Saturday, August 31, 2013

Light the Empire State Building in Bill Finger's honor

The Empire State Building is only a few years older than Batman, and like Batman, it stands iconically above a city.

Unlike Batman, however, it does not remain in shadow. 


The colors change regularly. In fact, anyone can request a specific lighting scheme.


So, of course, I did.

Here is an excerpt from my application:



I am the author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the first-ever biography of Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator and original writer of the Dark Knight…who was created in 1939 right there in New York.

Finger is the main mind behind one of the most influential fictional icons in world history yet his onetime partner, cartoonist Bob Kane, took full credit for Batman. Finger designed Batman's costume; wrote the first Batman story and many of the best stories of his first 25 years (including his groundbreaking—and heartbreaking—origin); wrote the first stories of popular supporting characters including Robin and the Joker; named Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, and the Batmobile; and nicknamed Batman "the Dark Knight," which has influenced the titles of two of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Yet while Kane never wrote a Batman story, Finger never saw his name as co-creator in a Batman story.

In 1974, after a career in which most of his beloved work was published anonymously, Finger died alone and poor. No obituary. No funeral. No gravestone.

No kidding.

Finger was largely responsible for one of our greatest fictional champions of justice. It is time for justice for Finger himself. An Empire State Building lighting tribute would poignantly give Finger the honor he deserves in the city where he quietly made pop culture history. It’s just too bad he won’t be there to see it.

Why February 8, 2014? It would have been Finger’s 100th birthday (and 2014 is also the 75th anniversary of Batman, not to mention the 40th anniversary of Finger’s death).

Why the requested colors? They correspond with Batman’s original costume (largely the same as today’s, only at first he had purple gloves). If it’d be possible to somehow incorporate a bat, that would be fantastic.

Thank you for your consideration. I can guarantee you lighting a legacy to Bill Finger would get many people talking in a good way. It’s an American story. It’s a New York story. It’s a noble gesture.

Justice has no expiration date.

They said no.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A friend of Bill Finger's son steps forward

On 5/14/13, as Albert Ching of Newsarama interviewed me over the phone, I mentioned that though Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is out, I feel like I’m still writing the story because I continue to blog about newly uncovered Bill Finger info as I encounter it.

And literally seconds after I said that, this message came in from Europe on Facebook:

Hi. My stepfather just read an article about Bill/Fred Finger and the Batman comics. He was flabbergasted as he knew Fred [Bill’s son, who died in 1992] very well from 1987 on. He discovered the article in his search for Charles Shaheen [the only person who was named in Fred’s settlement of estate, as recounted in my book], hoping to find him alive and kicking. Now he knows better. If you want to contact him, please feel free. His address is [redacted]. Cheers.

So I did, of course. And the gentleman, Dirk Van Vaerenbergh, agreed to be interviewed about his friendship with Bill
’s son. 


I sent questions and he responded with excerpts from the journals he kept over the years:
I was born in 1954. I work as a drama teacher and actor in Flanders, Belgium.

At the time I met Fred [Finger], I was teaching Swedish language and literature at the University of Ghent and studying Russian.

I had been in a relationship with the same man since 1978. He also met both Fred and Chuck [Charles Shaheen] and even lived with them for three months when he was doing some work at the Bellevue Hospital in New York. We now have been legally married since 2001 and we raise a son together (my stepson who contacted you on Facebook) with the boy’s lesbian mother.

I got into my diaries and this is what I found.

April 1987

I met Fred on April 13 in the Maiden Lane Sauna [Wall Street Sauna] in New York.

The first afternoon, he told me that many of his friends had died, his address book was empty, he was divorced, he had children, his father was Bill Finger and Bill had drawn Batman comics but had not gotten the recognition he deserved, and he—Fred—was HIV+.

A lot to take in on one afternoon.

He lived at 15 Jay Street with his friend Agnes/Angie. It was a former food dealerhouse [sic; Dirk does not remember what he meant by the word, but said it looked like a huge space (loft) with a small bathroom in the middle]. He worked at [a restaurant called] JF Vandam. He had plans to go work in a nouvelle cuisine kosher restaurant in Brooklyn.

He looked drop dead gorgeous. Slim, dark, nice hair, and a full beard. Wore glasses and was quite shy. I fell for him immediately. We saw each other three, maybe four times during my first stay.

He phoned me a month later to say he had developed AIDS and would I please come as soon as possible.

December 1987

When I got back to New York, Fred worked in another restaurant at 73 8th Avenue [name not recorded]. His summer had been terrible—he lost his job, got into debts, was thrown out of the flat by Angie in October, and now lived with Portia, his mother. He had not paid child support in three months.

