On History: The First Spider-Man

By | Tuesday, September 19, 2017 Leave a Comment
No, this isn't a post about how much Ditko, Kirby, Lee, Beck, or whomever contributed to the character Spider-Man. I'm looking tonight at the first person to portray the character live.

There have been numerous actors who've donned the spider-suit since 1963 when he first debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15. Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire are the most recent and most obvious. Older fans might recall the TV movies starring Nicholas Hammond, or that Danny Seagren portrayed the character a few years earlier on The Electric Company. Seagren noted in a recent interview that he also portrayed the character for appearances at shopping malls and the like around that time. (I seem to recall seeing a Spider-Man at one our local malls back then; I have no idea if it was Seagren or not, though.)

But there was someone who played the role as an "official" Spider-Man before all that by about a decade, and that someone was none other than Roy Thomas!

I recall reading a few years back that Thomas had a Spider-Man costume and posed for publicity photos from time to time. Most notably in the 1969 Fantastic Four Annual. When I went to do a quick search to confirm things for this post, though, I came across an even more surprising discovery: the costume still exists! In fact, until March of this year, it was still in Thomas' possession!

It turns out that Thomas brought the costume out for comic historian John Cimino, and he's gotten it cleaned up a bit for better display. What's more, Thomas relayed the full history of how the costume came to be created...
Sometime in the last months of 1965, or in early 1966, in the Marvel offices, production manager Sol Brodsky showed me several folded-up costumes which, he said, had been sewn for Marvel by a "professional seamstress" -- or some phrase to that effect. They were costumes for Spider-Man, Fantastic Four (a uniform that could be worn by either sex), and two others, which I believe were the Wasp and Medusa. He told me the costumes had been made for the company specifically so that they could be worn in a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade... that would've had to be the 1965 one. Sol told me that the "actors" hired to wear the costumes had gotten paid in advance and hadn't marched in the parade; I believe he said or implied that they'd gotten drunk and never showed up. He told me I could have the costumes if I wanted them, as they were just cluttering up the office.
Thomas goes on to cite the various times he'd worn the costume, both to Halloween parties and for publicity photos. Check out the full post by Cimino with an extensive introduction from Thomas here. It's a fascinating look at the earliest days of Marvel's attempts at marketing.

The one thing I would quibble with Cimino's comments, though. He suggests that the seamstress deliberately chose to make the leggings a different color than the torso because there were color inconsistencies in the printed books back then. Personally, I think this ascribes too much consideration on the part of the seamstress, and ignores what strikes me as a more practical reasoning: she probably simply bought a pair of leggings and couldn't get the colors to match perfectly. Occam's razor, you know?

I personally didn't hear anything about this back in March, and the Google searching I've done for this post suggests it flew under the radar of all the 'regular' comic news outlets, so my guess is this is still new information for most comic fans. Theoretically, Cimino will be putting the costume on the auction block at some point in the not-too-distant future, but I don't see any more recent information on that.

So not only did Thomas become the first "official" Spider-Man, but the very costume he wore is still around and seems to be in pretty good condition!
Newer Post Older Post Home