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Sunday, July 20, 2014
Stan Lee Was Smarter Than He Knew When He Turned Down Harry Stonehill
Originally Published on forbes.com on October 10th,2011
Stan Lee never sent Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos to the Philippines. This may have been, because they were based in England and mainly fought Hitler. There was a least one mission in the Pacific though and realism was not a serious limitation with the Howlers. It might be plausible that someone could charge a machine gun nest without being hit, but doing it consistently with the bullets coming close enough to tear your shirt, but doing no other damage – well, it was a comic book. Perhaps, though Sergeant Fury never went to the Philippines, because Mr. Lee knew a true story about a former lieutenant – Harry Stonehill that was only slightly more believable than some of the missions he sent the Howlers on.
I found the recent Ninth Circuit decision US v Stonehill fascinating for a number of reasons. The judicial history of the case, which I discussed inmy post, indicates how vulnerable the collection system is to deep pocket litigants. The case, decided in 2011, was about whether evidence obtained in 1962 could be used to support an assessment of taxes dating back to 1958. That particular point had already been won in Court by the government in 1967, 1968 and 1983. Harry S. Stonehill was also a fascinating character. His fifteen minutes of fame in the United States wasover in 1962 but they sure remember him in the Philippines as this recentpost by blogger Francis Yumul shows. I’m also fascinated by the one hero in the whole mess Jose Diokno, who, among many other achievements, scored high on the CPA exam. The Stan Lee angle totally captivates me.
It happens that Stan Lee created my favorite comic book. When it comes to super heroes, I’m not a big fan of Stan Lee. He introduced the concept of conflicted super heroes dealing with ambiguity and complexity. I preferred the DC world to Marvel, although it later succumbed to the same trend. But Stan Lee created Nick Fury – Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos. He pushed the envelope of the WWII “diversity” trope by having a squad that included not only a Southerner named Reb, an Italian and an Irishman (led of course by a generic non-ethnic American), but also an African American (That was the least of the Howler’s historical inaccuracies, which included flying a B-17 to the Pacific and landing it on an aircraft carrier). When I heard him interviewed about it later, I was shocked by two things. One was that he did the whole thing on a dare, because it was believed that nobody could do a good war comic and you needed a short title. The other, please hold on to your hat, was that Percy,the English member of the squad, who sipped tea and carried an umbrella into battle, was supposed to be gay. In 1965, that was well beyond diversity.
So what does Stan Lee have to do with Harry S. Stonehill ? Well for one thing it would have taken somebody with Stan Lee’s imagination to make Harry S. Stonehill up. More directly, though, Stan and Harry were Army buddies. Stan actually had the opportunity to be Harry’s partner. He talks about it in his autobiographyExcelsior. Harry wanted him to go to the Philippines to sellChristmas cards. They kept in touch as Harry diversified and became fabulously wealthy. When Stan asked Harry what kind of a car he was driving, Harry said that, through his dealerships, he owned half the cars in the Philippines.
Stan’s reflection on the whole matter was:
“Yep, any time my ego needs deflating I remember how I was too smart to leave comic books and go into business with ol’ Harry.”
Well, I for one would not want to be in the alternate universe where Stan Lee was on the run in the 1960′s rather than creating Nick Fury and the rest of the Howlers. Also think about what may have happened to Menhart Spielman, who knew a bit to much about Stonehill’s operation:
Spielman then attempted to flee the Philippines, assisted by men associated with Stonehill. Philippine authorities eventually obtained confessions from the crewmen of a boat called the “Kingdom.” The crewmen claimed they attacked Spielman on the boat while he was asleep and threw him semi-conscious into the shark-infested waters of the Sulu Sea.
Nick Fury was more of a match for Harry Stonehill than was Nick’s creator, but Stan stayed loyal to his friend and never sent the Howlers to the Philippines to set things right.