He had two daughters, one by him (Athena) and the other one by Bonnie (how that came about I never got clear).

Talked about his relationship with Richard (a transvestite), Bonnie (his ex-wife), and Carl (a painter).

I visited his mother who lived in a small flat that was in a bad state in a beautiful apartment block on 16th Street. Half of New York had [once] come to visit, now nobody! [I asked for elaboration and Dirk said that many years ago, Portia had been very popular and that famous people came to visit]

She sat with grandeur in the kitchen, never moved, was small and fat, had long fingernails, and smoked continuously.

She hated Richard and Bonnie and Carl and Angie—so everybody that Fred ever loved. Now she wanted to see me and appraise the material.

“Show me your left ear, darling! Is that a diamond? Take off your glasses, honey! Oh, my, his eyes are pretty, do not you think so, Fred?”

Fred had kept from her that he was HIV+.

April 1988

I was in New York again.

Fred felt better and is fat. He took pills every 4 hours, had an alarm clock. Fred’s T cells were down to 32 [the T cell count for a healthy person seems to be between 500-1,500].

He worked at a bakery for seven dollars an hour for three days and had 85 dollars in food stamps. He baked for the Living Room [a space where AIDS patients got together to have a cup of soup, talk, etc.] and sometimes I took the cakes to the AIDS people although I was actually not allowed.

Met his mother and [his aunt] Irene and cousin Judy and her husband George.

We went to lots of shows and benefits and it [was at one of them], The Michael Bennett Tribute, that I met Chuck Shaheen and his lover Richie Salgado for the first time.

New Year’s Eve 1988-89

Fred now lived at 233 Dean Street with Chuck and Richie and Alvin.

They all had AIDS and got [a drug called] AZT, although Richie and Chuck [would] sell it on the black market. (In the years following, I sometimes doubted whether Chuck really had AIDS.)

They lived in a social welfare flat for $950 a month.

Chuck [had been] to be the manager of La Cage aux Folles for six years and went to Las Vegas with it. [Chuck and Richie] were quite well off; Chuck bought Richie a Mercedes for Valentine’s Day.

Afterwards they dealt in antiques, got even richer…then suddenly their house burned down and they had to flee the state [Dirk didn’t know why]. Then somehow Chuck “lost” his passport—I mean they took it away from him [Dirk didn’t know why]. I believe he also went to prison.

Chuck [had] a lot of money hidden in a bank in Zurich, wanted to go to Europe with Richie and Fred to collect the money, rent a house and a small staff. We made plans to see each other this side of the ocean [Europe].

[I asked why, if Chuck had money, did he and Richie live in a welfare flat; his response: Indeed. He had money but not during the years we knew him. Thought he would be able to lay his hands on the Swiss money, but that never happened as far as I know. I asked how he had this money: Rumors: money he had come by in a “strange way”—insurance?]

August-September 1989

(I had gotten back from a six-week course in Russian at MGU [sic; Moscow State University] and met my husband in New York to leave for New England.)

They did not go to Europe; Chuck still did not have a passport, a false one would cost him $25,000. It is a bitter pill he cannot afford it as he has $750,000 in a vault in Vienna that can be opened only with his fingerprints.

Portia died on August 26 [according to the social security office, she died January 2, 1990] and left Fred exhausted. Bonnie became his fresh nightmare (said Chuck). Nagging and guilt and what have you. Fred had a new boyfriend, Ricardo, from Venezuela. They all decide to go to Puerto Rico.

July 1991

Fred, Chuck, and Richie lived at 386 Sackett Street in a nice souterrain. Richie died. Fred looked old. Chuck completely fell for an Irish boy—a nurse—John (it could be Maloney but maybe I am confused). During my stay John gave up his work and came to live with the others.

Fred borrowed some money from Chuck, forgot to pay his bills, and lost his Visa card.
He really had no money anymore.

April 1992

Fred died [in February]. I was in Europe so I could not attend the funeral. [Now, in April] I stayed with Chuck and John in Brooklyn; they had a little money as John sold his house.

In the meantime, the state discovered that Fred Finger took money as Richie Salgado [after he] had died, and they wanted $7,000 dollars from Fred. But since Fred had died, the state wanted it out of the estate. So Bonnie was going to trial [Dirk had no idea what happened as a result]. Chuck still got Fred’s [Batman] royalties as he forged Fred’s signature.

And a common Russian friend goes to Seattle and worked there with Fred’s social security number.

April 1995

I visited Chuck and John. John bought off his life insurance and now they had money to pay off the credit cards.

