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What You Probably Never Knew About Aunt May From Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy

Since she first appeared in 1962's "Amazing Fantasy" #15, Aunt May has been a constant fixture in "Spider-Man" comics, always there to provide advice and a helping hand to Peter Parker and the rest of his supporting cast. Although each incarnation of cinematic Spider-Mans seems to reimagine May Parker as what feels like an increasingly younger woman (Rosemary Harris to Sally Field to Marisa Tomei), most fans know Aunt May as an elderly lady of quiet dignity — which is why when 75-year-old Academy Award-nominated actress Harris landed the role in the original "Spider-Man" films, the casting appeared picture perfect.

Sam Raimi's Aunt May had more layers to her than most audience members anticipated. From the truth of her marriage to Ben Parker, to the surprising role of the septuagenarian actress in action scenes, here are some of the most amazing things you probably never knew about the Aunt May from Raimi's "Spider-Man" films.

She wasn't the first live action May Parker

Many think Raimi's early '00s films were the first live-action depictions of Spidey, so they assume Harris was the first Aunt May. In actuality, she wasn't the first — or even the second.

The original live action Aunt May was Jean Marie "Jeff" Donnell, a soap opera actress who also appeared in the "Gidget" TV series starring future Aunt May Sally Field. In 1977, Donnell had her own turn as May Parker when she appeared in the largely forgotten "The Amazing Spider-Man" TV movie. The movie received a theatrical release overseas and served as the pilot for an eventual "Amazing Spider-Man" TV series, which ran for two seasons. Former child star Nicholas Hammond (already famous for portraying Friedrich von Trapp in 1965's "The Sound of Music") played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in both.

However, Aunt May was not part of the TV series' lineup, so Donnell wasn't seen again after the film. When the character did reappear in the Season 1 episode "Night of the Clones," she had been recast by TV/voice actress Irene Tedrow. May didn't have a lot to do in those early appearances, and in this show she was also already widowed by the time Peter received his spider powers, eliminating Uncle Ben's role altogether. Still, it must have been a kick for fans to see the comic book character come to life for the first time.

Aunt May is younger than Rosemary Harris

May Parker's age has become something of a joke in the various "Spider-Man" movies, with the character growing younger and younger with every new reimagining. Both Sally Field and Marissa Tomei were noticeably younger than Rosemary Harris when they portrayed Aunt May in "The Amazing Spider-Man" and MCU franchises. But did you know that the May Parker of the Raimi films is actually younger than the actress?

According to the Aunt May biography in Spider-Man Films Wiki, May Parker was born on May 1, 1935. By contrast, Rosemary Harris was born on September 19, 1927, making her almost eight years older than the character. This means Raimi's Aunt May was in her fifties when she began raising Peter Parker, and in her late sixties when he became Spider-Man. Harris herself was 80 when the "Spider-Man" trilogy ended — yet she is still active, having appeared in two 2022 episodes of the Alia Shawkat series "Search Party."

She turned down Ben Parker's proposal

Aunt May and Uncle Ben are one of Marvel Comics' most iconic married couples. In the Raimi films, although Ben Parker dies shortly after his first appearance, the love they share permeates all of May's scenes, and she often brings up Ben in her conversations (and even keeps a photo of him close by when she's praying). However, in "Spider-Man 3" (2007), May reveals to Peter that she turned down Ben's first proposal.

According to May, both she and Ben were very young when they began dating, and although May wanted to accept his proposal, she also wanted them to develop a more secure foundation. This led to the two of them waiting until Ben proposed again on a small island, giving her an engagement ring that Aunt May later passed on to Peter.

At least this Aunt May knew who she wanted. In the comic "Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual" #4, readers learned that May was something of a "wild child" in her youth, flirting with known gangster Johnny Jerome. Raimi's Aunt May never confessed to having such skeletons in her closet — but then again, those aren't exactly the kind of stories you want to share with your nephew.

