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Why For does Howard Stark look like Walt Disney in “Iron Man 2” ?

Jim Hill

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Why For does Howard Stark look like Walt Disney in “Iron Man 2” ?

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IronManFan236 sent in a question that was short & sweet:

Did Marvel Studios deliberately make Howard Stark look like Walt in “Iron Man 2” as a tribute / tip-of-the-hat to the Disney acquisition deal?

Tony Stark's father from Iron Man 2, the Movie
Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC. Iron Man, the character:
TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

Dear IronManFan236,

Not exactly, no.

Don’t get me wrong. As you watch that footage in “Iron Man 2” where John Slattery play Tony Stark’s father, it's clear that the filmmakers wanted you to get a Walt Disney-like vibe off of this character. Especially during those ads for “Stark Expo ‘74” when Howard's image is placed over an Epcot-like model.

The Stark Expo and Howard Stark from Iron Man 2 the movie
Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC. Iron Man, the character:
TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

But beyond that … When you consider that “Iron Man 2” was shot from April 6th through July 18, 2009 – more importantly, that principal photography of this Jon Favreau film had been completed a full six weeks before The Walt Disney Company revealed that it would be acquiring Marvel Entertainment, Inc. – there’s just no way that any of this Walt Disney / Howard Stark stuff could be a deliberate tip-of-the-hat to the acquisition.

Concept art for the Stark Expo at the 1964 World's Fair grounds in New York
Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC. Iron Man, the character:
TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

I mean, you've got to remember that these negotiations were reportedly conducted in complete secrecy. I’m heard that – at one point last summer – there were only six people at Disney & six people at Marvel who knew that this deal was in the works. So the chances that Favreau would have learned about this back in 2008 and then asked Justin Theroux to throw lots of Disney references into his “Iron Man 2” screenplay are nill.

Concept art of the Stark Expo at the 1964 World's Fair grounds in New York
Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC. Iron Man, the character:
TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

That said, it was still pretty sweet & smart of “Iron Man 2” composer John Debney to reach out to Richard M. Sherman so that this Academy Award-winner could then craft a Disney-like anthem – “Make Way For Tomorrow Today” – for this film’s Howard Stark scenes.

Concept art fro the Stark Expo from "Iron Man 2 the Movie"
Insert HSWD 5.jpeg here – Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC.
Iron Man, the character: TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

And then when you factor in J. Michael Riva (i.e. “Iron Man 2” ‘s production designer)’s decision to have the Stark Expo echo the look & layout of the actually 1964 New York World’s Fair …

A postcard showing the Unisphere in it's glory days during the 1964 World's Fair
The Unisphere then …

… a design choice like that is certainly going to resonate with Disneyana enthusiasts and theme park history buffs.

By the way, if you were to make a trip out to Flushing Meadows today, you’d find that the Unisphere is still in surprisingly good shape.

The Unisphere in Flushing New York, as it looks today
… and the Unisphere now.

But as for the New York State Pavilion (which served at the inspiration for the Stark Industries building in “Iron Man 2”) …

Concept art of Stark Industries building, based on the New York pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair

… that structure has clearly seen better days.

The New York pavillion at the 1964 World's Fair grounds in New York has seen better days

Thankfully, back in September of last year, the New York State Board for Historic Preservation voted unanimously voted to add this long-abandoned building (which was originally designed by famed architect Philip Johnson) to that state’s Register of Historic Places.

The board also has plans to nominate this iconic structure (which – in its currently-crumpled state – has served as a setting for films like “The Wiz” & “Men in Black” as well as TV shows like CSI) as a national landmark. Which would then make the New York State Pavilion eligible for state & federal grants that could be used to first stabilize & then spruce up this structure.

The interior of the New York Pavilion from the 1964 World's Fair

Theme park history buffs particularly hope that the floor of the rotunda (which features a 130-by-166-foot terrazzo recreation of a New York State road map circa 1963) can be saved.

And speaking of maps … If you’d like to check a 3D recreation of what Stark Expo ’74 was supposed to have been like, then I suggest that you got check out this very cool “Iron Man 2” –related website.

Anyway – to get back to your question, IronManFan236 -- though Favreau clearly intended that Howard Stark have sort of a Walt-ish vibe to him, this honestly wasn’t done as some sort of aren't-we-cute acknowledgment of Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. There’s just no way – given the level of secrecy that was involved with these negotiations. More to the point, given when principal photography of “Iron Man 2” wrapped and when this deal was officially announced – that this rumor could have any basis in reality.

Besides, were you to ask any good Marvel fan where “Iron Man” creator Stan Lee got his inspiration for industrialist Howard Stark, they’d tell you outright that it was Howard Hughes. Which explains Tony Stark’s father’s first name, Howard.

A poster for Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2, the Movie: Copyright 2010 MVL Film Finance LLC.
Iron Man, the character: TM & Copyright 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC & subs. All Rights Reserved

Anyway, that’s it for this week at JHM. If you’d like to see one of your own Disney-related questions answered as part of a future Why For column, please send it along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

Have a great weekend, okay?

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  • Tip of the hat to the acquisition? Well, given the timeline, I guess not. But tip of the hat to Disney, of course it was, acquisition or no.

  • The formatting of the Expo film seemed to be a nod toward Walt's EPCOT film, but past that, it's Howard Hughes all the way.  (Always nice when people working on comic based films get the little details right.)

  • I figured papa Stark resembled Walt to romanticize and sugar coat all-American weapon manufacturing.

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