Several claims about Bill Finger (uncredited co-creator of Batman) are widely repeated in circles where people know who Bill Finger is:
- Bill was as much if not more of the creator of Batman as Bob Kane—TRUE (subjectively but widely accepted)
- Bill was notoriously late when it came to deadlines—TRUE
- Bill was bad at money management and often dependent on advanced checks—TRUE
- Bill died poor, alone, and anonymously—TRUE
- Bill has no heirs—FALSE (and much more about that to come in future posts, not to mention the book itself)
- Bill was an alcoholic…
This one is more of a gray area, but my vote is FALSE.
I understand that this does not gibe with the presumption: a writer whose Big Idea was for all intents stolen and who then toiled most of his career without proper credit seems a prime candidate to be a boozehound—especially in an era when writers and alcohol went together on practically a romantic level.
But I don’t believe Bill drank to excess on a regular basis, and I don’t believe this is revisionist history. I interviewed most of the surviving people who knew Bill well and their statements carry infinitely more weight than reheated rumors from comics aficionados, be they fans or pros.
In 2008, Bill’s longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair (who has been consistent and balanced with most of his recollections) told me “Bill…enjoyed a drink [but] was not an alcoholic. He might’ve occasionally moved toward being borderline.”
Also in 2008, Bill’s second wife said with even more conviction that Bill was not addicted to alcohol.
In an interview with writer/editor George Kashdan published in Alter Ego #93 (5/10), Kashdan said the same.
In an interview with Charles published in Alter Ego #84 (3/09), he again said he didn’t think Bill drank like an alcoholic and that he never saw Bill drink too much. He also said Jerry Robinson said that he (Jerry) didn’t think Bill had a drinking problem.
In Alter Ego #39 (8/04), Robinson himself said that anyone treated as Bill was might turn to drink, but that wasn’t the case in the beginning (meaning, presumably, that Bill wasn’t drinking when Bill and Jerry met, in 1939). I believe Jerry is elsewhere on record saying he wouldn’t classify Bill as an alcoholic, though I don’t have that handy. (Ah, the permissive beauty of a blog versus a print article!)
A possible counterpoint: In 2006, the late Jerry Bails told me “Drinking was a common out for writers, and Bill was no exception.” To my regret, I didn’t ask for elaboration, but I think he may have been speaking generally or extrapolating. In any case, Bails did not know Bill as well (or rather as long) as the others quoted here, nor did he live in the same city, and ultimately he did not say Bill was a drunk.
I do realize Bill’s network may simply be protecting their old friend, but some were critical on other issues. Therefore, I suspect that now, decades after Bill’s death, when asked about this by the first person to write a book about Bill, they would see the obligation in setting the record straight, if that was needed.
Everyone agrees Bill drank and most everyone said within safe limits, though some inconclusively. I stand by my FALSE vote and will leave it at that. (The book is for all ages so this is obviously not a topic I am addressing there.)
Part of my rationale comes from what killed Bill. It was not booze, at least not according to the Medical Examiner’s report…which you shall see here as we get closer to the book’s July publication.