Spider-Man voice actor Rene Auberjonois has died at the age of 79…
UPDATED 12/8/19: Actor Rene Auberjonois has died at the age of 79. Despite his work on Deep Space Nine, Benson and about a million other things, his performance here is easily my favorite. It remains dear to me to this very day, so it only seemed appropriate to re-present this piece from 2017. Enjoy. — Dan
For a guy I’ve only run into once in the last 43 years, Phillip Tagliaferri has had an inordinate impact on my life.
Phillip — and if you’re out there, man, let me know! — was a childhood friend and maybe the funniest kid I ever knew. He ended up a comedian and actor, which we should have predicted, though I have no idea where he is now.
Anyway, Phil was the first guy to show me Megos. He had Batman and Robin and when I saw them for the first time, it’s not a stretch to say that my life was forever changed.
But Phil also had this really cool record, a Spider-Man LP produced by Buddah Records subtitled From Beyond the Grave! Dubbed a “Rockomic,” it was an audio play interspersed with a handful of pop songs by “the Webspinners,” aka Ron Dante, best known as the front man of the Archies.
When Phillip got his copy, he went to a store where “Spider-Man” was appearing. He brought back an autograph for me on a small, white piece of paper that read in thick, black marker, “Spidey.” It’s long gone, sad to say.
Nevertheless, this 1972 album, along with the 1967 cartoon series, was instrumental (pardon the pun) in making a virtually lifelong Spider-Fan out of me.
Right off, you start with the gorgeous Jazzy John Romita cover, featuring an iconic image of Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man exceeded in its potency only by Marvel Treasury Edition #1 (click here for more about that). If you’re lucky, you can still find a copy that has a large poster of the image tucked into the jacket.
My sister Paula, Phillip and I would sit in his room, listening to the record, with the album cover opened on the floor, revealing an almost wordless comic strip by Romita that illustrated what we heard coming out of the speakers.
The story’s surprisingly complex: It opens with Spider-Man beset by both the cops and three of his most heinous villains: the Vulture, the Lizard and the Green Goblin. As Spidey tries to survive the onslaught, he hears the ghostly voice of an older man calling out, “Spider-Man… Spiiiderr-Maannnnn.” Turns out (SPOILER ALERT) it’s a dream. Peter Parker wakes up to a phone call from the Kingpin, who’s kidnapped Aunt May. The big man wants Petey to kill Spider-Man — or else Aunt May gets it. Out of the nightmare frying pan and into the fire.
The opening segues into the first, and best, tune on the album — a catchy, head-bopping song complete with wocka-chicka guitar that name drops Stan Lee and improbably refers to Spidey as a “sex machine”:
Everything pretty much follows from there in the Mighty Marvel Manner: Spider-Man has a self-pitying crisis of confidence; we get a recap of his origin; we find out (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN) that the disembodied voice was Uncle Ben; Spidey rallies and remembers his mission; Aunt May puts up the good fight; the Kingpin is appropriately intimidating; and our favorite wall-crawler meets up with the only Doctor Strange with a better voice than Benedict Cumberbatch (John Heffernan). (Hey, if this Dr. Strange could have a British accent, why did the movie producers make Cumberbatch talk American?)
Years later, I’d learn that it was character actor Rene Auberjonois playing Peter Parker in a startlingly inspired bit of voice casting. To this day, it’s either his voice or Paul Soles’ from the ’67 Spidey cartoon that I hear when I read comics. (Fun side note: The Kingpin is voiced perfectly by character actor Thayer David, perhaps best known as the slippery fight promoter in Rocky.)
It all culminates in a battle royale featuring a spectacular sonic display of smacks, cracks, crunches, smashes and jaunty music that leads to a downright terrifying finale. By the way, the web-shooting sound effect, which I can’t even describe in words, may be the most evocative in any medium.
This is a recording that despite some of its hokier elements and one unforgivably schmaltzy ballad, holds up as a crackling 36 minutes of top-notch superhero storytelling. You can download the whole thing from iTunes if you want to listen without hunting down a copy on eBay and buying a turntable.
The script, music and lyrics are all credited to Stephen Lemberg, who also gets a co-producing credit with Barbara Gittler. There’s very little I can find about him — so if you have any info other than the scarce mentions on the internet, let me know, True Believers. His name looks like a pseudonym for Stan Lee, though it’s evidently not. (Besides, of all people, Stan Lee wouldn’t shy away from the credit.)
The liner notes bill this as the first in a series of Rockomics that never came to pass. There were other Marvel-related albums in the ’70s, of course, most notably Power Records’ output and the mostly-song Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero.
So, in the end, Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave! stands as a unique piece of pop ephemera that’s very of-the-moment, yet still brightens my earphones today.
— The Complete SPIDER-MAN WEEK INDEX of Features. Click here.
— REEL RETRO CINEMA: The Not Exactly Amazing 1977 SPIDER-MAN TV Pilot. Click here.