Long before Stan Lee became the legendary comic-book creator responsible for Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Doctor Strange—and before Patricia Highsmith became a celebrated novelist (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Carol)—both were twentysomethings in Manhattan, dabbling in the then-lowly regarded comic art form. Neither had any idea that their characters would one day be reincarnated on countless screens, and that their beloved work would outlive them both. But in those early days of comics, a mutual relation thought that these two brilliant creative minds might, well, hit it off.
Stan Lee had been an editor at Timely Comics—the company that would one day evolve into Marvel—and Highsmith had been hired to write comic scripts for Vince Fago, who replaced Lee as editor during that the latters tour of World War II duty. Fago was so struck by Highsmiths “beauty”—he called her “a terrific looker”—and so married himself, that the editor took it upon himself to introduce Highsmith to a more eligible bachelor, Lee.
Fago recalled his failed setup to Highsmith biographer Joan Schenkar, who wrote in her 2011 book The Talented Miss Highsmith:
Vince Fago took Lee up to Pats apartment “near Sutton Place,” hoping to make a “match” between Pat and Stan Lee. But the future creator of the talented Mr. Ripley was not fated to go out on a date with the future facilitator of Spider-Man. “Stan Lee,” said Vince Fago, “was only interested in Stan Lee,” and Pat wasnt exactly admitting where her real sexual interests lay. Lee, who invokes his failing memory and “murky mind,” remembers only Pats name from the incident.
It probably did not help that Highsmith—who would later write the iconic lesbian romance The Price of Salt (later re-published as Carol) under a pseudonym—preferred the intimate company of women. Highsmith was later so ashamed of her comic writing that she scrubbed it from her résumé, removed all evidence of it from her home; when she wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, she even killed off someone from her former industry. One of the first victims of the title characters is Reddington, a person Highsmith described as “a comic-book artist. He probably didnt know whether he was coming or going.”
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