Sunday, August 22, 2010

To Thee I Web, Part II: Stan the Man of the Cloth

Date: June 5, 1987
Place: Unused locker room at Shea Stadium, former home of the New York Mets

Time: Mere moments before the mock wedding of Spider-Man and Mary-Jane

Situation: Confronted with his hero, Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, Vroom! forces himself forward for an autograph…

“Hello, Mr. Lee. My name is Stephen Vrattos. Could I have your autograph?” I think that paraphrases what I said. At least I’m sure that was my intended greeting. In reality it probably played more like Peter Boyle’s monster in Young Frankenstein when he sang “Putting on the Ritz,” only without the melody.

I held out the poster, which featured me as Spidey, surrounded by a quartet of Mets players as well as Captain America, The Hulk, Iceman and Firestar, that was to be given to every attendee as part of a goodie bag to commemorate the event. Thank God, Stan still held the pen from the previous autograph he’d signed. Had he asked me for a writing utensil, I would’ve shattered; the embarrassment would have been too much.

I pointed to Spider-Man in the poster and blurted, “That’s me.” I’m still not sure whether it was ego—a few wisps still clinging to me from my encounter with Mr. Excelsior! himself—or a need to justify Stan’s signing something that evidently didn’t feature me. I was, after all, not portraying the Spider-Man du jour. That honor rightfully went to Jeremy, with whom Mr. Lee was nigh intimate, considering the amount of gigs he’d already logged with Stan in his near decade of service as the Webbed Wonder.

I suspect it was the former reason given the moronic thing I said next: “I’m playing The Green Goblin today.” No shit, Sherlock! I was only standing in the signature vibrant, green-scaled, spandex bodysuit topped with fluorescent fuchsia hot pants and tunic ensemble indicative of the Web-Swinger’s psychopathic arch-enemy, which Stan created!

If the architect of the Marvel Universe thought for a moment that I was a moron—which would be understandable given the way I was acting—he gave no indication. He told me what a great job I was doing and shook my hand, as he returned the poster. More likely, his magnanimity stemmed from his thinking I was part of a new Marvel initiative to employ people with “special needs.”

I was beaming as I walked back to my corner of the locker room, carrying the poster like it was the Shroud of Turin. As the scene played out, I no doubt looked like one of the thousands of kids for which I—as Spider-Man—signed comic books for in the ensuing years: The mien of sheer terror on their wee faces upon seeing their hero; the methodic placing of one foot in front of the other moving slowly toward the object of their adoration as they overcome that fear; the tremulous low murmur of their names and painstaking wait for the autograph; finally the triumphant march back to their mom or dad, sporting the widest grin imaginable. It was a joy that I’d be bringing to children for the next ten years!

As mentioned, Jeremy was the man of honor, and as such, his costume was the most comfortable, even with the matrimonial accroutrements, which amounted to nothing more than a black tuxedo jacket and white bow tie. Of course, that jacket was designed by Willi Smith. Still, it may as well have been designed by Snuffy Smith. From afar, it looked like nothing more than a standard tuxedo jacket, the ubiquitous sort rented by school kids across the country come prom season.

Upon close inspection, however, one could see the subtle design differences and fine cut of the garment that elevated the piece above those donned by the teenage hoi polloi. But even if you didn’t know your bias from your elbow, you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the unique buttons, sculpted as the theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy. The jacket seemed fated to be worn by Jeremy, who prepared for every appearance—whether filled with the gravitas of an event such as this or of relative obscurity, signing autographs for local young ’uns at a Piggly Wiggly in Mobile—as if he were about to go on stage to play Hamlet.

Conversely, the wedding gown that Tara Shannon—the model/actor playing Mary-Jane Watson—was wearing was more elaborate. Sure, there are probably more than a few bridezillas who might regard it as too simple. Where was the train that needed a small family of Mormons to carry? Where were the endless accessories that would have put Woolworth’s notion department out of business? Where were the floral adornments? The ginormous bows, especially the one usually perched above the ass-crack? The puffy sleeves? And what’s this? MJ’s hair not pulled up into a towering bun, that resembles Yertle and his turtle friends before they toppled and set so tightly as to make even Marty Feldman look Asian? What kind of beauty school dropout and Project Runway loser dreamed up this look?

