Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bob Kane’s niece

NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed me about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.


Prior to that, I had had no contact with Bob Kane’s family.

“What?” you are probably wondering. “You didn’t consult anyone from the family of one of the main characters of your book?”

That’s just it—Kane is not one of the main characters in the book. In fact, he barely appears. It is Bill’s story. Batman, to a large degree, is Bill’s story. Creatively, Bob was almost completely irrelevant to what makes Batman endure. (He did not write a single Batman story.)


Plus, Bob’s version of the Batman creation story is hardly hard to come by. For Batman’s nearly-75-year existence, nearly every published telling of it stemmed from Bob. 

Combine my fact-driven interpretation of Bob’s role in Batman with the massive reach of NPR and it’s no surprise that it was at this point when I first heard (indirectly—and unofficially) from the Kane family.

Bonnie Rosenzweig, who identified herself as Bob’s niece, posted a comment under the NPR segment:


I would like to know where Marc Tyler Nobleman is getting his facts from. Having grown up with Bob Kane, as his niece, I can attest to the fact that he indeed was the soul [sic] creator and the original artist behind Batman. Bill Finger was a personal friend, and they collaborated as friends, however Bill was not the inspiration for Batman or for the original artwork.

Truth be told, I was happy to hear from Bonnie. My response:

The book includes an extensive list of works cited (the even fuller version will be posting to the book’s site) this includes your uncle’s 1989 autobiography Batman and Me, in which he admits that Bill designed Batman’s costume. Several other DC Comics publications say the same.

Meanwhile, my response to an unrelated comment by someone else included this statement:

Kane was a perpetual liar according to most everyone I talked to who knew him; he contradicted himself even within his own autobiography.

Bonnie’s response to that:

Marc Tyler Nobleman, shame on you for calling Bob Kane a liar. Did you personally know the man. I grew up with him and know almost everything about him. My brother is even named after Bruce Wayne. I have reread my copy of his autobiography to check your references to the book. In my opinion, and with my personal knowledge of Bob Kane you have glorified Bill Fingers involvement, giving him credit for creating Batman is just not true. Some of what you say is correct as far as their collaborative efforts. What is not true is the sequence of events. Bob Kane was the originator and was working at DC when he created Batman. He met Bill Finger after he already created and illustrated the character. Bob was an amazing artist and had an incredible imagination. My guess is your putting out there a lot of sensational misinformation in order to sell your book. People just need to read Batman & Me to be better informed. At least it is coming from the source, and not a third parties interpretation. [all sic]

MTN:

You are right: I did not know Bob personally. I am talking only about his professional dealings with Bill. And since neither you nor I was there, we both have to rely on the accounts of Bill and Bob, to a lesser extent, those who knew them then.

I also encourage anyone to read Batman and Me. It verifies many of my points. In fact, in the book, Bob contradicts himself. On p. 36, Bob shows drawings allegedly made in 1934 of the Batman we know today. But on p. 41, he gives Bill credit for suggesting Batman’s cowl, scalloped cape, dark color scheme—essentially his whole costume—in 1939.

Further, in 1965, Bob (in so many words) called Bill a liar in a condescending letter reprinted here. However, some of what he wrote in ‘65 goes against what he wrote in ‘89. Again a contradiction.

Yes, Bob worked at DC before Bill. Yes, Bob came to Bill with a character sketch. But by Bob’s own admission, Bill overhauled Bob’s design and Bob presented that to DC. Bill wrote the first Batman story and hundreds more; Bob never wrote a Batman story.

If I want to sell books I need to tell the truth. Misinformation is (usually) a quick route to the end of a career.

A few more points worth rebutting:

BR: Bill was not the inspiration for Batman or for the original artwork.

MTN: I did not say he was. But
Bob’s original artwork was discarded in favor of Bill’s costume design.

BR: I grew up with him and know almost everything about him.

MTN: Insofar as what Bob told you. I wasn’t the first to point out the pattern of dishonesty in Bob; it stands to reason he would have maintained the charade for his family, too. The stakes were too high.

BR: Bob Kane was the originator and was working at DC when he created Batman. He met Bill Finger after he already created and illustrated the character.

MTN: Bob originated something, but by his own admission, it was not the version that was published. And he did not meet Bill after he had created the character. (Again, see
Batman and Me, page 41.)

Bears repeating: If I want to sell books I need to tell the truth.


Batman is a fictional character. 

