Born and raised in the Potteries, Frank Brookes learnt his trade in the ceramic industry, rising to the level of master potter at Wedgwood before upping sticks and flying across the Atlantic to find his fortune in California.
“I set up my own business in West Hollywood, restoring porcelain, crystal and fine art objects as well as making my own ceramics for regular folk and celebrities,” says Frank.
As he established his restoration business, he came into contact with a host of big names from the silver screen. Frank could count the likes of Faye Dunaway, Frank Sinatra and astronaut Buzz Aldrin as regular customers.
However, with the recent death of Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, Frank was quick to remember another of his visitors to the store – his wife Joan Lee.
“Joan had been a regular customer for some time, She was from Newcastle upon Tyne and a proud Geordie. One day while we were talking she told me who she was married to – Stan Lee. I began to tell her I was a big fan of his work.”
Striking up a friendship, possibly having something to do with the fact they were both British and from working class backgrounds, Joan extended her hospitality further, leading to a meeting with the creator of Spider-Man.
“She invited me to her home for afternoon tea, whereI met Stan and their daughter J.C,” said Frank. “They lived in a house near to the top of Doheny Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Walking in, there was a large lounge, decorated in a French Provencal country style, with large comfortable couches.”
Taking in the luxurious surroundings Frank remembers first meeting Stan, whom he recalls cutting a memorable figure. “Walking into the room, Stan was a tall, slim, elegant man wearing glasses and a cardigan.
“I remember them telling me they were planning on demolishing the whole property and building an entirely new house on the site.
“J.C. said she lived in a bungalow on the other side of the swimming pool. Stan and Joan told me how much they loved living in the area and how the actor Ricardo Montalban lived next door.”
His friendship with both Stan and Joan was not the only encounter Frank had with the glitterati of Hollywood. During the time he lived there, from 1981, he met the likes of Michael York, Sir John Mills and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
That popularity in the local business world, rubbing shoulders with actors, musicians and politicians, led Frank to be asked to show Prince Charles around his business when he visited the area in 1984.
“When Prince Charles came to visit my business in the 80s I was allowed several guests to meet the Prince of Wales. I invited Joan Lee along. When she arrived, she had a book full of watercolours. Theyboth seemed to really enjoy the encounter.”
“Some time later I gave Joan some of the photos of her and the Prince.” So pleased was Joan with the gift from Frank she told him she was going to get them ‘blown up’ to life size.
“She was so happy with the pictures, not long after I received two dozen red roses from her to say thank you.”
Sadly, after 69 years married to Stan, Joan died in 2017, leaving Stan devastated.
After creating some of the most memorable comic book characters and superheroes of all time, leaving a great legacy on modern culture, Stan Lee died in November, aged 95. Frank remembers him fondly.
“Stan was a creative genius,” he said. “He created incredible characters, stories and images. I remember watching him in one of his cameo roles in a Spider-man movie, and he said ‘I guess one person can make a difference!’”