1997

I heard from Chuck’s neighbor from Brooklyn, John McFadden, that Chuck had paid bail for his lover, drugs, and lawyers. [John also said] that John Maloney’s trust fund and life insurance all went the same way. That Chuck borrowed money from loan sharks and then suddenly one night he left with one bag and left everything. Absolutely everything. And was never heard of again.

Chuck and Fred were never partners or lovers [contrary to what I had been told so contrary to what it therefore states in Bill the Boy Wonder]. They were roommates, that is all.

[Despite the shady things they did to protect themselves from the state], to me they were kind, friendly, hospitable. I was a window to the world. Chuck called us lifelong friends; indeed we saw him through various boyfriends and deaths. He had the impression we had always been there. But of course we realized he had had a completely different way of living before he met us.

I have a weird feeling about this drifter [Jesse Maloney, as explained in the author’s note of Bill the Boy Wonder]. He could be the boy that Chuck got out of jail in New York.
On the other hand John [Chuck’s partner, whose last name Dirk thought might be Maloney] had a twin brother. I thought he was called Jess? But I am not sure…

Thank you for sharing your memories, Dirk.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My cousin who vanished

When I was a baby, Leonore, my second cousin on my mom’s side, and also my godmother, babysat me.


In August 1973, she went to a bus station in Connecticut, bought a ticket to somewhere, and did not come back. The reason may have been mental illness; the family later learned that she had been abusive to her children.

Her husband Larry (son of my mom’s uncle) hired private detectives to find Leonore. Despite years of searching, they never did.

Her fate remains a mystery, except, perhaps, to her.

Because of my own intensive (and, on many levels, successful) detective work in researching Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman as well as the topic of my book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing (I mention Leonore in the “About the Author”), my wife and I discussed the possibility of me trying to find out what happened to my cousin.



For a fleeting moment, this intrigued me, and I do like a challenge, but given the time that has passed and the circumstances surrounding Leonores disappearance, it is an effort I do not plan to undertake, at least not now.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Crusader and vandal in one

My children, unsurprisingly, have a number of superhero books in their collections. 

I opened up one and was more than proud to find that my then-eight-year-old had taken matters into her own hands:


In truth, neither of my kids are as passionate about superheroes as I am, but a sense of social justice knows no genre.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

“Bill the Boy Wonder”: The Secret Co-Creator and swag, man

One morn, I got an e-mail from Vistaprint announcing that, for that day only, you could order some promotional items for no charge.

This is why I am now the proud (and, in some cases, temporary) owner of the following Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman collectibles:

note pad

rectangular labels

rectangular stickers

circular envelope seals

window decal

vertical vinyl banner

lawn sign

car door magnet (which I have renamed file cabinet magnet)


Plus I had already ordered oval labels that I use as bookplates:


Friday, August 23, 2013

Out of the shadows at a B&N in NYC

One of these is not like the others...


Go Barnes & Noble picture-book-nonfiction-friendly bookseller!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Batcake

On 5/5/13 (National Cartoonists Day), I spoke about Batman and Bill Finger at Washington Hebrew Congregation, “the area’s largest Jewish congregation and among the largest Reform congregations in the country.”

The audience was great and I always love giving this talk, but the highlight: Batman cake pops.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Huey Lewis and the Nobleman

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Huey Lewis and the News’s breakthrough album Sports, whose 42 minutes of music established them as the band of my youth…a title that still stands even if the youth does not.

Of the nine songs on the album, five were released as singles and five videos were shot—but, strangely, the fives were not exact overlaps. (“Heart and Soul,” “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “If This Is It,” and “Walking on a Thin Line” were the singles; no video that I know of was shot for “Walking” and one was shot for “Bad Is Bad.”)

If you’ve read my series “The Girl in the Video,” you’ve seen this photo:


Also in high school, I replaced the News with the heads of my best friends on the cover of the single to my favorite Huey song:


AKA Huey Lewis and the Jews.

So it was an honor 30 years in the making to be able to meet Huey Lewis and some of the News after a concert in Virginia on 8/13/13.


The set started with the entire Sports album, played in order…but coolly, Huey didn’t call attention to this until he was about to “flip over the record” and start side B. (And shameful for any superfan, I hadn’t noticed on my own.) They went on to play an atypical assortment of songs—none from Fore!, Small World, or Hard at Play. The encore consisted of “The Power of Love,” Do you Believe in Love,” and “Workin’ for a Livin.’”

At least 30 people had been given backstage passes—more than I was expecting but not so many as to limit access. 


The first insider I met was band manager Lol Halsey. He was surprised when I asked to get a picture with the manager—but he’s not just the manager.