Her relationship with Doctor Octopus is very different

Spider-Man and Peter Parker's worlds often collide in devastating ways, and that's especially true in a pivotal scene from "Spider-Man 2" (2004) when Doctor Octopus kidnaps Aunt May. Unlike Ben Parker or Mary Jane Watson, however, May doesn't take this kidnapping lying down; when she sees an opening, she smacks Doc Ock in the head with her umbrella, distracting him long enough to save Spider-Man's life.

It's one of Aunt May's best scenes in the Raimi films — but it's also a huge departure from the source material. In 1964's "The Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #1, Stan Lee actually started a weird plotline where Doctor Octopus kidnapped Aunt May, who found herself attracted to the supervillain. Considering May had flirted with a two-bit gangster in her youth, this does show May Parker has a "type."

The story became increasingly ridiculous, to the point where Ock and May started dating and nearly got married in "The Amazing Spider-Man" #131 (which would have made family dinners extremely awkward). Surprisingly, Doc Ock retained a soft spot for Aunt May, even agreeing to help her find a cure to save Peter Parker from radiation sickness in "The Amazing Spider-Man" #80.

Rosemary Harris is an accomplished stunt women

Speaking of that action sequence between Aunt May and Doctor Octopus in "Spider-Man 2," did you know that some of the stunt work in the scene was performed by Rosemary Harris herself?

In a behind the scenes video for "Spider-Man 2", Harris discloses how she convinced the producers to let her perform a final stunt where she swings down to the ground with Spider-Man after narrowly avoiding a near-fatal fall from a building. The stunt, which required Harris to be suspended in a wire harness several feet above the ground, had previously been performed by her stunt double, but after seeing her do the wirework, Harris "begged" producer Laura Ziskin to give her a shot.

Harris — who was in her late seventies at the time of the shoot — described the experience as "lovely." However, she did have one regret — since she took care of the stunt personally, her double now can't tell her grandchildren she's in the scene.

She may know Peter Parker is Spider-Man

MCU's Aunt May learns about her nephew's secret identity in the last few moments of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017), delivering one of the movie's best lines before she's cut off by the credits. In Raimi's "Spider-Man" films, May's knowledge of Peter's double life is kept ambiguous — but there are plenty of clues indicating that she knows he's Spider-Man.

Although Aunt May seems to initially mistrust Spider-Man, her attitude gets a major shift when Spidey saves her from Doctor Octopus in "Spider-Man 2."  While this could be due to simple gratitude, there are fan theories she recognized Spider-Man's voice, and figured it out from there.

Rather than confront Peter directly about this, however, May begins offering him indirect encouragement to continue his superhero career after Peter considers quitting, telling him that the world needs heroes. Since Peter told her about his role in Uncle Ben's death earlier, it's possible that May even understands why Peter became Spider-Man.

She gave up a pivotal part of the Parker legacy

In the comics, May Parker was constantly in danger of losing her home after Ben Parker died. This prompted Peter to get a part-time job as a photographer at the Daily Bugle, in order to support the two of them. Later, May even turned her home into a boarding home for senior citizens, so her friends could enjoy more independence. The Parker home became such an iconic fixture that in the alternate future shown in the "Spider-Girl" comic book series, Peter and Mary Jane ended up moving back into Peter's childhood home where they raised their daughter: May "Mayday" Parker.

Unfortunately, in the Sam Raimi films, Aunt May loses her home (in "Spider-Man 2") when she falls behind in her bills. Rather than fighting for her house, she accepts her fate and moves into a smaller apartment. Practical, perhaps, but considering what an iconic landmark the Parker home is in the comics, its loss is quite devastating.

She's a celebrated Internet meme

May Parker may be a celebrated "old school" character, but some of the character's tech-savvy fans have seized on her quotes and images to make her an "Aunt Meme" for the internet era.

