Early in my research on Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and resident visionary behind Batman, I learned that Finger (born 1914) was declared 4-F (unfit for service) for World War II. I talked to everyone still alive who might remember why, but none did—except for onetime DC Comics writer Alvin Schwartz (born 1916!).
Thing is, he ain’t telling.
Well, he did kindly share plenty about Bill, but out of respect for his old friend, he wouldn’t divulge the reason for the 4-F classification. “That’s really private,” he wrote me.
There’s speculation the 4-F may have related to Bill’s childhood history with scarlet fever, but my uninformed guess is that scarlet fever is not something that would be considered private. I have wondered if it was something mental.
So I contacted the military. Since Bill never served, I presumed they would have no record of him, but alas, they did keep selective service records of all who registered whether or not they were then drafted.
However, WWII medical records met a different fate.
My contact at the Military Personnel Records Center wrote “The last of [the medical records were] apparently destroyed in 1978 by the Selective Service System in accordance with approved record retention schedules.”
When I asked if he could infer a cause for the 4-F based on what is in the records they do have, he wrote, “I would assume it was something in his induction physical, but I really have nothing to base that on.”
I then asked, “From the Classification Record, it appears Finger was first classified 3A, but then changed to 4F? Is that how it seems to you? Either way, the next page then classifies him as 4A...can you confirm if I'm reading all this correctly, and if so, what it means that he had three different classifications?”
His response: “Those classifications he received would make sense. It would seem a logical progression that he was made available for military service, then deferred because of dependency [NOTE: I thought this meant children, which Bill didn’t yet have during the war, but my contact said it could’ve meant spouse] issues, then made available due to need of the military (perhaps they redefined dependency guidelines during this time) but ultimately rejected for medical reasons … All these classifications would have come over time as he was tracked by the Selective Service system. Generally everyone is given a 1-A from the start, then based on their circumstances and the need for men in the military, their classifications change.”
Here is what I did learn (some of which is from the forms posted here while some comes from registration book tabloid pages they mailed me copies of but which are too big for me to scan in one piece):
- he registered under his given name even though he’d already started going by Bill
- he registered 10/16/40 (age 27)
- he lived at the same address as his father
- he listed his employers as “Bob Kane [space] All-American Comics” (no National, which published Batman)
- the government mailed him its questionnaire 7/7/41; he returned it 7/17/41 (he wasn’t known for being so prompt with his scripts!)
- he appeared for a physical exam 4/20/43
- the date he was to report for induction appears to be 7/14/43 but is crossed out
- he was rejected 7/29/43
And some vital stats:
“scar on left cheek”
So while I was able to inch closer to the answer to the 4-F mystery than I initially expected, unless Alvin changes his mind, I may never find it.
Update: Alvin passed away 10/28/11.