Were you Bill [Finger]’s best friend?
Bill had a variety of best friends. I think Jerry was a good friend of his at that time. I wouldn’t say that I was his best friend. There were times when we were very close and times we didn’t see each other. I don’t know if Bill had any best friends except from time to time, I know toward the end Jerry Robinson was hanging around there. I know Jerry. He had no need for Bill. Jerry was a self-sufficient artist. He was good. And he’d have only one reason for hanging around and that would’ve been the bimbo that Bill was living with. This was very typical for Bill. Bill would be in love with somebody who wasn’t interested in him at all, who was using him. It wasn’t the first time. And Bill had no ability to understand or relate to women. In other words, he’d never sort of gotten into his manhood. I was embarrassed—she came on to everybody including me.
They were still married when he died?
Bill and this bimbo.
I do not know. See, I come back and I suddenly find he’s been dead for years. My natural inclination was, who would know really, Portia would know where Bill is. Of course she did.
Were you in touch with Portia and Freddie after Bill died?
Why did Bill never learn to drive?
Good question. I don’t know. Nobody ever answered that question, or asked him. The point is, he never learned to drive. I could give you a psychological answer. [He could never?] take charge, of himself or…a driver’s license is an assertion of manhood, of independence. Bill married Portia as I understand it, as I saw it, to get away from his parents most of all. His parents used to exploit the hell out of him, take his checks, and that was it.
While he was still living at home?
And then he moved out eventually though.
He left with Portia.
Was it common at the time for people to not have a driver’s license in New York?
It was pretty uncommon to go through life without a car or a driver’s license. Bill could never escape or go anywhere. He did move out to the suburbs for a while when he had that awful job cataloguing stuff for I think it was a municipal outfit that he was working for. It was a real drudge job.
He wasn’t working in comics at the same time?
He wasn’t working in comics then. He’d been pushed out.
So that was near the end?
He couldn’t deliver. This withholding of the work, being unable to deliver on time, the editors couldn’t wait. It wasn’t that they were mean. They tried to help him. At least Jack Schiff did and Jack understood his problems. But when you have deadlines to meet and major stuff to go out, you’ve got to get it out somehow. If you still can’t deliver you have to give it to somebody else.
Did anything make Bill excited? When he came up with a really good story?
Oh sure. We’d jump around in excitement. We both—all of us, the whole gang, all the comics writers were like that.
Did he feel that he was missing out on something, that his name was not on there and he couldn’t tell people that he was the writer?
Oh, I think he—I’m trying to think of when or where he specifically acted that way. It was just generally known that that was the case. They were doing that to everybody.
A writer at DC, because some of the editors were very decent, that was Whit Ellsworth, if any writer needed money or wanted to borrow, we could borrow enough to buy a house anytime and pay it back in small amounts from his subsequent scripts. And that was something that Whit Ellsworth initiated and that son of a bitch Mort Weisinger afterwards couldn’t stand the idea of the writers being treated so well. I guess you’ve heard enough about Mort Weisinger.
[thanked him, said my goal is make Bill come alive]
He’s a hard one to characterize in a way. There aren’t many Bill Fingers. He had an unusual talent. He was very sharp and focused on one thing. And he could work on any kind of gimmick related story as we worked on Mark Trail, on other things.
Do you remember his reaction to becoming so popular and seeing the Batman movie serials or Batman merchandise?
I don’t know if I was there anymore by that time. I left in 19…let’s see, when did I leave for Canada? I walked out…I invented Bizarro. That was the last thing I did. I walked out in 1957.
What about Bizarro? Do you get royalties for Bizarro?
‘Cause he’s everywhere.
I know he’s everywhere. I went through the idea of a lawsuit at first and then decided after some thought that in a certain way DC had really done well by me as far as I was concerned, considering the times and so on. And after all, yes, the Bizarro was everywhere, but going through court—I did have a lawyer, and I did get a response, and we were about to—I would’ve joined a whole host of other guys who were lined up trying to collect from DC.
Was that in the ‘60s?
It wasn’t so long ago, as a matter of fact. I was living here. I received letters from Levitz telling me, he sent me a copy of the Bizarro doll that they made with a note saying “The son wants to sit on the shelf of his father,” as much as acknowledging completely that I was the creator. They do acknowledge it now. But I told Paul I don’t want to get in line with all these other guys. I’m very happy with what I’m doing. I had some good times doing…I think in many ways, considering that I was able to buy a house, that I could always borrow money, that I didn’t do so badly and that was the nature of the business in those days. Nobody was trying to rob me, except maybe Mort Weisinger. So on the whole I decided I’m not going to make an issue of it. There were ways in which there could be some question about it because it was a spinoff of Superman and I know enough about law to realize that the question of trademark could easily come into it. It wasn’t wholly my invention, in other words. It was a takeoff on Superman. So I decided I’m not going to get into this, I have no time to waste for that.
Are you in touch with anybody who’s at DC now, besides Paul Levitz?
As a matter of fact I’ve been to San Diego. I’ve been invited to San Diego to receive the Bill Finger prize. I just won it.
Arnold [Drake] and I are good friends. We talk to each other often. He’s my major contact right now. I talk to Levitz. I went back to comics a little while ago, a couple of years ago, I got a call from DC, they asked me to write the main piece in the Bizarro book, which I did. Two years ago I wrote a Bizarro story. It’s in the new Bizarro book, or the last one they put out.
[he gave me Arnold’s phone number, Arnold lost his wife, has every illness under the sun from bad heart to valves, should’ve been dead long ago, he’s 81 years ago, he carries on, he’s incredible, he’s quite heroic in my mind, not a great intellectual but strong personality; Alvin had to turn down San Diego, getting too old, I’m 89, hardening of the arteries, my wife has problems, it’s just too hard, but besides seeing old friends would prefer to stay home]