome, b (FCR addendum)
by Tom Crippen
Stan and Wodehouse also showed a certain difficulty in coming to grips with unpleasant facts. Mike Ploog tells a story of his Marvel days when he asked Stan for a raise and a regretful Stan explained how in the current economic climate, etc., and then Stan began showing pictures of his latest fancy sports car. Ploog made the obvious point that there was a degree of unfairness here, and an abashed Stan immediately saw he was right. I would guess that, for the brief moments that he looks back, Stan really wishes he had stuck up for Kirby about the art and that he hadn’t been so quick to bill himself as “creator” of all his Marvel co-creations. Wodehouse certainly wished he hadn’t made those broadcasts on Nazi radio, and my only excuse for bringing Nazis into this is that Wodehouse actually did make such broadcasts and they were as harmless as broadcasts on Nazi radio can be. But as actions go it was beyond dumb. It was unthinking, and the same (in a very different arena) for Stan’s complacency about how well he was making out when others at Marvel were not being treated nearly so well.
Turning out happy, happy entertainment, entertainment as happy and carefree as a Wodehouse book or one of those babe covers, may require a certain temperament: not just good cheer but a sharp disconnect from reality. A decent tv sitcom is grittier than Wodehouse or Stan at his most Stan-ish. The problems get wrapped up, but at least they’re there. (Which isn’t to say Wodehouse is somehow inferior to How I Met Your Mother. Wodehouse is great. At what he does he is inferior to no one, and what he does is worthwhile. But it’s a very specialized stock in trade. Stan’s babe covers aren’t really so great, but whatever.)
This disconnect from reality, when I consider it, feels to me as if it were connected to the unsocialized aspect of Wodehouse’s and Stan’s personalities. That’s why I used the phrase “Babe-o-Dome” in the head, emphasis on “Dome.” The larkiness in their works makes you (or me, anyway) think of isolation just because it’s so air weight, so free of anything at all that might run counter to larkiness. Stan’s babes capture the one moment of joy you feel at the sight of a pretty girl. What a bright moment that is, and what a small moment it is compared to everything that comes after.