​The marvelous life of Stan Lee

The creator of such superheroes as Spider-Man, The Avengers and The Fantastic Four is a superhero himself to legions of comic book fans.

CBS News

Long before Spider-man was an action hero on the silver screen, he was a star on the pages of Marvel Comics. He owes his existence to a man named Stan Lee. And as Lee admitted in a talk with our Lee Cowan, he's a lifelong admirer of movie derring-do:

Stan Lee's superhero was Errol Flynn. "I would leave the theater," he recalled, "and I had an imaginary sword at my side, and I'd be looking for some girl that some bully was picking on so I could run to her rescue!"

"Did you save some girls?" asked Lee Cowan.

"No, I never found that girl. I probably would have gotten beaten up anyway!" he laughed.

Lee might not have become Robin Hood, but he's certainly achieved superhero status.

At 93, he's as famous as his characters, regarded by comic book fans and convention-goers worldwide as one of the architects of 20th century mythology.

"He's basically responsible for my childhood," said Dan Shanihan, a fan who recently attended Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles, dressed as Captain America.

Cowan asked the comic book king, "Do you feel like a rock star?"

"Sometimes they make me feel that way," Lee replied. "You know when they say, 'Can you take a picture with me,' or shake my hand or something? It's a great feeling that people really care that much. It is."

Name a superhero ... name a super-power ... and chances are Lee helped dream them up.

The list is long. From Spider-man to Iron Man, from the Hulk to Thor, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four -- all his in some capacity. He's essentially the God of the Marvel Universe.

But did he ever worry about running out of characters or super powers? "No, that never really occurred to me," he said. "It was too much fun doing them."

He didn't do it alone. While the characters and the storylines were mostly Stan's, they were co-created with the help of his graphic artists, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who sketched out Stan's wild ideas in vivid detail.


"All of these artists made my stories look better than they were," Lee said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Stan's story has just been put into comic book form, too -- a memoir the way only Marvel's master could deliver, published by Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS).

"I figured I've done everything else as a graphic novel -- why not my life?" he said. "That's fine with me!"

The comic starts out, as Stan started out, as Stanley Martin Leiber, born to Jewish immigrants in 1922. He grew up poor in a tiny Bronx apartment during the Depression.

When Stan was old enough, he started looking for jobs to help pay the bills, and in 1939 he landed at a publishing house which just happened to have a small division called Timely Comics.

"I'd fill the ink wells -- in those days they used ink!" he said. "I'd run down and get them sandwiches at the drug store, and I'd proofread the pages, and sometimes in proofreading I'd say, 'You know, this sentence doesn't sound right. It ought to be written like this.' 'Well, go ahead and change it!' They didn't care!"

Characters like Destroyer, Father Time and Jack Frost soon had Stan's fingerprints all over them.

He got so caught up in the battles of good vs. evil that after Pearl Harbor, it seemed only natural he join the Army.

"Oh hell, how could you not volunteer for the Army?" he said. "Hitler was over there doing all those horrible things."

But instead of fighting, Lee found himself drawing. His best work: a poster telling soldiers how NOT to get VD.

"I drew a little soldier, very proudly," he recalled. "And he's saying, 'VD? Not me!' as he walks in. They must have printed a hundred trillion of those! I think I won the war single-handedly with that poster!"