Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stan Lee versus Joe Weider...To The Death!

Actually, not quite, but hell, isn't that a catchy title?  Even today, with Joe still kicking around past 90, my money would be firmly on him being able to kick people's arses off the planet, if he could be bothered.  But now that the title has drawn you in, here's an insight into the, albeit small, battle between Joe and Stan.

In August 1967, buoyed by the success that their comic books were experiencing Marvel began to look towards the future, namely separate titles for the likes of Captain America, Iron man, the Sub-Mariner, Thor and The Hulk, all of whom were being published in anthology comic books such as Journey Into Mystery, Tales Of Suspense and Tales To Astonish.  The process involved ensuring that each separate character was duly registered at the trademark office for name, title, design and character.  However the path to such titles are not always paved with ease, even if they do have good intentions, and whereas Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Namor were fairly easy to trademark, Captain America wasn't.  After being a hit for Timely Comics (the early name for Marvel) in the 1940s, by the 1950s the character, along with virtually all superhero comics and characters, was dead in the water.  In the meantime someone else had come along and scooped up the name 'America' for their own use.  Imagine that!

Body-building guru, Joe Weider, had first published his iconic mens magazine, Mr. America, in the early 1950s and was steadfastly insistent on holding onto the trademark and title.  Never mind that the early, 1950s, issues of Mr. America are now seen as somewhat of a gay icon in their own right, Weider had built an empire on muscle, nearly nude men oiled up and posing like real life superheroes.  Indeed two of Weider's best known protogees, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferringo, would move on to fortune and fame as Conan and The Incredible Hulk respectively, comic book characters on the big screen and television, thus cementing their worldwide fame outside of the body-building circles.  It should have come as no surprise that as soon as Marvel applied for the Captain America trademark, Weider would oppose it, stating that he should be the only person allowed to publish a magazine with the name 'America' in bold type.  Incredibly he almost won his point due to some errors by Marvel.

Their first, minor, error was filing for the name Captain American.  That was an easy error to remedy, but the second error was potentially lethal - Marvel had allowed the trademark to lapse from the 1950s, which lead to Weider filing suit.  According to the first documents filed, Marvel stated that the character design and costume had been in use since February 2nd, 1967, but had first been used, "...in a different form at least as early as December 1943."  This oversight nearly cost Marvel dearly as Joe Weider filed an opposition to the registration of the name (shortly after Joe Simon would also file for the character itself - he failed), and it was quickly corrected to the proper date of December 1940 in a subsequent statement signed by Martin Goodman immediately prior to Marvel dealing with Weider.  Unlike a normal court, the trademark process works on both sides attempting to solve their issues alone, and that's exactly what happened here.  Marvel were encouraged to contact  Weider to reach an amicable solution and that's exactly what happened.  The solution, agreed upon in a phone call, would see Marvel use the name Captain America only for comic books and not for muscle magazines, let alone any other magazine, and Weider wouldn't produce any comic books (not that he'd ever done so before) using the name Mr. America.  Thus pacified Marvel continued with their copyright filings and were eventually granted the trademark to Captain America and the world went on as normal.  Or did it?

This case was resolved with one phone call and a letter of agreement signed by Weider.  It's almost beyond the scope of imagination to presume that someone as business savvy in publishing as Weider would cave in so easily, unless there was something in it for him.  And therein lies a mystery.  At the time Weider was in the process of ramping up his body-building empire, mainly on the well sculpted arms and chest of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had moved to America in 1968 and was training at Weiders Gold's Gym in California, as well as prowling the beaches asking women for sex in his own unique way. Weider had also formed the Mr. Olympia body-building contest two years earlier, in 1965, and was also seeing it become a household name - which it would by the mid 1970s.  Weider's empire was on the cusp of exploding by late 1967/early 1968 and he knew it, so why would Joe agree to a simple, seemingly hassle free solution?

It's easy to believe that Joe was a nice guy who just wanted to do the right thing, but it's not that difficult to draw a line between this agreement and the many ads that suddenly began to appear in Marvel Comics in the early 1970s promoting Joe Weider's many health supplements, ads that featured none other than Schwarzenegger.  Using that as a yardstick, it could be argued that Marvel either gave Weider free advertising, or allowed his ads to run at a very reduced rate, in order to ensure that their trademark application would be allowed to continue unabated, which they would, eventually surpassing the legendary Charles Atlas 'bully' ads - indeed one of Weider's own ads mirrored the Atlas ads perfectly.  Did Marvel cut a deal?  if they did then they certainly got the better of it in the long term, so it was money well spent.

 


 
 
 
 
The final statement, with the amended date of December 1940 as the first time the trademarked name was used

Detail from the initial statement showing the incorrect date of December 1943
Lou Ferringo, Joe Weider, Arnold Schwarzenegger - Hulk meets Conan. That's two of your five per day right there.
 
Weider's Charles Atlas ad
 
 
 
 
Some of Weider's many Marvel Comics ads
 
 
Oooooeeerrrrr
Just men being men in a manly manner...
Could you have confused Captain America with Mr. America?

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