What was your relationship with Bill Finger?
I knew him when I was in high school, growing up. He married my mother, I was probably in 12th grade, maybe a freshman in college. I knew him around the house. He would talk about how he was very proud of his work on the various comic books he worked on. I think he not only did work on the storyline, which he did an impressive amount with, [but] also I think I remember him saying was responsible for how Batman looked, like maybe his cape, and how the mask covered Batman’s face? I think he also talked about doing something with the Batmobile, maybe he came up with that idea, too. … He was very proud of his work.
I remember him bringing Batman and other comics home. We had a whole stack of comic books at the house which would probably be very valuable today but have since been lost. He would have us read them and react to them. As kids, we were, of course, thrilled.
He was a man with a great sense of humor. He was very smart. He was very worldly to a young kid. He liked opera and classical music and reading the New York Times and travel. He was a sharp dresser, I’d say, very nattily dressed. [Irwin Hasen also described Bill with the ten-dollar word “nattily.”]
You were how old when you met him?
I was probably thirteen maybe. [this would’ve been 1959]
Do you remember Freddie?
How old was he in relation to you?
I think he was a little older than me. I could be wrong about that. I met Freddie maybe once or twice. I really never knew him very well. … [Bill] was everything from showing me how to tie a tie to talking about college. He also wrote for television. When I went to California with my real father (Bill, of course, was stepfather), [he said] I should just drop by one of the Hollywood studios on his behalf just to say hi.
Did you consider him your stepfather?
It wasn’t the type of thing where he was a stepfather from when I was very young. It was more a late-blooming thing. I think they married when I was probably a freshman in college.
Your mom said ‘68.
Then it was even later. Then it was when I was a junior or senior in college. [Steve graduated Cornell in ‘68]
Did you and your siblings have a sense of his significance in the comic industry at the time?
I would say we didn’t. And I think also the comic industry as a whole and the people who created it are now looked upon very very differently than they were at that day. I also can remember calling Warner Bros. when the first Batman—my mom wanted me to do this—first Batman movie came out to try and see if we could get Bill credit. I talked to the people there. They acknowledged Bill was instrumental but they weren’t willing to put—for legal reasons—didn’t want to give him credit on the film. I told them I’m not looking for money, I’ll sign a release, but they didn’t want to do it.
You wouldn’t happen to have anything left of Bill’s? Photos, mementos, letters?
I may have a photo. Let me take a look. … [He] talked about how he worked on other characters. I think on Superman, he was pretty instrumental in some of the stuff there. He told me that some of the things Superman is known for he helped create. Was there something called the Green Hornet?
Green Lantern. He co-created him.
Yes, he did that, too. He probably did a lot that Bob Kane took credit for, quite frankly. I don’t think he was paid as much as he should have.
Did he ever talk to you about that? That he was cheated?
I think he once said something to the effect that Bob Kane took more credit than he should have. Put it this way, Bob Kane was getting credit, he wasn’t. Something to that effect. I never heard him talking about not making enough money. Maybe once I did, that Kane got most of the money.
Do you remember him getting asked to write the Superman movie script?
Vaguely. I remember we’d all sit in front of the TV set and watch the television stuff he would write. We’d all be very proud when his name came on at the end. My mom was a friend of Reggie Rose, too, so Bill got to know Reggie. [Rose wrote 12 Angry Men]
You remember nothing more specific about the Superman script?
I do not but I believe that did happen. He worked very hard on this stuff and probably bounced stuff off my mother. My mother was very creative, still is. She’s a great artist. Always has been an artist. My guess is that during all those years Bill would—not all the time—would bounce ideas for comics off of my mother. So in some small way, I can’t give you chapter and verse, I’m sure she contributed a little bit to all of this.
She did say that he would run things by her.
I’m absolutely positive that happened. Another thing I remember is Bill showing me his muscles. He worked out. He was a short, not short short, but relatively short guy. But his muscles, I’d always brag to my friends about how strong his muscles are. He’d make a muscle and me and my young friends would all go—this was when we were 13 or 12—we’d all go feel his muscle.
Do you know why he didn’t serve in the war? Because of his heart?
There was something but I just don’t know. Sorry.
He was not overweight toward the end of his life?
Not that, no. Well, he certainly wasn’t when I saw him in 1970. He was never overweight that I saw. Always very muscular.
Do you remember hearing about his death?
I do. I remember once he had a heart attack. I visited him in the hospital and he told me he was very touched by that.
When was that?
Probably 1970ish, something like that. I probably knew him from the late ‘50s through [his death in] ‘74.
Probably whenever that heart attack was when I visited him in the hospital.
Was he working [on scripts] in the hospital?
When I saw him he wasn’t.