Up till that point I knew Lol only as the British guy shown in fisheye lens in the humor bit that opened the “Stuck With You” video.


In other words, Huey Lewis and the News royalty.

He was as nice as can be, welcoming to and focused on my friend Christian and me. 


Lol was the one who called over Huey himself, introducing me as the writer who interviewed the Sports video girls, to which Huey said, “Oh, yeah—Signy.” (Also Janet and Sandra.)

We shook hands. We posed. And that was about it. But that was enough. (Until next time.)


I also had the honor of meeting two other principals from the band, drummer Bill Gibson and keyboardist Sean Hopper. Both were completely genuine.

 me and Bill Gibson

 me and Sean Hopper

Already prepping my next round of “Girl in the Video,” I’d planned to ask any band member I could if he remembered the name of the woman who appeared in the 1982 video for “Do You Believe in Love.” Amid the excitement, I almost didn’t remember to do so, but am relieved I did with Bill, because he responded with the name immediately. (I then asked him which band member has the best memory, and he said “me,” so I am doubly relieved.)

I instantly remembered that I had heard her name before…but pre-Internet, because a google on this (even a “fully loaded” search with the name of the video and her name) turns up literally nothing. So it is that rare example (rare to me, anyway) of pop culture knowledge that publicly exists yet is not yet documented online.


I also asked Bill if anyone in the band is in regular touch with the two original members who are no longer in the News, Chris Hayes and Mario Cipollina. He said no. I asked if there was any bad blood in connection with their departures and he said yes, but not with him.

I asked if either had been invited to participate in the 30th anniversary festivities and he said no because it wouldn’t be fair to the other band members, some of whom have now been with the News longer than Chris and/or Mario.

Lastly, I asked if they still play a personal favorite, “The Boys Are Back in Town,” in concert and he said they haven’t for a while.

Sean Hopper was equally fun to talk with. He said he read all my “Girl in the Video” interviews and even looked up more images of the “Addicted to Love” women! That was wild—one ‘80s icon curious about another. Of course they’re only human, too, but humans in a different orbit than the one I usually travel.


Johnny Colla was the only original band member who didn’t come backstage—and the only one who had emailed me back personally beforehand. (I’d contacted him through his site while researching the “Girl in the Video” series, and then to announce it.) I was bummed and wrote him that, to which he kindly responded. His consolation was to offer to send me a CD. But the real consolation was that he signed his email “Pals.”

Thanks again to the band for being so gracious to a longtime fan. And special thanks to Nina at Hulex for arranging the backstage passes.

When the band comes around again, I can already foresee telling her, “I Want a New Pass.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

An old phoenix takes a new roost

At the Knoxville Children’s Festival of Reading on 5/18/13, I received a most special gift.

Liza Martz, a fellow writer with whom I’d communicated online but not met in person, came to the festival. With that aforementioned gift.

I’ll let her describe it:
 

It was a book I kept with me all my life. I kept it next to my bed and read it when I felt scared, even as an adult. On 9/11/01, I went to a thrift store to hide from the horror if the day and found it in the book section for a dime. Even though I had my own copy I got it and have held onto it until I found the right person to give it to. It had to be someone who treasured the book as much as I did and still do. And you are that person. Phew. It finally has a good home!

The book: David and the Phoenix, written by Edward Ormondroyd, first published in 1957.

And this is the reason Liza so kindly gave this 1958 edition to me.

Thank you again, Liza. It was a moving gesture.










Sunday, August 18, 2013

Knoxville Children’s Festival of Reading


My second time in Tennessee took me to two schools in one day and the Knoxville Children’s Festival of Reading the next day.

The first school was a Jewish day school, where the setup enabled me to take this photo of two juxtaposed symbols which, to me, each speak of peace:



The other school was an Episcopal day school, so it was a day of unity.

The festival was the morning after rain, and held on a field, which had turned to grassy muck, which meant the one pair of shoes I brought was the wrong pair of shoes. Luckily, that was the only downside; the crowds were fun, I received a special gift, and I sat on a panel with people whose work I admire.



 Deborah Diesen, Bob Shea, Jarrett Krosoczka, 
moderator Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, me

During that panel, a girl in the audience asked us a question I found profound: how do we as adults relate to the kids we write for? 

I wish I could say my answer was that I stuck out my tongue, but it was not that clever. Whatever I did stammer out was heartfelt, but still a real missed opportunity on that one.


If you have ever wondered what a panel of authors looks like the night before the panel, mystery solved:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Steve Simmons previously unpublished interview, 7/7/06

Steve Simmons is the son of Lyn Simmons, who was Bill Finger’s companion in the 1960s and his second wife from 1968 to 1971.


