5 Little-Known Facts About Stan Lee, Grandfather of Marvel Comics

Photo: Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post (Getty Images) 

The late, great Stan Lee was a real-life superhero who left a legacy that will live on in every Marvel comic, television show, and movie that still bear his name.

Stan the Man: The Best Marvel Movie Cameos of the Late, Great Stan Lee (RIP)

While fans will forever know Lee as the beloved grandpa to Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, the X-Men, and so many more, there was much more to the man than meets the eye. Here are a few little-known facts about Stan Lee. 

1. George R. R. Martin and Stan Lee Were Pen Pals (Sorta)

Back in 1963, when George R. R. Martin only had one “R” in his name, he was just like one of us, a comic book geek who marveled at Marvel’s storytelling. The Game of Thrones creator got his first byline in a fawning fan letter to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that was published in Fantastic Four #20. Lee responded to the praise in his typical satirical way: “We might as well quit while we’re ahead.” Check out Martin retelling the story above. 

2. Stan Lee Appeared in a DC Comic

Stan Lee and his longtime illustrator Jack Kirby’s falling out has been well-documented. Their fruitful collaboration created some of the greatest gods of modern mythology but it ended in a nasty split-up that both men took to their grave. While Lee became the face of Marvel, Kirby left for rival DC Comics, where he introduced a new character in Mr. Miracle Vol 1 #6 that was an obvious homage to Lee. The Funky Flashman had no superpowers but was a charismatic conman who would declare his own greatness without ever producing anything. 

3. When The Talented Mr. Ripley Met Spiderman

Patricia Highsmith in 1970. Photo: Alex Gotfryd (Getty Images)

The love of Stan Lee’s life was Joan, his wife of 69 years, who died in 2017. But before Lee got hitched, the eligible bachelor was set up on a blind date with fellow comic book writer Patricia Highsmith. There was no romance between the future literary titans, but it’s probably not because Stan wasn’t the “man.” Highsmith would go on to pen celebrated novels such as Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the iconic lesbian romance The Price of Salt (under a pseudonym).

Marvel’s Other Legend: The 12 Most Awesome Jack Kirby Characters

4. Stan Lee Was a Civil Rights Activist

Stan Lee was an early advocate of civil rights. Born Stanley Lieber, the son of Romanian-born, Jewish immigrants, Lee proved that the pen was mightier than the sword, taking on racists, misogynists, and Nazis through metaphorical superhero storylines. He wasn’t afraid to call them out directly in Stan’s Soap Box editorials, either. 

5. The Meaning Behind “Excelsior”

The man with the gift of gab’s favorite word was “Excelsior!” Stan Lee began using the word, which has a Latin meaning of “ever upward” or “still higher” to sign off his editorial columns. Although he had others (“Hang loose,” “Face front,” “‘Nuff said,” etc.), “Excelsior” stuck. Not only was it his home state’s official motto (featured on the New York state seal and flag), but it perfectly encapsulated the way Lee looked at life.