With the 2010 baseball season officially under way with Sunday night’s come-from-behind Boston Red Sox win over defending World Champion New York Yankees, it seemed apropos for me to recount my 1987 meeting as Spider-Man with members of another team from the Big Apple, also defending World Champions at the time.
The gig was my third Marvel job overall; a photo shoot geared to producing a poster, which would be handed out in goodie bags to all attendees as they entered Shea Stadium on June 5. The occasion? The mock-wedding ceremony of Spider-Man and Mary-Jane Watson prior to that evening’s game, a loose interpretation of what would be transpiring in the Amazing Spider-Man comic book at that time, in which Peter Parker sans costume would be marrying his vivacious red-headed gal as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of everyone’s favorite Web-Swinger.
As mentioned, I was to don the red-and-blue, my second time doing so after my infamous jumping-out-of-a-cake appearance as the Green Goblin at Spider-Man’s swinging bachelor party several weeks before. Why veteran Spidey actor Jeremy wasn’t taking up the mantle for this important event, I don’t know, especially since he was the webbed portrayer for all wedding-related media events leading up to and including these pre-game nuptials. I was a mere newbie, still wet behind the webs.
I vaguely remember there being another more prominent appearance booked at the same time. That would certainly explain where Jeremy was and the absence of any Marvel Publicity Department personnel. Add to that the schedule of the Mets players participating in the photo shoot, which was certainly unalterable; the fact that it was a weekday afternoon gig—a contributing factor in my being the only Spider-Man actor otherwise twiddling my thumbs watching The Price Is Right at home during that time—and the fact that the shoot would not entail an active display of my rookie Spidey prowess or my speaking with the media; and my call to webs—as it were—for this momentous shoot seems plausible. Basically more factors had to align than those needed for the successful invasion of Normandy on D-Day for me to ever be considered for such a prestigious job (Did I mention my low self-esteem?).
The World Champion Mets had just beaten my belovèd Red Sox the season before in the infamous—or famous, depending on who you were rootin’ for—“Bill Buckner” World Series. Since the faux nuptuals would be taking place on their home turf at Shea Stadium, several members of the Mets would be participating. It would be a dream come true for any Mets fan, but a stab to the heart for me. Isn’t it ironic? Alanis Morrisette…you have no idea!
Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Firestar—or rather the actors who would portray them—and I convened at the Marvel offices, where we were driven to the field. The guy playing Iceman was to meet us there. These were the only superhero costumes Marvel had at the time. Suits for villains Green Goblin and Dr. Doom existed as well, but were wisely omitted. The theme was “super heroes,” after all.
We dressed in the visiting team’s locker room, stepping out onto the field as they would have during a game. Soon we were joined by a quartet of uniformed Mets heroes: Lee Mazzilli, Roger McDowell, Wally Backman and Darryl Strawberry. What kept me from taking a bat to their heads was the sick satisfaction of knowing that the centerpiece to this surreal tableau of Mets stars and comic book heroes; the man around which the Mets players gathered; the star of a poster that was to be given out to thousands of Mets fans; was a devout Red Sox fan… Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!
Not buying it, huh? How about if I told you that I was paid exorbitantly (I wasn’t) for an hour’s worth of work? Okay, I admit it; there wasn’t much that was cool about this gig for me. Until the end of time when describing this moment to my friends and fellow Sox fans, there will be a spiritual asterisk that reads, “Yeah, but you had your photo taken with the ’86 Championship Mets!”
Ironically, the only one of us superheroes who was a Mets fan was Gary, the actor playing The Incredible Hulk, whose enthusiasm and full enjoyment of his heroes was greatly curtailed by his confinement in the padded cell that was the Hulk costume.
By far, the Hulk costume was the most taxing of all the costumes, at least when I began working for Marvel. Other than the head, each part was basically a stuffed toy, seven components in all. First, the wearer stepped into the lower torso and upper legs, which were clad in The Hulk’s signature ripped purple pants. The “bare” feet/shins/calves sections extended to the knee, high enough to meet the upper legs/lower torso subdivision. Hulkie’s lavender leggings continued beyond the knee, thus cleverly concealing the joint where the aforementioned elements met. There was a 2–3 inches built into the sole of the feet to heighten the actor within. The chartreuse tootsies were designed around the entire area, so the fact that they were essentially platform boots wasn’t noticeable. Of course, the design only exacerbated the unwieldiness of wearing the suit.
The head was donned next. It seemed to be constructed from the same hard substance as the Green Goblin mask. At least, the fumes smelled similarly and had that same wonderful “stoned” effect on the wearer. Contrary to the Green Goblin’s mask, the Hulk’s was not painted, but covered with the same soft green fabric that was used to cover the other body parts of the costume. The neck flap was long enough to be tucked into the chest cavity, which was put on like a hospital gown, with the opening in the back, closed up with a succession of eye hooks. The hands were the final piece. Pushing one’s hands into them was akin to fisting a teddy bear.
