Saturday, November 17, 2018

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot

Today is the 80th birthday of Gordon Lighfoot. He has often been called Canada's greatest songwriter, and it is hard to argue with that assessment. Over the years he has written several hits, including "If You Could Read My Mind", "Sundown", and "Rainy Day People". Among his most famous songs (and perhaps his biggest hit) was "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". The song is based on something that actually happened. It was on November 10 1975 that the freighter the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior during a storm. The entire crew was lost and it remains the largest ship to ever sink in the Great Lakes.

Gordon Lightfoot was inspired to write the song after reading an article in Newsweek on the disaster. It appeared on his album Summertime Dream (released in June 1976) and was released as a single that August. It went to no. 1 on the Canadian singles chart and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here with out further ado, is Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Few Updates

Today has proven to be a difficult one with regard to making blog posts. Sadly, that has not been unusual for me since August 30 2018. Nothing has ever disrupted work on my blog the way that Vanessa's death has. I sometimes find it a struggle to keep the blog going. Indeed, it was about a month ago that I wrote only two posts in an entire week. That is a first for A Shroud of Thoughts, as I have always previously written at least three posts per week. To make matters worse, legendary novelist and screenwriter William Goldman has just died. Having just written a eulogy for Stan Lee, I did not quite feel up to writing another epic eulogy. I will then simply provide you with a few updates on myself, this blog, and the classic film community.

As to myself, I have entered the TCM 25 Anniversary Fan Contest. For those few of you might not have heard about it, in honour of their 25th anniversary next April, Turner Classic Movies is holding a contest in which the individual makes video dedicating a film to a special someone in his or her life. Twenty five lucky fans will be chosen to introduce the film on TCM with Ben Mankiewicz. I won't name the film I chose, although I think anyone who knows me can guess to whom I am dedicating it. Of course, if one knows to whom I am dedicating a film, it probably wouldn't be too hard to guess which film it is. Some of my TCMParty pals have also entered, including Beth Ann of Spellbound by Movies, Chris of Blog of the Damned, and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled. If I am chosen as one of the 25, it will actually be my second time on TCM. Many of you will remembered that in April 2015 I introduced A Hard Day's Night with Ben as a fan favourite.

With regards to this blog, I will be posting my usual schedule of holiday movies airing on Turner Classic Movies in December later this month. And, of course, next Thursday will be my traditional Thanksgiving pinups. Next month I will also have a post on the wonderful Thelma Ritter for this year's "What a Character!" blogathon, as well as my usual holiday posts (although this year they will be interrupted on December 21 by a very special post).

Of course, I assume most classic film buffs have heard the news about FilmStruck, the beloved streaming service that was a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and Criterion. Sadly, Warner Media announced that FilmStruck will be shutting down on November 29. This led to an outpouring of support for the service, with such luminaries as Guillermo del Toro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, and others weighing in. While it appears that FilmStruck is history despite such support, yesterday Criterion announced the launch of a new streaming service, the Criterion Channel, next spring. This news has made many classic film buffs happy. As for myself, I would also like to see a revival of Warner Archive Instant. They never did add the classic Warner Bros. TV shows to Filmstruck!

Anyhow, that is all I have for now. I hope to have William Goldman's eulogy ready for tomorrow. If not, there might be another filler post!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Late Great Stan Lee

To say Stan Lee was a legend in the comic book industry is a bit of an understatement. In the early Sixties he took Marvel Comics, which was simply one of many comic book companies during the Golden Age and the Fifties, and turned it into a worthy competitor to industry giant National Periodical Publications (now known as DC Comics). It was during this period that he co-created some of the most iconic superheroes in comic book history: The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, and many others. He also revolutionised comic books by introducing superheroes with human flaws and everyday problems. Stan Lee also revolutionised the comic book industry in the way he interacted with its fans. The Bullpen Bulletins featured news and a column by Stan himself, Stan's Soapbox, and was included in nearly every Marvel comic book for decades. Stan encouraged fans to think of both comic book creators and fans as a community. Having begun his career at the company that would become Marvel Comics in 1939, he was also possibly the last living link to the Golden Age of Comic Books. Sadly, Stan Lee died yesterday morning, November 12 2018, at the age of 95.

