Beauology 101: The Greatest Birthday Gift Of All

Your host, Beau Smith

Your host, Beau Smith

by Beau Smith

Christmas is just days away. Throughout my life, the month of December has always been my favorite 31 days out of the year. Folks seem to always be on their best behavior, or at least something that resembles it. My birthday is on the 17th , and as a kid, that meant pre-Christmas festivities and gifts. I was blessed that my “close to Christmas” birthday was always treated with true birthday respect, no skimping, no parental uttering of “It’s too close to Christmas for a lot of birthday gifts.” No, sir. I always had a full-throttle birthday demolition derby of chaos, and was glad to embrace it.

The house would be filled with holiday candies, nuts and fruit, and then that was added to by my birthday cake and ice cream. I didn’t even mind school so much in the month of December because I looked forward to getting out of it for most of the month for the holidays! That meant that the time spent in school was low key, teachers didn’t wanna work that hard, us kids didn’t, it was more of a social place to be rather than a place to learn. Best month for school!

That Goofy Kid That Called Marvel Comics—Beau Smith

That Goofy Kid That Called Marvel Comics—Beau Smith

One year for my birthday, my parents asked me what I wanted as a gift. I was in the 6th grade. I told them I wanted to call Stan Lee at Marvel Comics and talk to him. Sure, they looked at me like I was a little odd, and I was. They tried to talk me into a bike, new G.I. Joes, or a record player, but I wanted to talk to Stan Lee, the man that wrote all my favorite comic books.

This went on for a few days, and finally my parents gave in to this nutty request of mine. My mom hunted and found the phone number to Marvel Comics in New York City. Waaaaay back before the internet, answering machines and such, calling somebody, even Stan Lee, wasn’t such a crap shoot.

The big day came and I dialed the long distance phone number. Long distance calls were a huge deal back in 1960s. I was surprised when it wasn’t Stan Lee that didn’t answer the phone. It was a young woman’s voice, very friendly, and without an accent like mine.

Her name was Flo Steinberg.

The Fabulous Flo Sternberg. Marvel’s Original Angel.

The Fabulous Flo Sternberg. Marvel’s Original Angel.

I kinda knew of her name from reading all my Marvel Comics, because Stan would always refer to his “Gal Friday” Fabulous Flo”, so I knew I had dialed the right number.

I remember she was so very friendly to this goofy grade school kid from a small town in West Virginia. I told her that it was my birthday and my gift from my mom and dad was getting to call Stan Lee. Flo was so nice and understanding, I suppose she went through this kinda thing on a daily basis. She asked all about me, how old I was, where I went to school, what classes I liked the best, what Marvel comics and characters were my favorites. It was nice to talk to an adult that really knew about all the stuff I liked, comics.

Finally, I asked her when I could talk to Stan. Again, she was so nice, she explained to me that Stan was writing the latest issue of Spider-Man and it was really important that he finish it so I would be able to read it when it came out.

Stan Lee, Please Talk To Me.

Stan Lee, Please Talk To Me.

I was not upset. I understood this completely and the last thing I wanted was the next issue of Spider-Man to be late. I told her that when I grew up, I was going to write comic books and draw them too. (My art never got very far after 9th grade, so I was smart enough to give that part up and focus on the writing.)

Flo told me that I really needed to finish all of my schooling before I tried to be a comic book writer, but to always practice and write things ever day. She told me how important college was and that I should study hard to get there. She mentioned that she had graduated from college not too long ago.

Before our call ended, she asked for my address, and again, wished me a happy birthday. I didn’t get to talk to Stan Lee, but I liked Flo Steinberg. She had a really nice voice and knew a lot about comic books, even for a girl! (Remember, it was the 1960s.)

I told a few of my fellow comic book reading buddies about it. They thought it was kinda cool, a couple of them though it was a “gyp” that I didn’t get to talk to Stan. (They probably make snarky remarks on the internet these days.)

Two weeks after my phone call with Flo, I got a package in the mail. Back then a package in the mail was a really big deal. Even a bigger deal when I saw it was from New York City! It had Marvel Comics Group stamped as the return address.

Make Mine Marvel!!

Make Mine Marvel!!

I opened it up and my eyes were as wide as my cereal bowl. In the package there was a 3 x 5 inch, blue post card with a note from….. Stan Lee! It was short, but he said he was sorry that he missed my call, but hoped I enjoyed these small “Marvel Trinkets”. There was a Spider-Man sticker, a round Make Mine Marvel badge, and a really nice hand written note from Flo Steinberg thanking me for calling and talking to her about Marvel Comic books. She wished me the best with school and wrote Happy Birthday really big. My day…. year, was made.

Those items were the crown jewels of my comic book treasures. No matter where life took me from there on, I always had those items with me in my collection of really special things. In the 1980s when I finally did become a comic book writer and worked as VP of Marketing for Eclipse Comics and Image Comics, I always had those items on display in my office a few blocks from The Flying Fist Ranch here in Ceredo, WV.

I’m sorry to say this story has somewhat of a bittersweet ending.

Marvel stickers

Marvel stickers

I lost those treasured items in the early 1990s when my office building caught fire and burnt down. I lost a lot of treasured things in that fire; original art, autographs, comic books, and much more, but those items sent from Stan and Flo were the things I missed and continue to miss today.

Not to be a complete downer, I realize that the real and true treasures are my memories of that special birthday, the kindness and thoughtfulness given to a quirky kid in the 6th grade from Stan Lee and Flo Steinberg.

Let me add that a few years after that I had lunch not once, but twice, with Stan Lee at two conventions both he and I were attending . I told him of my birthday story, of course, he had no recollection and was honest enough to say so, but he thanked me and at the same time gave me another gift by telling me how wonderful Flo was and some great stories of all the work she did at Marvel Comics.

So yes, every December is special to me. I think of Stan and especially of Flo Steinberg on my birthday every year and all the kindness that was shown to that comic book loving kid from Huntington, West Virginia.

Thank you, Stan Lee for inspiring me to be the comic book writer I am and have been for the last 30 years.

Thank you, Flo Steinberg for inspiring me to always be kind and thoughtful to not only those that love comic books, but to everyone I meet. I think of you every Decemeber 17th on my birthday.

Merry Christmas, mi amigos and amigas!

Beau Smith

The Flying Fist Ranch


We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!

Notice: Undefined variable: user_ID in /home/wfcomics/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/westfield2010/comments.php on line 73