HUDSON — As a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Gary Grossman would sit in the window of his parents’ appliance store, Etling and Grossman on Warren Street, or on a bench in 7th Street Park, and would read superhero comic books cover to cover.
His favorite was D.C. Comics’ alien-come-to-earth warrior Superman. Kids would pile up in Grossman’s living room at his childhood home on State Street to watch “The Adventures of Superman” because his family was one of the first with a TV set.
But, as he got older, Grossman began to venerate characters that were a little more down-to-earth. Characters who were flawed and had realistic problems. It’s at that time he began to appreciate the average-people-turned-superheroes from the Marvel Universe’s comic-book scripter and publisher Stan Lee.
“Stan Lee created characters that were much more real,” Grossman said. “They had the kind of troubles and worries that we all deal with in everyday life.
Lee’s Spider-Man, a k a Peter Parker, was the character that Grossman found himself connecting with the most.
“Spider-Man called out to everyone,” Grossman said. “Absolutely everyone. He touched on teenage angst. We all, as we go to sleep, we think about those problems we can’t solve during the day, and the fantastic ways we could solve them, if we could. Stan Lee captured that.”
Lee died Monday at the age of 95 in Los Angeles. This week, Grossman, 70, recalled his TV interview with the prolific superhero creator in 1995 as part of a biography for A&E called, “Stan Lee: The ComiX-Man.” The full interview can be found at: https://vimeo.com/260427866?ref=em-share.
“He was a jovial guy,” Grossman said. “He was so accessible. Unlike many people in Hollywood, who are protective of their brand and privacy, Stan Lee would go right up to fans. He was comfortable in a mosh pit. He loved being with his fans.”
Grossman, who grew up in Hudson, lives in Los Angeles, and has become a successful television producer and author of political thrillers. He and his former production company, Weller & Grossman, produced about 10,000 TV shows for more than 40 networks, including A&E, the History Channel, the Food Network and the National Geographic Channel.
Grossman admired Lee’s ability to showcase characters with disabilities, such as blind defense attorney Matt Murdock and his superhero alter-ego Daredevil, defender of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.
“He accepts people can do amazing things, no matter what disability they might have,” Grossman said. “His characters have real-people problems, and that really connected him with the audience.”
Grossman remembered Lee as a man who never outgrew the love and adoration of his fans.
“He would look at you straight in the eyes,” Grossman said. “He would focus on you. Even thought there might be a thousand people clamoring to meet him, he would be one-on-one with you in that moment. He valued the bond between what he did and what he was associated with and the audience and the fans.”
Lee became famous for his cameos in the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“He was like Alfred Hitchcock, but it was more of a wink and a nod to the fans,” Grossman said.
Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City in 1922.
“This was a very real guy who grew up in New York who had a dream of becoming a great writer of legitimate novels,” Grossman said. “He adopted the name Stan Lee because he figured he would do the comic books for a while. His real name he was going to use for his other literary endeavors. I guess we have to say thank you to him that that never came along.”
Grossman returns to Hudson each year to visit the place where he grew up. Grossman is amazed by the transformation decades later. When he left Hudson, Warren Street was filled with empty storefronts. His family’s Columbia Street bread factory became Time & Space Ltd., and the family name, “Grossman,” remains etched in the building’s stonework. He remembers all the notable people he’s met since his humble beginnings, including Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original “Star Trek,” which ran on TV from 1966 to 1969.
But, decades after moving out of that house on State Street, Grossman remains a Superman fan. But it’s Lee’s contributions that stand out most in Grossman’s mind.
“[Lee] is truly one of those people I am proud to have met,” Grossman said. “He changed 20th-century thinking. He did so much for kids and popular culture, that it just keeps getting reinvented over and over. His characters will live on and on, and that is the great thing about superheroes.”
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