There’s a lot going on in The Hollywood Reporter’s new exposé on the behind-the-scenes battle for control of Stan Lee. Shady manipulators, allegations of elder abuse, conflicting documentation, Tobey Maguire’s brother, and even a pregnancy all factor into the saga. One insider called it “an utter shit show” — and at stake is the widowed 95-year-old Lee’s estate, worth an estimated $50-70 million. I’ll be honest, I don’t even know how to summarize this mess. So I’m just gonna share the top five most batshit-insane parts of the story.
But first, some background:
Stan Lee’s wife of nearly 70 years, Joan, passed away last July at the age of 95. The couple has one daughter together, an unmarried 67-year-old woman named J.C. who is prone to verbal (and physical?) outbursts and isn’t very good at handling her money (like monthly credit card bills worth the cost of a new Subaru). J.C. wants more control over her inheritance, and with Joan out of the picture, Stan is having a harder time controlling the situation.
If this were just a struggle between a 95-year-old millionaire and his also elderly daughter, that would be one thing. But these kinds of situations are never so simple, and there are a truckload of other players involved. After an argument with J.C. this past February, Stan went to his lawyer Tom Lallas and had a declaration drawn up that explains the nature of the trust he has established for his daughter, as well as their frequent disagreements about her access to the funds.
The declaration then explicates how three men with “bad intentions” — Jerardo “Jerry” Olivarez, Keya Morgan and J.C.’s attorney, Kirk Schenck — had improperly influenced his daughter, a woman with “very few adult friends.” The document claims the trio has “insinuated themselves into relationships with J.C. for an ulterior motive and purpose”: to take advantage of Lee and “gain control over my assets, property and money.”
The declaration was notarized, but a few days later Stan mysteriously changed his mind and refuted the statements in the document. Shortly after, Lallas was out as Lee’s attorney.
When Morgan learned that THR had obtained a copy of the seemingly damning declaration, he filmed a video of Lee distancing himself from the document. In the clip, while Lee doesn’t deny signing the declaration, he calls its contents “totally incorrect, inaccurate, misleading and insulting.” (Lallas says he went through the contents with Lee “word by word, line by line.”)
Around the same time, other long-time aids of Lee’s were also let go, including his assistant, housekeeper, and gardener. Oh, and Tobey Maquire’s brother Vince, a friend of Keya Morgan, was hired as Stan’s new accountant. With all communication to Stan being monitored, it seems the man is being isolated rapidly. As for the rest of the story, here are a few pieces that jumped out at me…
1) I hope there’s a treasure map involved (emphasis mine):
Signs abounded that chaos would reign if Joanie were the first to die. There was Lee’s people-pleasing habit of telling whoever was in front of him whatever they wanted to hear, his history of bad financial decisions (like never properly cashing in on Marvel) and his susceptibility to bad actors (including a doomed partnership called Stan Lee Media with Peter F. Paul, a convicted drug dealer). Add to this Lee’s Depression-bred distrust of banks, leading to rumors he’d hid millions in cash all over his property.
2) Did J.C. physically assault her parents?
One incident took place in winter 2014, explains Lee’s former business and asset manager Bradley J. Herman, after J.C. discovered that the new Jaguar convertible parked outside, which she thought had been purchased for her, was in fact only leased — and in her father’s name. Herman, in Stan’s office to handle some paperwork, recalls that the argument spiraled out of control after J.C. called her parents “fucking stupid” and Joanie told her the car was “now [Joanie’s.]”
According to Herman — whose active Hollywood client list he keeps private but who previously worked for Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra — J.C. then roughly grabbed her mother by one arm, shoving her against a window. Joanie fell to the carpeted floor. Lee, seated in a nearby chair and looking stunned, told J.C. he was cutting her off: “I’m going to stick you in a little apartment and take away all your credit cards!” Herman recalls Lee shouting. “I’ve had it, you ungrateful bitch!” In “a rage,” J.C. took hold of Lee’s neck, slamming his head against the chair’s wooden backing. Joanie suffered a large bruise on her arm and burst blood vessels on her legs; Lee had a contusion on the rear of his skull. (J.C. has previously denied the incident.)
3) Wait, what’s this about Stan Lee Blood Ink?!
Olivarez believes Morgan led a “smear campaign” against him that continues to this day. He cites a recent attempt to taint an idea he calls a “cool” merchandising effort — blending Lee’s blood into special “DNA” ink used in pens and stamps — into something sinister. He says that while J.C. helped originate the idea and Lee was on board, in an effort to discredit Olivarez, Morgan has been spreading lies that he stole the blood (including speaking with TMZ, which trumpeted that Lee’s “Business Associate Is a Bloodsucker!!!” on April 2). Olivarez notes that Lee’s physician not only approved of the endeavor but also is a signatory on each item’s certificate of authenticity. (While Morgan does not deny speaking with the media when called, he denies being the source of leaks.)
4) A new nurse named Linda Sanchez joined Stan’s staff shortly after Joan died, and witnessed the troubling dynamics of the entourage around Lee. She describes being blackmailed and bullied by Morgan and Schenck… but that’s not the weirdest part. This is:
In January, Sanchez, who is married, became pregnant, and she thinks that’s when J.C. also turned on her, believing the nonagenarian Lee had perhaps sired another heir. “She starts going off,” Sanchez remembers, “saying, ‘When the baby’s born, I’m going to get it.’ Just going crazy.” The nurse told only one other individual — a discreet caregiving colleague with whom she was especially close — in the house about the pregnancy, yet J.C. somehow learned of the news. Sanchez notes that she once discovered a surreptitious camera in the house, and nearly every person interviewed for this story who spent time in the household says they suspect the presence of listening devices — though all deny planting them. “The phones would always click,” says Olivarez.
J.C. also left a ton of voicemails for Lallas while he was still Lee’s attorney, and the baby came up there too (again, emphasis mine):
The voicemails, whose transcriptions were reviewed by THR, portray J.C.’s souring on her relationship with the lawyer as she comes to the conclusion that he can’t be trusted to advance her interests. They also give an unvarnished view of the battle unfolding over her father. Her anxious, suspicious, overwhelmed thoughts range from the megalomaniacal (“I wish that one day Marvel would be mine”) to the potential upside of Lee fathering Sanchez’s child. “The thing I want more than anything is a baby,” she confesses. “It would be a great end to the story. And, you know, she doesn’t get the baby, she doesn’t get anything, but her bills paid.”
5) And you know what, let’s just throw in some creepy-ass statues to round this story out:
Morgan, who attended Peter Parker’s alma mater, Forest Hills High School in Queens, keeps a sculpture of Spider-Man in his bedroom. (“I think it’s a character greater than Mickey Mouse, greater than Zeus.”) Anderson, meanwhile, commissioned a life-sized fiberglass statue of Lee, bedecked with a pair of Lee’s Ray-Ban glasses (“Joanie put them there herself”) that resides in his living room.
Finally, if you’re wondering whether the recent accusation of sexual misconduct against Stan Lee factored into the article at all, there is this throwaway mention which seems to suggest it may have, in some way, been part of a smear campaign:
Anderson says Morgan also planted a series of damaging news stories about his alleged failings as Lee’s tour manager, including one involving his alleged culpability for an incident during which a masseuse accused Lee of sexual improprieties in his hotel suite during a Chicago convention. (Morgan denied leaking the story.)
This is only scratching the surface of the labyrinthine saga THR teases apart in their piece, and truly the whole thing is worth a read. It’s easy to wonder whether Lee needs his own comic book hero to save him, but I’m more interested in reading the comic book that features J.C. as the (allegedly) spoiled, entitled, unstable villain.