Oh, just the man who earned scholarships to attend Parsons School of Design in 1965; who won an American Fashion Critics’ Coty Award for women’s fashion in 1983 and a Cutty Sark Award for Men’s Fashion in 1985; who designed the suits for Edwin Schlossberg and his groomsmen when Schlossberg married Caroline Kennedy in 1986; and the clothes for Spike Lee’s film School Daze a year later; who did all this before he died as a result of AIDS before his 40th birthday. That’s who!

I vaguely remember Tara changing in one corner of the room, I say “vaguely” because one moment she was dropping her jeans and the next she was nonchalantly fixing her veil and making the final adjustments to the gown. I’d seen magic tricks wherein a lovely assistant stands atop a caged tiger before lifting a curtain over her head, only to immediately drop the screen to reveal the cat gone and the assistant in its place within the cage, and Tara could have accomplished that and done her nails, in the same instant! It’s one of those strange skills women have, like the ability to take off bras underneath their tops or put on makeup while driving. ’S funny how my wife can do these things and still take two hours to “get ready” for bed. Heck, I just go to bed.

As show time neared, Jeremy and Tara left before the rest of us, because Spider-Man and MJ would be entering from the outfield in a limousine. Soon thereafter, Captain America, Hulk, Iceman, Firestar and Green Goblin—your esteemed blog host—were escorted to the field entrance. It was a beautiful summer evening and still light out, thanks to Daylight Savings Time. A makeshift pulpit was erected midway in front of the third-base line facing the stands where the ceremony was to take place. The heroes and I flanked either side of the podium. There wasn’t any announcement. We simply ambled into place to a few cheers, jeers and choice comments, some pointedly to me and of the “Nice outfit,” “Love your bag,” Going to The Village later?” variety (Ah, New Yorkers…).

This Gobby cartoon was done by the talented Mark Engblom, who pens a great blog—especially for lovers of comics—entitled Comic Coverage

Green Goblin was last to enter and thus standing to the far left or right depending on whether you were a participant or an observer. Later reports mentioned there being “thousands of fans” on hand to witness the event. But even in the Goblin mask, it only looked like several hundred. Shea Stadium did hold nearly sixty thousand at capacity, so my perspective could certainly be skewed with the preponderance of empty seats over filled ones. I’m sure the Marvel and Mets marketing Nabobs promoted the event, but I don’t recall seeing any advertising. Then again, I wasn’t a Mets fan—quite the opposite!—so would not have been attuned to every bobble-head, bat, cap, towel, duffel bag, teething ring, breast pump, whatever, free giveaway night, anyway.

Babs, the wise and wondrous overseer of Marvel’s Personal Appearance Department, handed everyone a script of the ceremony, even though no one but the Announcer, Stan and the happy couple would be speaking. She recognized that we might want a copy as a souvenir. It was quite prescient of her, really. You would think in the years since YouTube started, there would be a video available of the entire wedding; filmed, and later converted and posted by an avid fan in attendance that day. Alas, there is yet none, only clips of the event from entertainment news shows, like Entertainment Tonight, all sorely lacking in conveying the majesty of the moment (Okay, I exaggerate).

The Spider-Man/Mary-Jane wedding script

I’m not sure whether Stan wrote the sequence or not. He was handed the script and looked it over when he got it. This may have been because the piece was entirely new to him or because he was trying to familiarize himself with the words he had written as some point leading up to the wedding—he may have written it in long hand and had someone type it up for him for the event. As I mentioned in my blog posting, “The Coming of Vroom!” Stan’s memory was notoriously bad, so either scenario is possible. And the notes in the margin could have then been added by the marketing department to keep Stan abreast of the blocking, which he would not necessarily have been privy to—it’s not like there was a rehearsal dinner! There are moments in the script wherein one would suspect Stan to have injected signature phrases, but have instead words that seem only in his spirit. Still, having the actual script, the spoken words at the ceremony, is a great memento—although knowing Stan actually wrote them would be phenomenal.