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?

Yes.

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.

Was that the last time you saw him?

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lyn Simmons previously unpublished interview, 2006; part 3 of 3

Lyn was Bill Finger’s companion in the 1960s and his second wife from 1968 to 1971. She was unknown to the comics world before I discovered her.

I interviewed her for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and am now posting many of those previously unpublished interviews.

Part 1. 

Part 2.

Did you happen to know his parents’ names?

No. I know he didn’t talk to them at all.

Were they still alive when you guys met?

Yes. And I used to urge him to. I said for god’s sake, you’re a grown man now. Talk to them. But he just couldn’t. Whatever went wrong there, it couldn’t be made right.

Do you remember him telling you that one or both of them had passed away?

No.

So he wouldn’t have gone to the funerals?

Well, they were alive up until I moved to California. [actually, they died in 1961, within two months of each other]

But you never met them or he never talked to them in your presence?

No.

Why was he not in touch with them?

I don't know. Something was wrong with the relationship. Very wrong. And he just would have nothing to do with them.

Do you have any ideas where I can find out what their names were?

I have no idea where you could find that out. I’m bad at this sort of thing. I think his parents lived in Brooklyn. When we met, Bill was my second husband and I was his second wife. We were both grown up. And we just had a wonderful time together. We had arguments and fights but we always got together. I think about him still. It was for the most part a wonderful relationship.

What was Bill’s work schedule like? His writing schedule?

He worked a lot at night. Sometimes all night. When he worked, he worked very hard and steadily at it. But he didn’t always work very hard. He did miss deadlines. But they knew he was a very good writer for them and they gave the work.

Would he tell you,
Tomorrow’s a deadline and I’m not going to make it?

Yeah, he would.

What was his attitude?

He would say I have a deadline and I have to meet it. He would be serious about it. He was very serious about his work, but he just had certain weaknesses.

When he was not making deadlines, was he working on the story but just finishing in time, or was he completely procrastinating or distracted?

Both.

So when he was not working, what was he doing instead?

I don't know because if I knew about it, I would be yelling at him.

Did he still golf when you knew him?

No, he didn’t play golf when I knew him.

He used to play earlier. He used to play when he was still in the Bronx.

Maybe that’s where his parents lived, in the Bronx?

They did originally. Have you ever been interviewed about Bill before?

No, I haven’t, although I was in touch with Hollywood at one point because Bob Kane, something had happened with Bob Kane and Batman and I wanted to get Bill in on it. Bill was not alive.

Was this the first movie [1989]?

Maybe so. And they got very interested and then I said I was his wife, then they found I was divorced and that ended it.

So you wanted to try to get him some—

I wanted to get him the notice that he should’ve gotten as part of this. [how close she got]

Did you start that or did somebody contact you to help do that?

I don’t recall. Somebody may have contacted me.

Did you know Bob Kane?

I met him once, I think, at some function.

What was Bill’s opinion of him?

He never talked much about him.

Who were his friends in the comic book industry that you also knew?

Jerry somebody.

Robinson.

Maybe. He knew a lot of science fiction writers. We were both into science fiction. When 2001 came out, we went crazy. We went and got tickets. I don’t remember the names, I’m sorry.

Did he have any working quirks? Certain lucky charm on his desk?

No, he didn’t. When he wrote, he wrote well. I think he went over things a lot. He consulted with the artist.

Do you remember that he appeared at a comic convention in 1965 in New York?

No I don’t. He wouldn’t be good on panels.

Why not?

He wasn’t a good spontaneous speaker. He wasn’t real sure of himself. He could be wonderful personally and in familiar—with friends. But how was he on the panel?

I only have the transcript. [said he was jovial, had sense of humor, not most talkative of the four; I have since gotten the audio recording of the panel]

No. [she asked who other three were, she didn’t know them]

[I said Bill came late and they started without him, she laughed, “That would be Bill.”]

What did he look like?

Very attractive to women. He just had a good face. Sort of bald, was losing his hair. He had thick eyebrows. He had a very broad mouth, very nice mouth. He had lines down his cheeks that were very attractive.

Around his mouth, right?

Yes. He always wore Brooks Brothers shirts. He dressed well.

Anecdotes in relation to his work?

No. He was working, I was working. I was an advertising manager for a company for a lot of years. And Bill worked. We got together when we weren’t working. I slept over in the Village, he slept over—my children would stay with their father on weekends so that’s when Bill would stay over.

[asked about talking to her children, said she’s sure they’ll be happy to talk to me]

Do you think that they realize how important Bill was to comics?