Most of these memes draw comparisons between Rosemary Harris' Aunt May and Marissa Tomei's updated version — contrasting Harris' eloquent "I believe there's a hero in all of us" speech with Tomei's more modern "You spot something like that happening, you turn and you run the other way!" line she gives Peter when she warns him to stay out of trouble. Since Alfred Molina's Doc Ock got to meet both Harris and Tomei's Aunt Mays in "Spider-Man 2" and "Spider-Man: No Way Home," some memes show the good doctor scowling and leering at the different May variants. Some memes might have universal appeal, but an "Aunt Meme" clearly has a multiversal level of attraction.

She is Spider-Man's conscience

Uncle Ben's famous catchphrase "With great power, there must also come great responsibility" gets repeated a lot in the Spider-Man movies and is often credited with inspiring Peter Parker to become a superhero. When it comes to his day-to-day struggles, however, Peter often owes a lot more to Aunt May's wisdom.

In "Spider-Man 2," May delivers her "I believe there's a hero in all of us" speech when Peter is wrestling with the idea of retiring his Spider-Man identity in favor of starting a relationship with Mary Jane Watson. By reminding Peter that heroes sometimes need to give up the thing they want the most in order to do what's right, May not only inspires Peter to become Spider-Man again but also provides him with a way to reform Doc Ock when the villain attempts to destroy the city.

In "Spider-Man 3," May visits Peter at one his lowest moments, after he allows his alien symbiote costume to corrupt and drive him to strike MJ and nearly kill the Sandman. Telling Peter he needs to forgive himself before he can make things right with others, May offers Peter the strength he needs to turn away from his crueler nature and become a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man again.

Outside the "Spider-Man" films, Harris regularly proves she's just as inspiring as her movie counterpart. Still a star at the age of 94, Harris continues to inspire people with her heartfelt words. In 2020, she spoke in a video message to the graduates of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quoting from Martha Graham, Harris reminded students they had a responsibility to stay true to their unique forms of self-expression and share them with the world. Sounds like a speech worthy of Aunt May.

Rosemary Harris' daughter is the perfect person to play the next Aunt May

Plenty of great actors have played Aunt May over the years. In addition to Rosemary Harris, both Sally Field and Marissa Tomei have portrayed May Parker, while in animation, Lily Tomlin, Misty Lee, and June Foray (best known for voicing Rocky the Flying Squirrel in "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show") have lent their vocal talents to Peter's aunt. However, there is one actor casting directors have overlooked: Jennifer Ehle.

Who? Jennifer Anne Ehle is an award-winning actress — and the daughter of Rosemary Harris and American author John Ehle. Perhaps best known for the 1995 BBC miniseries "Pride and Prejudice," Ehle also acted with her mother in the 1992 TV serial "The Camomile Lawn," where she played the younger version of her mother's character Calypso. A few years later, in 1999, Ehle played a younger version of Harris' Valerie Sors in the historical drama film "Sunshine."

Considering Hollywood has been steadily de-aging Aunt May, it would seem oddly appropriate to cast Ehle (52 years old, as of 2022) as May Parker in a future "Spider-Man" production. Andrew Garfield is rumored to be returning as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in future films, and with Sally Field reportedly unhappy with her time in "The Amazing Spider-Man" franchise, it could be fun to see Ehle cast as a younger Aunt May variant in the story.

She exposed the Raimi-verse's connection to the DC Universe

Marvel and DC Comics have created several memorable crossovers, including the celebrated "Superman vs. Spider-Man" comic that saw the Man of Steel trade blows with Spidey (spoiler alert: it did not go well for Spider-Man). While it's very unlikely audiences will ever see such a crossover in the movies (but not impossible, according to James Gunn), the Raimi "Spider-Man" films did sneak in a fun DC reference, courtesy of Aunt May.

In the first "Spider-Man" movie, May chides Peter for doing too much, telling him, "You're not Superman, you know." Although the line was meant as a joke, it does suggest that Superman actually exists in the Raimi-verse — but most likely as a comic book character, not a real person. The Raimi films don't get to include many superheroes (for instance, the Avengers don't exist in this universe), so it's unlikely Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker ever got to enjoy a team-up with Superman off screen. Then again, with Maguire now dimension-hopping in the aftermath of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" (2021), it's certainly not impossible.