Stan Lee: Former Boss Margaret Loesch Remembers the Marvel Legend
When Stan Lee died at the age of 95, people everywhere mourned the comic book legend with memories of that special moment they met or spoke to the “Generalissimo.” But few, if any, could say Stan Lee worked for them.
Margaret Loesch sure can.
From 1984 to 1990, Margaret Loesch was President and CEO of Marvel Productions, making her Lee’s superior. While they worked together for six years, they remained friends for 34 more, enjoying weekly Friday drinks and hors-d’oeuvres until Lee withdrew from the public after the death of his beloved wife, Joan (“Joanie,” as he called her) in the fall of 2017.
“He had a 69-year love affair with his wife,” Loesch tells Inverse. “He was so crazy about her. If I could talk to him now, I would say: Have you see Joanie yet? We had long discussions whether or not there was an afterlife. He wasn’t so sure. So it’s probably what I would ask him. I hope you’re partying with Joanie.”
"The first thing I ever recalled about working with Stan was he was so humble. I found him to be very unassuming.
A few days after Lee died, Loesch spoke to Inverse about her late friend. While the world knew Lee as a comic book icon who shaped popular culture with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Loesch remembers someone else: A “humble” gentleman who loved a McDonald’s lunch in his convertible Volkswagen (top down) while pondering the mysteries of the universe.
“Philosophically, Stan was such an interesting man,” Loesch says. “He was a mixture of someone who is idealistic and enthusiastic, at the same time [he was] a pragmatist, a realist, sometimes even a skeptic. He thought a lot about the world we’re in and what’s beyond. He was so provocative in his thinking. Stan was not a shallow man. I learned a lot from Stan.”
Loesch first met Stan Lee in the late 1970s, when Loesch was a junior member managing the animation studio Hanna-Barbera. The studio produced The Thing, an animated series based on Ben Grimm of Marvel’s Fantastic Four.
“The first thing I ever recalled about working with Stan was he was so humble,” Loesch says. “I found him to be very unassuming.”
Several years and many lunches later, Loesch was tapped by Marvel — with the support of Lee himself — to lead their new film and TV division, Marvel Productions. Before her first day as Lee’s new boss, he gave her only one rule that would ensure a smooth working environment.
“He said to me, ‘Maggie, I don’t mind working for you at all. I only have one rule: When we go out to lunch at a restaurant, and I order dessert, don’t you ever ask to share my dessert.”
“He meant it!” Loesch remembers. “That’s Stan. He’s always full of surprises, light of heart in many ways, and very witty. We got along famously.”
Along with David H. DePatie and Tom Tataranowicz, Loesh and Lee spent six years working together at Marvel Productions. A forerunner to Disney’s billion dollar Marvel Studios, Marvel Productions was successful in its own terms, with generational touchstones like G.I. Joe, Transformers, and My Little Pony.
But Loesch considers her time at Marvel a failure. Sold on Lee’s passionate and relentless big vision for Marvel, Loesch worked tirelessly to pitch and sell a Marvel television series but never sold a single Marvel show.
It’s hard to believe today, as studios fiercely compete to find the next big hit out of comic books. But in Loesch’s day, networks wanted nothing to do with them.
“Comics were disdained by the networks for years,” Loesch says. One network executive even embarrassed Loesch during a meeting, with a put-down that remains “seared” into her brain.
“They said, ‘Margaret, when will you realize those stories are too complicated, too interior, too talky, too obtuse? They will not translate to television.’ When someone says that to you, it gives you pause.”
But Loesch never felt defeated, because Stan Lee didn’t. After every harsh rejection, “Stan would redirect his energies. He was so creative, he would move on and channel his excitement and it would distract him from feelings he had. Not so much rejection, but, ‘Why don’t they get it?’”
Still Loesch saw that even Lee wasn’t indestructible.
“He had no illusion about the industry and how, on a whim, a person in a suit can change your life for better or worse,” she says. “There was a bit of cynicism [in him]. He wasn’t cynical about his audience, he loved his audience. The business part he was less rosy about. I saw that chip away at him.”
"He didn’t think in terms of money or power. That wasn’t Stan. He thought in terms of getting the stories and characters out there.
When Loesch left Marvel to become a buyer for the new Fox Kids network, she vowed to Lee to make the shows they believed in. By 1994, the network was dominating the after-school programming block with shows like X-Men and Spider-Man (both Marvel), the Emmy-winning Batman: The Animated Series, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which has its own origins with Stan Lee. These four shows would redefine ‘90s pop culture and establish the foundations for the superhero movie boom of the new millennium.
Loesch credits Stan Lee for the lesson in perseverance.
“He set such a good example,” Loesch says. “I learned [from him] that enthusiasm can make a big difference. If you’re enthusiastic, it’s really hard to say no. That’s one of the many reasons Stan was so successful. He really believed in what he was doing. He was always ahead of the curve.”
Soon enough, the world finally caught up with him.
“He didn’t think in terms of money or power,” Loesch says. “That wasn’t Stan. He thought in terms of getting the stories and characters out there. He felt everybody would love Marvel. He saw a world filled with Marvel stories and characters everywhere. That was his vision, and he was right.”