Monday, October 8, 2012

Bill Finger mystery quotations: SOLVED

In June 2008, I posted a cry for help.

I asked if anyone could source eight unattributed Bill Finger quotations in Batman: The Complete History by the late Les Daniels.

Les couldn’t.

And no one else responded, either.

Meanwhile, a never-published interview with Bill was allegedly lost among the immense comics-related clutter of the Vermont house of longtime Batman fan Tom Fagan. At the time, I was already on the hunt for it. In fact I’d mentioned it here in March 2008.

A confidante of Tom’s told me that a team of five people searching Tom’s house eight hours a day for a month would put barely a dent in his “archives.”

(You may see where I’m going with all this.)

In December 2006, the first and only time I spoke on the phone with Tom, he’d kindly given me clearance to come up and search whenever I wanted; I could even crash on his couch (presuming it wasn’t buried in boxes and papers like much of the rest of the house). But on 10/21/08, before I had acted on this offer, Tom died.

(Yes, almost two years had elapsed since Tom invited me. I hadn’t been able to get to Vermont due to family and work, and I was not pushing myself to find a way because, given the mass of material there, it seemed unlikely that I would find what I was looking for. I’m an optimist but also a pragmatist.)

Tom’s death ended up saving me a lot of time. I was in contact with Tom’s close friend, and he was a good soul. In cleaning out Tom’s house, the Bill interview was uncovered, except it wasn’t exactly an interview; it was an article Tom wrote in 1965 and did not publish anywhere. Amid the grief and chaos that follows the death of a loved one, Tom’s friend took the time to send me a copy of it, making him my friend now, too.

I received the typed, eight-page article on 2/8/09, which just so happened to be Bill’s 95th birthday. Weirdly, on page 3, the article mentions Bill’s birthday.

Also weirdly: though I read and took notes from Tom’s article immediately, it wasn’t until March 2010—yes, more than a year later—when my June 2008 post popped back into my head. (I combine all research notes for any given project into one Word document so I can easily search a single time when looking for information. For Bill the Boy Wonder, that document is currently 712 pages—and still growing even though the book is out.)

Thinking I’d pasted the June 2008 blog post in that research document, I searched it for one of the unsourced quotations. I got a hit—not because I’d pasted the blog post there but rather because I’d pasted the notes I took from Tom’s piece there! So I checked the other unsourced Bill quotations from Daniels’s book.

Every one of them had come from Tom’s “lost” article. Apparently it was not as lost as I was led to believe.

This discovery implied that DC, which authorized Daniels’s book, had a copy of Fagan’s piece; given the fact that Daniels had not saved his notes, he didn’t strike me as the kind of researcher who would have dug this up on his own.

Once it came into focus that Tom’s piece didn’t reveal much new that suited my needs (most of the best bits were in Daniels’s book), it made me reassess what its value was. Just the fact that it was a document on Bill written by someone who knew him personally made it worthwhile to me.

So at long last, below is “Bill Finger—The Man Behind the Legend,” the fabled “lost” article by Tom Fagan, written in 1965 when Bill was 51 years old. The most important word in it is “the”—the “the” in the last line.

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