Last year, Lee recounted how he met his wife in a story for THR that celebrated his 75th anniversary in comics. After a childhood sweetheart wed another woman, Joan Clayton impulsively married an American soldier during World War II and moved to New York, where she was extremely unhappy. Meanwhile, a cousin of Lee’s wanted to set up the struggling writer with a hat model. Lee tells what happened next:
“When I was young, there was one girl I drew; one body and face and hair. It was my idea of what a girl should be. The perfect woman. And when I got out of the Army, somebody, a cousin of mine, knew a model, a hat model at a place called Laden Hats. He said, ‘Stan, there’s this really pretty girl named Betty. I think you’d like her. She might like you. Why don’t you go over and ask her to lunch.’ Blah, blah, blah.
“So I went up to this place. Betty didn’t answer the door. But Joan answered, and she was the head model. I took one look at her — and she was the girl I had been drawing all my life. And then I heard the English accent. And I’m a nut for English accents! She said, ‘May I help you?’ And I took a look at her, and I think I said something crazy like, ‘I love you.’ I don’t remember exactly. But anyway, I took her to lunch. I never met Betty, the other girl. I think I proposed to [Joan] at lunch.”
In those days, the quickest way to get divorced was to move to Nevada and stay for six weeks to establish residency. Soon after Joan arrived in Reno, Stan received a letter from her addressed to “Jack,” and that worried him.
“Now I’m not the smartest guy in the world,” recalled Lee. “I know my name isn’t ‘Jack.’ And so why did she write ‘Dear Jack?’ Maybe I better go to Reno and see what’s going on. I got there and she was waiting for me. And there are three guys with her. They all look like John Wayne. Big Western guys! Rugged! And I get off the plane fresh from New York with my little pork pie hat and a little scarf and my gloves. And she’s with me. I thought, ‘I don’t have a chance.’ Luckily, I had a chance.”
A judge granted Joan her divorce and about an hour later, he married her and Lee in a room next door.
The couple returned to New York, where Lee worked at Marvel Comics forerunner Timely/Atlas Comics, a job he initially landed because his cousin Martin Goodman owned the company. Comics were a middling enterprise until Lee and Jack Kirby co-created The Fantastic Four in 1961 (followed by the Hulk, Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men and other characters) and turned the company, renamed Marvel Comics, into a pop culture powerhouse.
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