The actor within looked out Jade Giant’s mouth, which was covered in hard black mesh. I use the term “looked” loosely, as the vision in The Hulk’s mask would be deemed legally blind. The peripherals were nil and the added height made it impossible to see up to five feet in front of the wearer. In order to shake hands with children, the actor would have to crouch as he bent forward, otherwise he’d tip over.
So as not to scare the kiddies, the mask was sculpted with a less-menacing visage than one would expect from the Green Behemoth. Oh, who am I kidding? He looked goofy. The mask’s bushy, black Oscar-the-Grouch–esque eyebrows, shock of matching tousled hair and bemused grin gave him the sort of relieved look one would expect on someone who’d just passed a stone. “Hulk, SMASH!” would be the last thing one would expect to hear out of him. “Ah-h-h-h-h… I’ll never eat atomic burritos again,” would be more likely.
Once ensconced within, the Hulk actor was covered with as much as six inches of stuffed heavy fabric in places and carried an extra thirty pounds of weight. The rule was “twenty minutes in, twenty minutes out.” Any more and the actor risked fainting. Plus, as the costume absorbed the wearer’s sweat, of which there was copious amounts, it became heavier as the appearance wore one. Multiple day appearances didn’t allow enough time for the costume to dry out completely, so it was progressively damper and heavier from day to day. Should I mention the “heady” bouquet of Hulk appearances past that would intensify within the noggin as the lucky performer inside perspired?
All these factors made the Hulk costume the only one that an actor not only needed help donning, but also necessitated chaperoning at all times. Given the limited vision, the Green Behemoth risked trampling wee ones rushing in to offer a hug or shake hands below his line of sight. If children stood within five feet of The Hulkster, they didn’t exist. The attendant would alert the performer, at times physically guiding him to ensure little Johnny wasn’t squashed like a bug. It was also the assistant’s job to monitor the time and “excuse” the Hulk, every twenty minutes, so the actor could cool down and rehydrate.
Once we helped Gary into character and escorted him onto the field, he was on his own. There was no risk of stumbling over anything let alone a small child. And he remained in costume for the entirety of the time the players were on the field with us. Born and raised in Queens, Gary was a lifelong Mets fan, yet he couldn’t even hold a pen, let alone ask for an autograph. And he wasn’t exactly getting a clear view of the Mets players through the small black-mesh maw of the Hulk’s face.
The actor playing Iceman had only recently moved from California and as such may have been a Dodgers, Angels, Giants or Padres fan, not that we could tell with his incessant whining about being fat and how he planned to get liposuction to correct the problem as soon as he’d saved enough. In that regard he was not shy about asking how much each of us was making for the shoot. I had never met a more vacuous individual. He was pathetic. He hardly had “love dimples” never mind love handles. One word buddy: sit-ups! Interesting how exercise was never brought up as a possible solution. He probably still wonders why Barbara never called him back for another gig. Considering the disparaging reviews us “vets” gave his performance and personality, I think we all would have went on strike if she had tried to hire him again.
Meanwhile, Trudy, aka Firestar, had her hands full trying to politely shake off the roaming hands of Roger McDowell who followed her like a stray puppy and persistently tried to pick her up. There is a reason why the former pitching ace has the biggest grin in the poster.
McDowell seemed to be the only Met enjoying the situation—albeit for reasons other than comic-book appreciation. Mazzilli, Backman and Strawberry only ceded their looks of scorn to smile when the photos were being taken. And if you look closely at their visages on the poster, you’ll notice those smile are forced. Perhaps they thought we couldn’t hear clearly in the costumes, because their under-the-breath grumblings about having to participate in the shoot were easily audible.
Even when Mark as Captain America approached each with an outstretched hand in greeting, their lackluster responses and dour countenances were palpable. And Mark was just being polite. He wasn’t even a sports fan never mind a Mets fan. In fact, knowing his relatives and friends would be envious of his meeting these superstars, Mark had us quiz him on their names as we drove back to the Marvel offices so he’d remember them when his relatives asked.
“Okay, don’t tell me. There’s Mazola, MacDonald, Hackman and Raspberry… No, no… wait! It’s Strawberry, MacDougal, Backfield and Mazola…” And it seemed no matter how many times we’d correct him on one, he’d misfire on the others. It’s hard to remember anything when one has no vested interest in the subject matter.
The shoot itself couldn’t have taken longer than 15 minutes. Once the players assembled—several minutes after the characters—the photographer pulled everyone into formation, integrating both sports and comic heroes equally. As Spidey was the raison d’être for this odd tableau, I was placed prominently in the front. My initial poses—signature Webhead moves—were quickly shot down by the photographer. His “vision” included Spider-Man clutching the knob of a baseball bat, held upright between his spread legs and grabbed by Lee Mazzilli and Wally Backman. Can you say, suggestive?!!
I get the “heroes” theme, using members of the Mets, who had just won the World Championship, making them heroes in the eyes of New Yorkers where the wedding would be enacted and the poster distributed. But there was no reason for Spider-Man to be holding a bat, never mind in such an uncharacteristic way. I think the photographer may have had me confused with another superhero.
They should’ve hired Peter Parker!