Stan Lee was born Stanley Lieber in New York City on December 28 1922. He was a voracious reader growing up, and read works by such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain. He started reading Shakespeare when he was only 10. He also loved going to the movies, particularly Errol Flynn's swashbuckler films. Stan was only 17 when he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. He had pretensions of becoming an author of "serious" literature. It was in 1939, when Stan was still only 17, that he was hired as an office gofer at what would evolve into the modern day Marvel Comics. It was owned by the husband of Stan's cousin Jean, Martin Goodman, who had been publishing pulp magazines for many years and was entering the newly burgeoning field of comic books. It was legendary comic book artist and writer Joe Simon, then editor at the company, who hired Stan.

Stan's initial duties at the Martin Goodman's group of companies were hardly glamorous. He had to insure the artists' inkwells were full. He got lunch for the artists and writers. He proofread pages. Stan finally broke into writing with the text filler "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in Captain America Comics no. 3 (May 1941).  For it he used the pen name "Stan Lee", wishing to save his given name for when he wrote works of "serious" literature. It was not long before Stan Lee graduated from writing filler to a backup feature, "'Headline' Hunter, Foreign Correspondent". It was in Mystic Comics no. 6 (August 1941) that the first superhero created by Stan Lee, The Destroyer, appeared.

It was in late 1941 that editor Joe Simon and art director Jack Kirby (the partnership who had created Captain America) left in a dispute over wages with Martin Goodman. Mr. Goodman appointed Stan, then shy of 19 years old, as the  interim editor. He proved to be so good at the job that he would become editor-in-chief, a position he would maintain until 1972.

It was in early 1942 that Stan Lee entered the United States Army. He served in the Signal Corps, writing training manuals. He was later part of the Training Film Division, where he worked on training manuals, training films, and the occasional cartoon. Stationed stateside, Stan Lee was able to continue his career working for Martin Goodman during World War II.

Towards the end of the Forties, the Golden Age of Comic books came to an end and superheroes went out of fashion. Throughout the Fifties Stan Lee found himself writing in a variety of other genres, including Westerns, science fiction, humour, horror, romance, and swashbuckling adventures. During the Fifties the company would experience two setbacks. Outcry cover the content of comic books in the late Forties and early Fifties would lead to the formation of the Comics Code Authority, which oversaw the content of comic books for decades. Under the Comics Code, comic books were initially highly sanitised. In fact, it was after the introduction of the Code that comic books sales fell dramatically. Competition from television did not help.

The other setback would occur with the collapse of the American News Company, a distribution company which distributed the majority of comic books (as well as magazines and newspapers) in 1957. Without a distributor, Martin Goodman ultimately had to go to the Independent News Co. a distributor owned by National Periodical Publications (now known as DC Comics). The Independent News Co. put strict limits on the number of titles Martin Goodman could publish a month. They went from publishing 40 to 60 titles a month to merely 8 to 12. Mr. Goodman downsized the company to the point that Stan Lee was one of the very few employees remaining.

It was in 1961 that the company finally became known as "Marvel Comics" (which was also the title of the very first comic book ever published by Martin Goodman, Marvel Comics no. 1, cover dated October 1939). The first two titles to bear an "MC" box on their cover were the science fiction anthology book Journey into Mystery no. 69 (June 1961) and the teen humour title Patsy Walker  no. 95 (June 1961).

That having been said, it would be later in the year that Marvel Comics would truly get started. At the request of publisher Martin Goodman, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four. The team made their debut in Fantastic Four no. 1 (November 1961). The Fantastic Four differed from earlier superheroes in that they actually had human flaws, and everyday problems shared by most human beings. The Fantastic Four proved successful, so that they were followed by more new Marvel superheroes, most of them co-created by Stan Lee. With Jack Kirby, Stan co-created Ant-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, and Black Panther. With Steve Ditko, Stan co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. With Bill Everett, he co-created Daredevil. Like The Fantastic Four, all of these characters were written as complex individuals with everyday problems with which the average person could identify.

At the same time, Stan revolutionised how comic book companies interacted with their fans. While comic books had featured "letters to the editor" pages for years, Stan took Marvel Comics well beyond this. The splash pages of stories not only named the writer and artists, but even the letterer. The Bullpen Bulletins page in nearly every Marvel  comic book included news about Marvel's staff and the company's various titles. Included with the Bullpen Bulletins was a monthly column by Stan Lee called "Stan's Soapbox". Through all of this Stan encouraged a sense of community between Marvel Comics and its fans.

