Stanley Martin Lieber, who would go on to become Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man and countless other Marvel Comics superheroes, was born on Dec. 28, 1922, in New York City, the first child of Jack and Celia Lieber, both Romanian immigrants.
I always wished my mother and father would lavish as much love on each other as they did on my younger brother, Larry, and me. They were both good, loving parents, and I think the only thing that gave them any pleasure was their children. My brother and I always regretted that fate had not been kinder to them and that they couldn’t have had happier lives. They must have loved each other when they married, but my earliest recollections were of the two of them arguing, quarreling incessantly. Almost always it was over money, or the lack of it. I realized at an early age how the specter of poverty, the never-ending worry about not having enough money to buy groceries or to pay the rent, can cast a cloud over a marriage. I’ll always regret the fact that by the time I was earning enough money to make things easier for them, it was too late.
My mother spent almost all her time cleaning our small apartment or cooking in the kitchen. As for my father, I used to see that poor guy, day after day, sitting at a little table in our small living room reading the want ads. He wasn’t able to phone for an appointment for interviews because we didn’t have a phone, so he’d go out every morning and return hours later with the same dejected expression on his face. Thinking of him reading the want ads, walking the streets, sitting at that little table staring into space, I can imagine the depression he felt. Forced idleness is a terrible thing.
I can’t remember when I first learned to read, nor can I remember a time when I wasn’t reading. It was my escape from the dreariness and sadness of my home life. I read everything I could find, everywhere, every chance I got. In school, reading and composition were always my best subjects. At every meal at home — breakfast, lunch or dinner — I’d have a book or magazine to read while I ate. One of the first presents my mother bought me was a little stand to keep on the kitchen table to rest a book against while eating. I remember it had little clips on the bottom to hold the pages in place. I treasured that little stand for years.
Besides my reading, I began scribbling little illustrated stories to amuse myself. I would draw a straight horizontal line for the horizon and then add stick figures above it, around which I built simple stories and plot lines. 1 was, without knowing it, creating my first comic books. This was a make-believe world I loved because I could retreat to it from the outside — particularly from school.
When I graduated from DeWitt Clinton High in 1939 at age 17, the immediate order of business was a permanent job. My uncle, Robbie Solomon, told me they might be able to use someone at a publishing company where he worked. The idea of being involved in publishing definitely appealed to me. So I contacted the man Robbie said did the hiring, Joe Simon, and applied. He took me on and I began working as a gofer for $8 a week.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had embarked on my life’s career.
From EXCELSIOR! by Stan Lee and George Mair. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y.