Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Did Iron Man 2 rewrite the legacy of Robert Moses?
The movies spawned by Marvel Comics creations always give a thankful nod to the city, whether it be the hostage drama at the Roosevelt Island tram or epic battles on the Brooklyn Bridge. But in the new Iron Man 2 film, a forlorn Queens landmark is reinvented by a private corporaton, becoming the most wondrous, technologically sophisticated place in the city. Something the park's creator, Robert Moses, would have wanted.
In 1939, the ambitious city parks commissioner cleared a dreary ash landfill and transformed it into the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, site of the 1939-40 World's Fair. But it's the ruins of another fair -- the space-age observation towers and Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion of Moses' less successful 1964-65 World's Fair -- that get rescued by the Stark Corporation, aka the multi-billion dollar company of Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man.
But in re-writing history and paying tribute to the strange archaelogy of the past still standing in Queens' most famous park, did they also re-write Robert Moses?
Certainly Moses would have been thrilled to have private sponsorship of public fair pavilions. In this alternate New York past, perhaps Moses was even more ambitious than the one we know of and love/hate today. For according to a 'letter from Tony Stark' on the official Stark Expo 2010 website , there was another world's fair -- in 1941. Probably a rude thing to do as the country was going to major world war, but I'm sure they were very discreet.
In this alternate timeline (sorry, I do watch Lost), the World's Fair of 1939-40 was apparently NOT a financial disappointment, because its doors remained open for future expositions, possibly even yearly ones. I assume that Moses decided to dispense with governing body of the World's Fair (the Bureau of International Expositions) altogether, something he would do when orchestrating the 1964 fair.
Below: Queens -- revitalized by a comic book film!
Imagine how Queens would have developed with perpetual events at Flushing Meadows. There would have been more highways and a greater expansion of the park grounds. LaGuardia Airport would have been twice as large, and Idlewild (JFK) Airport would have sprouted into being a decade before it actually did. The borough's entire reason for being might have been in service of these all-encompassing year-round events. As a result, neighborhoods surrounding Flushing Meadows would have most likely fallen to expansion. Farewell, Kew Gardens!
The tolls gathered by Moses' Triborough Authority would have been double the bounty they were in real life. He might have arguably had even more power within the city. So much, in fact, that he would have out-going mayor Vincent Impellitteri to simply give the yearly expo over to its greatest contributor, Howard Stark and Stark Enterprises. As it appears he did in 1954, the first year of the 'Stark Expo', according to the same memo as mentioned above.
The Tent of Tomorrow, the Unisphere and other touches were constructed by this fictional corporation to display the greatest advances in technology and science. In this world, we can only assume that the Mets did debut in Shea Stadium in 1964, except it was most likely called Stark Stadium.
Queens, in actuality (World's Fair 1964)
The 'Stark Expos' ran for two decades, until 1974. I can only imagine that New York City's dire financial fortunes still played out in this fictional world, closing the annual display of progress for good. After its closure, the borough would have been decimated. Perhaps we can assume Moses was involved until the bitter end, for 1974 happens to be the year his own reputation takes a beating with the publication of Robert Caro's The Power Broker.
The promotional video for the 1974 Stark Expo offers no new insights outside of an introduction by Howard Stark (who looks an awful lot like another New York city power player, Madison Avenue advertising king Roger Sterling.)
The great downturn of New York City's fortunes in this alternate timeline must have spawned a massive crime wave, urban blight, and a flight of much of its population. It is fortunate then that the city would have then benefited from a completely coincidental spike in costumed crime fighters in the city around the late 1990s.
Howard's progenitor Tony Stark would bring the Stark Expo back to Flushing Meadows in 2010. However it appears its return will be shortlived. I'm sure the next film will highlight the aftermath of the attack on the Queens park by dozens of flying armored super robots -- an enraged Mayor Bloomberg demanding retribution from Stark Industries, dozens of lawsuits against the private firm, reverberations of corruption through Stark's association with the federal government. (Hopefully, the Mets weren't having a home game that night!) That will be in the sequel, right?
I should note that the character of Iron Man debuted on March 1963 in the comic book Tales of Suspense #39. Had this been an actual creation, it would most likely have been displayed at the real 1964 World's Fair -- with its focus on 'A Millennium of Progress' -- alongside other wonders of the day like the computer, atomic power and new space technology.
You can listen to our older podcast on the history of a superhero-less World's Fair of 1964-65 below:
The Bowery Boys: World's Fair 1964-65
Above movie art courtesy Marvel Studios