The plus side is the existence of a YouTube video of an interview with Stan, Spidey and MJ on The Good Morning America the day before the wedding, a segment I don’t remember seeing before. I had to smile when Spider-Man/Jeremy mentioned he was “up all night, painting the ceiling,” referring to the bachelor jitters he was experiencing before his impending betrothal. He obviously meant it as a play on Webhead’s ability to stick to walls. But Jeremy actually painted apartments as an additional source of income to his acting work. He may have very well been painting a ceiling the night before the interview! (An astute Bloglodyte—certainly far more astute than I—noted that Jeremy probably said “pacing,” not “painting,” which indeed would make a lot more sense. I guess the poor sound quality of the video and the fact that I do not have external speakers on my computer and thus hear everything through its less-than-ideal internal speakers caused my otic error. D’Oh!)

Here’s the whole megillah as scripted, save for a few typos that I corrected. The parenthetical comments in italics are mine and not a part of the actual piece:

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen… In the early ’60s, two future legends had their auspicious beginnings One was the Amazing Mets. The other was the Amazing Spider-Man. Today, these two great American institutions, Spidey and the Mets (just in case they slipped your mind since they were mentioned two seconds ago!), honor a third, most sacred institution—that of matrimony. The management of Shea Stadium and Marvel Comics invite you to witness the marriage of Spider-Man and his fabulous fiancĂ©e, Ms. Mary-Jane Watson. Please cast your eyes to centerfield and join us in welcoming the bride and groom.

(Fanfare as limousines enter and go to staging area… Cars arrive at staging area… Spidey and MJ get out and are guided to stage) (Don’t remember a “fanfare,” perhaps it was “Let’s Go, Mets!” or “YMCA.”)

ANNOUNCER: And here to conduct the ceremony is the Web-Swinger’s creator, Mr. Marvel Comics—Stan Lee.

LEE: Good evening, Culture Lovers! (I suspect Stan may have said “True Believers” had he scripted the piece. Then again, “Culture Lovers” is not entirely out of his oeuvre) We are gathered here in the sight of 50,000 fans (I don’t think so!), superheroes all, to join our Wall-Crawling Wonder and his Tantalizing True Love in the bonds of matrimony; bonds as strong as webbing and as satisfying as a happy ending.

LEE: Now in sight and presence of a coterie of our other costumed crusaders, please prepare to recite your vows…

LEE: Do you, Spider-Man, being of sound mind and super body, take Mary-Jane to be your lawfully wedded Wife, forsaking all other superheroines? Do you promise to never leave footprints on the ceiling, or cobwebs in the corners? And will you pinch-hit for the Mets when you are asked?


LEE: Mary-Jane, do you, being of sound mind and spectacular body, agree to forsake other masked Marvelites, to never ever swat a spider, and to hug, comfort and kiss away any bruises incurred after a long day of bashing bad guys—and stay out of the Mets locker room?

MJ: I do.

LEE: May I have the ring? —Cap gives ring to Spidey (handwritten)
Please repeat after me… With this ring I thee web.

SPIDEY: With this ring I thee web.

MJ: With this ring I thee web.

LEE: By the power invested in me by Marvel Comics, I now pronounce you Spider-Man and wife. You may kiss the bride.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen… Let’s have a big New York round of applause for Stan Lee and our newlyweds.

Spider-Man dipped MJ and planted a dramatic kiss, then carried her to the limousine. As cool as it was to be a part of the wedding, from my vantage behind the screened eyeholes of the Green Goblin mask, I didn’t see much. As the nubile newlyweds drove off, the rest of us followed Stan off the field. He was beaming like a proud father and waving at the fans like a politician in a parade.

But the night was still young and we had a wedding reception to get to!

NEXT: Dancing in the Dark


Anonymous said...

Are you sure he's not saying that he's pacing the ceiling? It would make more sense.

Erique Fat Owl said...

Yay! Part II is out!

Around 2 years ago, I stumbled upon the YouTube video of Spidey's Wedding posted here on this blog entry, and I was fascinated by it. The occasion, the costumes, the actors, Stan Lee...everything looks absolutely fantastic. I began to wonder about how such event was constructed, who were the actors, the behind-the-scene stories...never have I imagined that I'd be reading this blog, which gives first-hand account on the happenings on that day - so eloquently and wittily written.

This faithful reader thanks you, Mr. Vrattos! I hope someday you can publish this blog as a best-selling book!

Vroom! said...

Hi Erique!

It's so nice to hear from you again.

And such nice comments... I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. It makes the hours I put into the blog worthwhile.