Toronto actor Paul Soles, who voiced the lead role in Stan Lee’s original “Spider-Man” animated series and Hermey the elf in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” has died.
His sister, Ruth-Ellen Soles, says he died of natural causes last Wednesday at home in Toronto.
He was 90.
Soles was the first actor to play the teenage Peter Parker and his arachnid-powered alter-ego onscreen in “Spider-Man” in the 1960s.
In a 2018 interview with The Canadian Press, he said he was initially “at a loss” on how to portray the role, partly because he didn’t feel like a superhero growing up.
But it turned out Lee wanted Spidey to have more human characteristics than other heroes of the era. Soles said he identified with the teen character’s feelings of being an outsider amongst his peers.
“I was like the proverbial 19-pound weakling who gets the sand kicked in his face,” Soles said.
“I never considered myself a superhero or how he would sound. But as it turned out over the years, that is what Lee apparently intended.”
Soles was born and raised in Toronto to parents Arthur L. Soles and Lillian (née Goodfellow), who were of Polish/Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. He had two siblings.
“He was a great person, he was a kind person, he was an ethical person, he was hugely funny,” Ruth-Ellen Soles said Monday in an interview.
Soles worked at radio stations while studying at Western University in London, Ont., and dropped out after his third year to work full-time in the business, which saw him take a job at a NATO military airbase in Germany in the 1950s.
In 1962 he returned to Toronto, married wife Jean (née Allan) and went on to a longtime co-hosting job at CBC-TV’s “Take-30.”
His other credits around that time included the CBC-TV sketch comedy series “Charlie Had One But He Didn’t Like It, So He Gave It To Us” and the public broadcaster’s game show “This Is The Law.”
Soles also acted on stage in Canada and the U.S., but his roles as Spider-Man and Hermey, the misfit elf and Rudolph’s sidekick from the 1964 stop-motion animated TV special became part of the cultural lexicon. They would make him a fixture at comic-book conventions for years.
“Spider-Man” was produced in Canada and the U.S., and ran on ABC from 1967 to 1970 with a cast of mostly Canadians.
Soles said his upbringing helped him identify with the teen angst of the friendly-neighbourhood superhero, noting he felt at times like he wasn’t accepted “by the vast majority” while growing up Jewish in Toronto from 1930-onward.
“That helped me find a common ground to be able to at least play the character with those characteristics, with those qualities that I think Stan had in mind,” he said.
“That, in a sense, was a bit of a bond and why it was fun to do the character.”
Soles’ honours included a 2017 Canadian Screen Award for best actor in the digital series “My 90-Year Old Roommate.” He was deeply committed to his craft and also had passions for cars, jazz music and aviation, says his family.
“I idolized him and wanted to do anything he did and that he would let me do with him,” said his sister.
“And anybody that I’ve ever spoken to over the years, the first thing that always came out of their mouths was ‘He was such a decent, kind person,’ and I’m proud of that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press