We got a pretty good indication of all the love outside the Stan Lee Tribute — aka Excelsior! A Celebration of The Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee — last night in Hollywood, but what about the scene inside TCL Grauman’s Chinese Theatre? Well, let’s just say it continued to soar onwards and upwards.
With the ever-enthusiastic Kevin Smith serving as host for the evening, stars from across the galaxy came to sit on the superhero-pillow-decorated couch arranged at the front of the historic theater, to share stories of just how much Stan Lee impacted their own stories, as well as history.
First up were some of the big players from the Spider-verse: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller. Arad recounted his experiences bringing Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to the big screen, and noted that “Stan had to be the spiritual model” for that film. He also compared Lee to Hemingway and Tolstoy, for his ability to “take a character and turn it into a metaphor.”
Pascal recalled when Arad brought Spidey to her at Sony, saying that it was “a beautiful metaphor about people and relationships.” She also mentioned that Stan wasn’t always as warm and cuddly as he’s sometimes made out to be, especially when critiquing Sony's Spider-Man movies. “He was pretty honest, which is something I always appreciated,” she said.
Lord recounted the time that he and Miller were at Comic-Con and snuck into a party, then preceded to geek out effusively when they met Lee. “We’re the reason there are wrist bands,” said Lord, while remembering The Man as a “compulsive creator,” who could “make ordinary people feel extraordinary,” and wasn’t afraid to use “exclamation points liberally!”
Miller said that Lee’s Peter Parker “really democratized the superhero,” which paved the way for “the idea of Miles Morales as the modern equivalent of that.” He also said, wholeheartedly, that he and Lord’s style came directly from Lee, very early on.
Up next, Smith brought out Mark Hamill, Laurence Fishburne, Clark Gregg, Felicia Day, and Tom DeSanto, the producer of 2000's X-Men, which featured Lee’s first ever big-screen cameo.
Hamill recalled asking Lee for his advice on how to stay so fit and trim, then offered up perhaps the best Stan impression of the night, saying: “I like to get up every morning and worry all day very hard.” He also remembered Lee as the man who “put a human face on what it must have been like to work at a comics company,” and having “the enthusiasm of an 8-year-old.”
Brooklynite Fishburne recalled buying comics when he was 6 or 7 years old for 10 cents each, before the price was raised to 15 cents and he had to start stealing them. He also spoke from the heart about how comics, particularly Lee’s comics centered in New York, encouraged him to read, saying they “opened my mind to the possibility that you could be more than what your surroundings said you should be.”
Gregg, who was “kinda freaking out” about sitting next to Luke Skywalker and Morpheus, recalled having never been more starstruck than when Lee did his cameo on Thor. He then told a story about how Lee’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brief cameo turned into a hilarious Stan monologue.
Day recalled being at Marvel when she was trying to get The Guild off the ground, and crashing Lee’s office, unannounced and uninvited. She dropped off some samples of her work, then promptly exited, and was embarrassed about doing so until Stan called out of the blue, saying he looked at everything, and loved it all. She also remembered him from so many cons, saying “he would really connect in a very human way with every single fan.”
DeSanto couldn’t help but notice that “looking around this room, you realize Stan Lee lives,” while remembering The Man as his own personal Pope, in a very spiritual sense, saying, “He made you feel like you were capable of anything.” He also recalled how Stanley Lieber wanted to write the great American novel, but Stan Lee gave us so much more: “the great global mythology.”
Then it was time for the lectern to finally get some use, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — a self-proclaimed geek himself as the “only mayor in America to have the limited series of Wolverine #1, 2, 3, and 4” — presented Lee with a key to the city “for someone who unlocked our dreams collectively.” He also recalled Lee’s “relentless positivity,” and noted that Lee “woulda had a great career in politics.”
Throughout the course of the evening, between speakers, clips of Stan’s life and his life in movies were played on the big screen — and trust us, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen every Stan Lee cameo in a row on the biggest of big screens. There were also heartfelt testimonials from some stars who couldn’t be there, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mike Colter, David Tennant, Ming-Na Wen, William Shatner, George Takei, and Doug Jones, who beautifully delivered a quote by his Silver Surfer character: “If die I must — let it be as I have lived — soaring swift and silent — striving for the right — no matter what the cost!”
Soar on, Stan. Soar on.