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The Men Who Sold Marvel And The Disney Men Who Bought It

Tom Staggs, Kevin Mayer, John Turitzen and David Maisel on the Marvel/Disney deal, and how it came together without air conditioning.

Tom Staggs, who worked for Disney for nearly 27 years, became their CFO, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide, and the COO, talked about Disney's plans to buy Marvel going back sometime before the 2009 purchase. "Marvel had been on Disney's radar, our radar screen, for quite some time. We actually did a study, a strategy piece called Disney 2015, which in 2005 sounded very forward-looking, but it's a little odd now. And part of that was looking at what acquisitions would make sense for Disney, and Marvel was part of that equation."

Back in July, The Wall Street Journal's podcast, The Journal, hosted by Kate Linebaugh and Ryan Knutson, ran a series of episodes by Ben Fritz looking at the rise of Marvel Studios from comic book publisher to film studio to Disney purchase and the executive and creator battles within. It made a few headlines, but there are lots of gems that seemed to be missed, such as Marvel's initial relationship with Sony Pictures, led by our favourite Marvel executives, Avi Arad, and Ike Perlmutter, two toy manufacturers who took over the comic book company and made it profitable again. Catch up on more of our coverage with this tag.

Kevin Mayer, former head of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, remembered, "We put together some, I think, pretty compelling analysis as to how Marvel would be worth a lot more as part of Disney than it was as a standalone company."

At the time, before Marvel and Star Wars, Disney was seen as lacking in appeal as a brand to the teenage boy and young male market. Marvel was seen as an answer to that.

Tom Staggs explains, "Marvel wasn't necessarily seen by everyone inside Disney as a natural fit, at first. We saw it as being highly complementary, and it took a little bit of doing with some of the folks to try to get people excited, but I think it had more to do with the nature of the content. It was a little more action-oriented. Also, there's the notion, which made sense a bit, "Why would you buy a comic book company just to get a bunch of characters? You can make up characters. We're Disney. Why can't we just develop characters?"

David Maisel, former Vice Chairman, President of Marvel Studios, and CEO of Marvel Entertainment, was the man who pitched the concept of Marvel Studios to Avi Arad and Ike Perlmutter, financing and producing its own movies in a connected cinematic universe. Currently, he is a partner in Mythos Studios, which owns Aspen Comics and the rights to Fathom, Soulfire, and Cupid as part of the Mythosverse. He was the one who first made the Disney deal and ran the pitch from Marvel's side… in that no one else knew he was doing it. He told the Journal, "I remember standing outside the Team Disney building. I brought in the Marvel Encyclopedia for Bob. So, anyone who saw me walking into Team Disney that morning could have figured it out and made some money, probably in the stock. I remember looking at the seven Dwarfs and calling Ike and telling him about my meeting, and I thought there'd be three answers. Either he'd say, "You're fired for having that meeting without telling me." Two, he'd say, "Go back to work and finish up Iron Man 2." Or three, "Come to New York." And he said, "Come to New York."

John Turitzin was Marvel's former Chief Administrative Officer, Executive Vice President, and General Counsel and has his own memories. "I remember the day; I remember it very clearly. Ike Perlmutter came, walked down the hall to my office, and said he was meeting with Bob Iger and that Bob Iger wanted to come to his office to meet with him about possibly buying or doing a deal with Marvel. After the meeting was over, Ike walked down the hall to my office, he opened the door and he said, "Can you believe?" He said, "Can you believe they're serious about maybe buying Marvel?" And Ike had no interest before that time, no interest at all in selling Marvel or losing control of Marvel. He loved running Marvel by himself. But he said, "I like this man." He said, "I like him. I think I could work with him."

Bob Iger, the Disney boss who would one day fire Ike Perlmutter. He was the grand-nephew of Jerry Iger, who ran the Will Eisner Studios in the thirties and forties, creating many of the comics that would lead to the modern Marvel and DC Comics. So there was history there.

Turitzen continued, "Then that night, Bob Iger and his wife went to dinner with Ike Perlmutter and Ike Perlmutter's wife, and they continued the conversation to get comfortable. And Ike became very comfortable with Bob Iger… Ike loved running Marvel. It was very important for him to stay in control and run Marvel. And so, when we were negotiating a deal with Disney, we had an addendum to the merger agreement. It was legally binding, but the basic idea was that Marvel would remain autonomous and that Ike Perlmutter would be able to control Marvel."

The announcement was made and took everyone by surprise. Tom Staggs says, "I remember it well; we announced it on a Monday, I think. And, of course, their stock… And it was a 29 or 30% premium to their stock price, and their stock obviously shot up. Ours actually went down that day. We went down 2 or 3%. I got a few more than a few calls actually with, "Are you kidding me? It's a comic book company and 4 billion." And we reiterated our mantra and said, "We really think that there's real value here."

So yes, the heat was on. Kevin Mayer says, "There was a big, all-hands meeting in the then New York offices; they'd switched since then. I remember the air conditioning wasn't working. It was really hot." Tom Staggs: "We had to open the window." Kevin Mayer: "It was tough. It was a tough meeting, but it was fun. Ike's very austere and parsimonious, even." Tom Staggs: "He did not spend extra dollars at all. I mean, look, he did take it out of bankruptcy. He put the company on the footing that allowed it to be sold for $4 billion. So, hats off to Ike."

Ike's reputation with handling finances would define the man, and he took it from Marvel straight to Disney… more on that to come.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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