So is Bob Kane.

10 comments:

J. L. Bell said...

One of the hardest ideas to discard is a family story one has grown up with. We learn those so early and they have such deep emotional roots that we don't treat them the same way we treat other thoughts we come by through reading, personal experience, etc. We don't evaluate and reevaluate them against new evidence or possibilities the same way.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I agree, J.L. In this case, what struck me in particular was that she appeared unfamiliar with info that has been public for more than 20 years via her uncle's autobiography.

Jim MacQuarrie said...

Gerard Jones, in his book "Men of Tomorrow," suggests that Bob Kane may have lied about his age in order to invalidate his original contract with DC.

According to the story, Kane's birth certificate had somehow disappeared from the NY records department; there was a widespread belief among lower-income people of Jewish, Italian and other ethnic groups that the Army draft rolls drew disproportionately from their ranks, so it was not uncommon for families to arrange for their sons' birth certificates to "go missing" from city hall, usually through a friend or relative who worked there, so that the boys wouldn't get drafted later. In any case, Kane was 19 when he sold Batman to DC, but when it became a hit, he falsely claimed to have been only 17 when he signed the contract. Since there was no proof otherwise, DC had no choice but to renegotiate the contract, and Kane was able to do what reclaim ownership and royalties.

I've heard that in later years, he turned to painting clown portraits, and he had ghost artists for that, too.

hobbyfan said...

To your point, Marc, not only was Bonnie seemingly unfamiliar with her uncle's greatest work, I doubt very seriously she had any familiarity with Kane's TV creations, Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse (1960) & Cool McCool (1966).

I think she's seen too many stories casting doubt on her uncle, and it's made her rather, well, frustrated would be a good word right now.

rocketdave said...

I'm reminded of a minor and bizarre news story from a few years back that I found inordinately fascinating. It involved the man who claimed to friends and family throughout his life that he was the writer of the Yellow Polka Dot Bikini song- a lie that ended up in his obituary, at which point the true writer of the song, Paul Vance, was forced to contact the press in order to set things straight. In spite of the incontrovertible evidence that the dead man was a liar, when contacted for a response, his family seemed to have enormous difficulty facing reality. His widow was quoted as wondering why the real song writer had bothered to speak up (never mind that thanks to her husband's deception, his erroneous obit had caused inconvenience to Mr. Vance and unnecessary grief among his loved ones) and she even seemed to be under the misapprehension that she had some claim on the royalties. It's a pretty common fact of life that some people would just prefer to live with comfortable delusions than face the knowledge that things aren't always the way we've been led to believe.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Fascinating indeed, rocketdave. It takes courage to undo a lie, that's for sure.

r. j. paré said...

The book sounds like a bit of a hatchet job - especially since Bob Kane is no longer with us to rebut and his family was intentionally ignored/avoided in working on the book. Sounds like more like someone finding evidence to support a preconceived belief rather than objectively trying to explore the truth.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks for the comment, r.j. Based on my initial comment in this post about Kane’s family, I understand why you’d get that impression.

I should clarify, however, that I actually DID contact Kane’s family more than once, but did not hear back, which doesn’t surprise me.

I’m happy to report that multiple reviews of my book have commented that my intention is not to bash Kane but rather boost Finger (though in doing so, the unavoidable side effect is that Kane’s legacy is diminished).

But more to the point, this is not a question of “belief.” There are multiple published accounts from the only two who were there at Batman’s beginning—Finger and Kane. And by the end, their stories aligned. In other words, you don’t have to dig deep to find evidence that Finger’s role was significant.

In consulting Kane’s autobiography, I was essentially consulting Kane himself. It’s obvious from his niece’s reaction to my NPR piece that she either has not read Kane’s autobio or does not have it fresh in mind, since in it, Bob (finally) comes clean about Bill.

Please read my book and then let me know if you still think it’s a hatchet job. I’m transparent in sharing where any fact in it comes from, all of which I consider primary and/or reliable sources—unless you don’t count Kane’s autobiography as reliable.

waldma01 said...

does anyone know if Bob Kane had a middle name? I believe his middle initial may have been B. Also, does anyone know if he ever lived in Sutton Place in Manhattan. I just moved into my new apartment and my new neighbor claims Bob Kane lived in my apartment at some point.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

waldma01 - Interesting. I don't know but if he ever did live there, I would imagine it would have been many decades ago. I believe he spent later years in California.

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