No. They know that he did a lot with Batman. They knew that he had a good reputation. But they were too young.

[told her that since the ‘80s he’s become a legend, one of the most revered but tragic figures in comics, Lyn said that’s wonderful, she’s going to cry, she goes into comic book store every so often to see if there’s anything about Bill Finger, employees thrilled when she says she was married to Bill Finger

says she married about four years after Bill died and that was mistake, knew first husband since 13, his sister was her best friend, married and had three children, grew apart, Bill was my main love, this is very good what you’re doing]

You sound very, very nice. It would be nice to meet you sometime. [we eventually did]

[she asked me to think up more questions]

7/5/06

When did Bill and Portia divorce?

Probably the year before [Bill and I got married]. He didn’t get divorced from her for quite a while, which was okay with me because I was getting alimony and child support from my first husband and Bill didn’t have much money. But finally he got his divorce a year or two before we got married.

What do you remember about the Army Pictorial Center?

He wrote training films for them. And he hated it.

Was he still working in comics at the time?

Yes he was.

That was a desk job—he’d go every day?

I’m not sure he went every day. He was living with me on the island. I forget. I don’t think he went every day. Maybe he did. I’m not sure.

Let’s get back to the Superman script story you mentioned.

They asked him to come out to California to write the scripts [sic]. I don’t know if he would have had a writing partner. But he didn’t go.

They called him to do that?

Yeah, he was on the phone with them and they wrote him.

The money wasn’t enough of a motivation?

Oh no. I’m sure it would’ve been a lot of money. But money didn’t motivate Bill that way.

When was that?

It was in the ‘60s. The late ‘60s, I would say. While we were living together. [mentions how he had to take two trains to work] …big change for him to move out to Long Island. When we got married he moved out to Long Island.

Do you remember why he was not drafted? 4F?

Was he 4F?

That’s what I read.

He may have had heart trouble. I know he did have it early on. Something physical, I’m sure. [I later acquired his military record]

Do you remember Freddie being the same age as any of your kids?

When he came over he was very young. Like five or six. Maybe seven. Below ten.

When he came over where?

Great Neck, with Bill. Bill would bring him over to visit and be with my kids. He was overweight and he was very unfriendly, but he was young.

In Great Neck or Roslyn?

This was in my house in Roslyn. I lived there from 1952…no, 1950 to 1964, when I sold it and moved to Great Neck.

[tape cuts out (though we were nearly done anyway); she said she’d like to pay for Bill’s tombstone, and knows her son Steve would want to pay for all of it, she also wants involvement with what’s written on it]

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lyn Simmons previously unpublished interview, 2006; part 2 of 3

Lyn was Bill Finger’s companion in the 1960s and his second wife from 1968 to 1971. She was unknown to the comics world before I discovered her.

I interviewed her for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and am now posting many of those previously unpublished interviews. 

Part 1.

6/25/06

[first few words cut off but she was saying that she told her son Andrew] that you were going to give Bill the credit that he never got and deserved and Andy said that was great, ‘cause Bill was wonderful to my children.

When did you and Bill marry?

We married quite late, actually. We were together for, I don’t know, 13 years and then we married in 1968.

In Great Neck?

Yes. Then I came out here because of my son and Bill and I got divorced. But we were on the phone all the time and I feel that had he lived, we would’ve gotten together again.

When did you move out there and get divorced?

I moved out in ‘71 and that’s when I got divorced. He had a lot of problem about my moving out. I don’t think you need to know about that.

After you divorced, did he move back into Manhattan?

Yes.

[asked about the article Lyn’s daughter Eve mentioned, she’ll send]

Did you know [Bill’s son] Freddie?

Yes I did. Freddie when he was little used to come out and visit in Roslyn. I had a house in Roslyn, Long Island. That’s where Bill moved when we were married. He was a sort of disturbed young boy.

His wife, I never met her, but I understand she was obese. Bill was rather short and slim and she had a lot of gay friends. I think they may have influenced Fred quite a bit. Bill was pretty upset about that. Bill had faults. He was not too good on the alimony. He was not too good with his deadlines. But he was the kindest man in the world, really. It just beset (?) by his own certain weaknesses. When I first met him and he came out to the house with a whole bunch of comic books, my kids went crazy. He had the early, not the Batman, the ones before that that he was writing. I forget the publisher but the Green Lantern. Bill had first editions that he was selling very happily for five or ten dollars and feeling he was making quite a profit. They probably sell for a couple thousand now.

Some of them would sell for five figures, if they’re in good condition.

Oh my god.

