Not a dream! Not an imaginary tale! Here’s what happened when I knocked on the legendary recluse’s door.
UPDATED 11/2/19: The late Steve Ditko was born 92 years ago. This first ran in 2014. Some people love this story. Some people hate it. But it’s well worth presenting again. And for this year’s 13 COVERS birthday salute, click here.
Writer, blogger, journalist, whatever, most of us at one time or another have visions of grandeur. That big scoop. That big interview. The get.
We’re doing Spider-Man Week next week here at the ol’ 13th Dimension playground. So I figured, ah, screw it, I’m gonna go knock on Steve Ditko’s door in Manhattan.
His building just happens to be, amazingly, a 3-minute walk from Marvel’s publishing HQ. It’s a doorman building. I chatted the guy up and asked if Ditko was there. He was, he said. He told me it was OK to go up, but to be careful.
“Sometimes, he comes to the door with a shotgun,” he said, locking eyes.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” he replied, stone-faced.
Then he broke out laughing.
So up I go and I get off the elevator. Just to the left, there it was:
I was immediately struck by how big the letters were on the door. They’re the building’s house style, but still. Weird. I almost expected a neon arrow to be flashing next to it.
I hesitated, and then knocked on his door. Four quick, kind of soft raps. After all, maybe the doorman wasn’t kidding about that shotgun.
The door opened, and there he was.
Wearing a white crewneck undershirt and a couple of flannel shirts, one of them light blue, the other darker and checked, both open. Trousers. Glasses, of course. White haired. Thin. A little stooped.
“Mr. Ditko, I write for a website and I know I’m not the first one to ask, and I won’t be the last, but could I have just three minutes of your time to ask you a couple questions?”
I either mumbled or at the age of 86, he’s lost some of his hearing.
“I’m sorry but I can’t understand what you’re saying,” he said. Not really raising his voice but annoyed.
I leaned in close. The apartment was darkened in the front but brighter in the rear. There wasn’t much I could see.
I repeated myself. And as the last words left my lips, he was already shaking his head.
“No. I’ m not interested,” he said, shaking his head again for emphasis. “No.”
I wasn’t going to push it. I backed off, thanked him and he closed the door.
Not exactly Garbo Talks.
But then, as I headed out, telling the inquiring doorman that no, he wouldn’t talk, I thought, “Hell, how many people in this day and age can say they met Steve Ditko?” Even if it wasn’t exactly tea.
Outside, I turned the corner and there was a street vendor. And I noticed this immediately:
Just like that. Right there. The Amazing Spider-Man.
Can you imagine being Steve Ditko and passing that every day? Every. Day. Can you imagine being the vendor, not even knowing that the private man with the stooped shoulders walking past was the man who co-created not just a superhero but a bona fide pop-culture phenomenon? A man who wanted nothing to do with any of it?
As I walked, I called my friend Cliff Galbraith to tell him all about it. Ditko is a believer in Objectivism and I told Cliff that I wished that I knew more about Ayn Rand, that maybe if I spouted something at this secretive legend, maybe I could have engaged him somehow.
— 13 COVERS: A STEVE DITKO Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— STEVE DITKO: A Fountainhead of Creativity. Click here.