Who was the Human Fly?

By | Thursday, November 04, 2021 Leave a Comment
In the mid-1970s, brothers Joseph and Dominic Ramacieri were running the family pepperoni business in Canada. Joe was interested in a way out, and he somehow struck upon the idea of sponsoring a daredevil stuntman in much the same vein as Evel Knievel, who had gained popularity a few years earlier. The brothers formed another company called Human Fly Spectaculars, Ltd. and hired Rick Rojatt to take the mantle of The Human Fly.

Rojatt's story was a bit dubious. He claimed to be a former Hollywood stuntman, whose wife and daughter were killed in a car crash that resulted in 60% of his skeleton replaced with steel. Joseph was skeptical, but figured that if the guy could do stunts, he didn't care. Dominic also hit on the idea that by putting Rojatt in a costume that completely covered him, they could replace him pretty easily if they ever needed to. (Either to get more precisely trained individuals for each stunt or, more cynically, if Rojatt died during one of them.) The group then set out a five year plan of different types of stunts, working hard to ensure prime media coverage.

Rojatt's first stunt, in 1976, was to strap himself on top of a DC-8 jet, which then took off for a long flight in which he endured 250 mile per hour raindrops pelting him. He passed out during the flight, and spent the following six weeks in the hospital, but he had made a name for himself.

It was after then, with The Human Fly now generating some name recognition, that Ramacieri's legal team started talking with Marvel. This would have been after a few years of office tumult at Marvel that eventually left Archie Goodwin as editor-in-chief. Bill Mantlo was given writing duties and Lee Elias initially took on the art chores. (Elias left Rojatt's real-life costume design alone, only emphasizing the musculature a bit more.) Mantlo took some of the basic backstory elements provided by Rojatt and team, and expanded on them. Which Rojatt, in turn, expanded upon in subsequent interviews.

The first issue, which came out in mid-1977, didn't sell particularly well. Though the daredevil himself was at the height of his fame, Marvel was still trying to sort out the burgeoning direct market system and hadn't figured out the best distribution for the book. The title basically got lost in the market.

Several months in the book's run, however, Rojatt attempted jumping 27 buses on a motorcycle, which would beat Evel Knievel's record of 13. Problems with the ramp's construction, though, led to Rojatt blasting off the ramp at the wrong angle. His bike stalled in mid-flight, the back end curled under the front, and Rojatt landed on his back with the bike crashing down on top of him. He survived, amazingly with only a broken ankle and various cuts and bruises.

Questions started coming up about the whole operation, though. A woman in Florida said she recognized what little people could see through The Fly's mask, and that he had walked out on her and their two kids. Some of Rojatt's safety coordinators dropped stories of possible mob ties that scared them from working with Human Fly Spectaculars again. There were claims that a million dollar life insurance policy was put on Rojatt right before his jump.

But after another hospital stay, Rojatt vanished. The comic went on for about another year. Mantlo even incorporated the disastrous jump in issue #11, which led the comic book version of the character down a journey to psychologically overcome his failure. But it eventually ended with #19, long after Rojatt himself had been out of the news cycle.

To this day, no one knows what actually happened to Rojatt. Or, for that matter, if that was even his real name! In the 1980s, a man named David Wolff (former boyfriend and manager of Cyndi Lauper) performed a concert as "The Human Fly & Red Rider" and the act was once again backed by Ramacieri, but whether they were just adopting the name or Wolff was really Rojatt is unknown. Filmmaker Tony Babinski, trying to put together a documentary about all of this -- a preview trailer of which can be seen here -- thinks he tracked Rojatt down in Ontario, but the man who answered the phone refused to talk. So the mystery remains.

Regardless, though, all of this left readers with a year and a half of Mantlo-written stories, not quite like anything before or since.
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