They’re very valuable. You know what else would go for a lot of money? Any memento from the Golden Age. So if Bill had any notes, I know that a lot of that stuff was thrown away, but all that stuff is highly collectible now.

Oh my god. I don’t have any of that.

Do you happen to remember Fred’s middle name?

His real name, his first name was Milton, and he hated that. He changed it to William. And everybody knew him by Bill.

Oh, you’re talking about Bill?

Whose middle name?

Freddie’s.

No, I don’t know.

And Bill’s real first name was Milton?

Yes, but don’t put that in. He didn’t like it. [she later gave permission]

So he was born as Milton William Finger?

No, he just changed it to William. I don’t know whether William was his middle name or he just changed it to William.

As long as anyone knew him, he was Bill.

Yes.

Did he have a middle name?

I don’t know.

[said I’m hoping to find some of his Freddie
’s friends]

You haven’t found out where he is?

Well, he’s deceased. He passed away in the late ‘90s.

He died?

Yeah, he died.

Oh my lord. I knew nothing about him after I came out to California. … Was he married?

No, I believe he was gay and I heard he died of AIDS.

[asked if she might have any documents that would show Bill’s middle name]

No. If he had one. I didn’t have a middle name. I don’t think Bill did. We didn’t give middle names in those days. Maybe Freddie had one, I don’t know.

Bill was not in WWII?

No, he wasn’t.

Did he not get drafted?

I guess he didn’t. He didn’t get drafted. He had some problems, maybe some problems, I don’t know what it was. He never talked about it. One thing I wanted to tell you about. Bill and I were on the phone a lot in the years before he died and I was out here. One day I called him and he didn’t answer. I just had a feeling to call him late at night and there was no answer. I thought that’s very strange because he’s always in late at night. So next morning I phoned his friend Charlie who lived in the same building as Bill in New York. And I said take a look in at Bill, see if he’s okay, ‘cause I called last night, he wasn’t there. So Charlie looked in and a little while later he called me back. He said oh my god, you must be psychic, Bill is dead. He had died in his sleep on the couch sometime that night. That was quite amazing and I cried quite a bit.

So Charlie was the one who found him?

Yes. They brought up the manager of the building. My son was having operations and this was his third one that was coming up and I couldn’t go in for anything. He was very very sick, he almost died, so I had to stay with him. I don’t know what happened. His wife called me before this happened.

You mean his ex-wife Portia?

His ex-wife called me and she said that…wait, I may be getting mixed up here. I am getting mixed up. This was before I moved out to California. She was very mean. She called me about how sick Bill—she went to see him, he was sick, he had had something with his heart. I said I didn’t want to hear this, and so she said goodbye, and of course I visited him and he stayed with me when he recuperated, in Roslyn. He was alright but he had had a heart problem before.

You mean you came back from California to visit him?

No, this was before I left for California.

So you divorced and then you moved? You didn’t move first?

No, I moved first. We were in the process of getting the divorce and then I got the papers out here.

Then after ‘71—

We were in touch all the time.

Did you see him after that?

No.

He never came out to visit?

No. Well, he had a kind of reluctance to travel. He had a kind of anxiety about traveling.

I’ve been told that he didn’t drive.

Yeah, he didn’t drive.

Why?

I don't know. He just never got a license and he never drove. He never had a car.

How did he get around in the suburbs, like when he lived in Great Neck?

Well, he took the train into work, which was walking distance from where I lived. Then I drove him around, everywhere.

And it never came up why he didn’t want to drive?

Well, no. (laughs) I think I did tell him to get driving lessons a couple times. And he said I will, I will, I will. And he didn’t.

His reluctance to travel, what did you think—

Some anxiety about it.

You mean like getting on a plane?

Yeah. Leaving his familiar spaces.

Did you ever talk to him about his Batman work and what he thought of his fans? Did he know that he had fans?

No, he never thought of that at all. Not at all. He was very humble, very unassuming. He was just doing comics. He said
I’m a hack writer.

So he wasn’t proud of his work?

Well, yes he was. He thought he did good work. But he said
I’m a hack writer.
 
Did he have aspirations that he was working toward?

No. Well, he may have. I don’t remember that.

He was just content to continue writing comics and not try something else?

Yeah. Well, he and Charlie wrote a movie and they did some television scripts, so he did something more.

Did you read his work before he sent it to the publisher?

Sometimes.

And you gave him suggestions?

Sometimes.

What did he like to do for fun?

He loved theater, which we went to. Ballet we both loved. He loved classical movie and he had a very complicated [stereo] setup that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

Was that in his workspace?