Stan Lee continued to write several Marvel titles until 1972 when he became the company's publisher, at which point he stopped writing monthly comic books. He would continue to be the public face of Marvel Comics for years. In 1977 he and artist John Romita, Sr. began the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which Stan would continue to write for the rest of his life. In their final collaboration, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby produced Marvel's first graphic novel, The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, published in 1978.

It was in 1981 that Stan moved from New York City to Los Angeles in order to develop Marvel's film and television properties. He still occasionally wrote comic books for Marvel, including various works featuring The Silver Surfer, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #10 (1990), and various other projects. In the Nineties he would step away from regular duties at Marvel Comics. He formed Stan Lee Media in 1998 with Peter Paul. An internet-based company, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000. With Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman, in 2001 Stan Lee formed POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment. The company continues to exist to this day and has produced the animated series Striperella for Spike TV, the TV film Lightspeed, the reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero? for Sci-Fi Channel, and various other projects.

From 2001 to 2002 Stan Lee wrote a comic book entitled Just Imagine... for DC Comics in which Stan reimagined various classic DC characters. Of course, Stan was also known for his many appearances in films based on Marvel properties. Starting with X-Men in 2000, he appeared in a cameo in nearly every film based on a Marvel property, including Spider-Man (2000), Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and man others. He also appeared in films that were not associated with Marvel, including The Ambulance (1990), Mallrats (1995), and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018). He also appeared on television, including a cameo in an episode of the TV show Heroes, a guest appearance on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, a guest appearance on Entourage, and various other shows.

Stan Lee's legacy is a complicated one. He has often been accused of taking more credit than he was actually due. This was acknowledged in the comic book industry as early as 1968 when a parody of Stan Lee, called "Stan Bragg", appeared in the DC Comics title Angel and the Ape. Stan Bragg would cross out the names of creators in the credits of comic books and replace them with his own. In particular, Jack Kirby was not happy about Stan Lee receiving sole credit for the many characters he and Stan created together. It would lead to Mr. Kirby's departure from Marvel in 1970. Jack Kirby was so angry about the situation that he would parody Stan Lee with the character of Funky Flashman in the pages of Mister Miracle. Funky Flashman was a conman and huckster always trying to capitalise on the work of others.

While Stan Lee might have taken too much credit for the characters he created with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Bill Everett, there can be little doubt that he deserved some of that credit. In fact, whatever Stan's contributions to various individual characters might have been, it seems likely that the then revolutionary idea of all too human superheroes who had their own foibles, personal problems, and neuroses originated with him. After all, it is the common thread running through characters he created with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Bill Everett.

It must also be pointed out Stan Lee revolutionised the way comic book companies interact with fans. Comic book fandom has existed since the Golden Age, but it was Stan who engendered a true sense of community between fans and creators through the Bullpen Bulletins that appeared in every issue of Marvel comic books for years, as well as his column Stan's Soapbox. Stan did not simply treat Marvel's readers as fans, but as friends as well.

Indeed, this can be seen in his individual interactions with fans. I know plenty of people who met Stan Lee in person and all of them said he was wonderful. I never met Stan in person, but I interacted with him from time to time on social media. No one could be nicer. Stan treated his fans as his friends and as a result he was always friendly, kind, and courteous towards them. And he always expressed appreciation for this fans. Unlike some celebrities, Stan knew his career depended on his fans. Mark Hamill, who himself has always been known for his relationship with his fans, wrote on Twitter of Stan Lee, "He was everything you hoped he would be & MORE. I loved this man & will never stop missing him. They say you should never meet a childhood idol. They are wrong." Stan may not have always been the nicest guy to his co-creators, but to his fans he was wonderful.

Of course, the importance of Stan Lee to Marvel Comics can not be stressed enough. He constantly pursued deals that would expand Marvel Comics into television and movies. And eventually those deals would pay off. If Marvel Comics has dominated the box office for the past many years, it is in a large part due to Stan Lee.

Stan Lee's impact on the comic book industry and on popular culture in general is inescapable. He co-created several of the most popular characters in comic book history, and was responsible for introducing superheroes who were more human than had been seen before. He changed the approach of comic book companies to their fans. He also constantly promoted Marvel Comics, insuring that it would remain DC's only serious rival for years. That having been said, what Stan might be best remembered for is his relationship with his fans. Stan was possibly the first comic book creator to step from behind the curtain and interact with his fans, and he treated his fans as if they were his friends. If many are mourning the loss of Stan Lee, it is because they feel they have lost a friend.