Yeah, and then it was up in my house. Actually, when he moved up, he didn’t move to Roslyn. He stayed there quite a bit. But he moved up to my Great Neck apartment. I had sold the house in Roslyn in 1964. And I was in an apartment in Great Neck.

So he never lived in Roslyn? He just visited.

Yes.

And then he moved to Great Neck—

When he moved from New York he moved to Great Neck.

Did you have wedding photos?

No, we got married by a justice of the peace in Great Neck. We had no photos at all. We weren’t camera people. What he did for fun is we traveled, locally. We didn’t go abroad. We went to the Hamptons, we went to Cape Cod, we went to Maine.

Always by car?

Yes.

He never left the Northeast his whole life?

No, he never did. [I later found out that at least once he made it at least as far as Texas]

Part 3.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lyn Simmons previously unpublished interview, 2006; part 1 of 3

Lyn was Bill Finger’s companion in the 1960s and his second wife from 1968 to 1971. She was unknown to the comics world before I discovered her.

I interviewed her for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and am now posting many of those previously unpublished interviews.

6/23/06

As you probably know, Bill Finger was a major factor in the creation of Batman and never received [official] credit.

That’s right, he was, and he never received enough credit for it. And I feel very badly about that. He was the one—he decided on having the Penguin, giving Batman a cape, and all sorts of different details that I may or may not remember. He was very instrumental in developing the whole image of Batman.

How old are you?

I’m 83. I was born in 1922. Bill was 10 years older than I. [Bill was born 1914]

Tell me what your memories are of Bill as a person and as a creative type.

As a person, he was very, very warm, very sincere, very hard-working, even though he problems meeting deadlines. We were very much in love most of the time. Toward the end it got a little bad. But for the most part he was my big, passionate love affair. We spent enormous amounts of time together. He had a good sense of humor. He was very interested in the theater, and ballet, and classical music. He gave an awful lot of thought to writing. He wouldn’t write any violent comic books.

Did he feel pressure that other people wanted him to write violent stuff?

Well, they would ask him to and he wouldn’t. He was asked to go out to Hollywood to write the Superman script and he didn’t do it. [NOTE: It turned out she was most likely thinking of the 1966 Filmation Superman series of animated shorts.] He liked New York and he didn’t want to leave there. And when we married he was out on Long Island with me but he just held on to the space he had and didn’t like to leave it. So going out to California was a great big step for him.

They asked him to write the script from scratch, or did they want him to edit somebody’s—

I think he would’ve had a partner. I don’t remember—you know, it’s 34 years, or 31 years, since he died. I don’t remember but I know he could’ve gone out and written Superman for the movies. And he just never took up that opportunity. He also worked very hard at getting the right words and the right image for Batman. He worried about it a lot and thought about it a lot. It was real important to him. Personally he was wonderful, I was in love with him, and he was a wonderful guy.

How did you meet?

We met at a friend’s house in the village. She was my friend. It was a couple—they were Bill’s friend and I was there with another friend and we went up to visit. He was there. And that’s how we met.

Do you know what year that was?

Oh God. I would’ve been about 35—that would’ve been 50 years [ago] almost.

When did you two start a relationship?

Right away. We started going out. He called me about two weeks after we met. He took me a foreign film, the first date. Something about the fifth lamb, I forget what it was.

This was in the fifties?

Oh yes.

So he was already divorced from Portia?

No he wasn’t. He didn’t get divorced for a few years.

The first time you lived together was in Great Neck, right?

No, we were together, I lived with him in the Village. We were living with each other on and off. We vacationed together often. We used to go to Cape Cod and up to the Hamptons.

Where did you live in the city?

When I met Bill I was on the island. I have three children.

So you have Eve and Steve…

…and Andy.

Where does he fall, oldest, youngest?

He’s my middle son.

When you lived with Bill in the city was that the 45 Grove Street address?

Oh god…

Or the neighborhood if you can’t remember the address.

No I don’t. He lived alone. I don’t remember that first apartment’s address.

But it was in the Village?

Yeah it was in the Village, it was always in the Village.

That might’ve been the 45 Grove Street. 


[said how I went around city and took photos of where he lived]

I think it’s awfully nice that you’re doing this. I’m so happy for Bill that you’re doing it.

Do you have any photos of Bill?

I think I had a couple. I’ll have to look through my books. We weren’t photo people so we just didn’t take many photos.

[she said she had just gotten back from New York and she’s tired so can we continue tomorrow, then: Could you tell me what you said about things you’d do for Bill?]

As I understand it, he was buried on Hart Island so he doesn’t have a gravestone. Do you know about that?

I was in California [when Bill died] and my son was having a very serious operation. He has no gravestone?

I’m almost positive.

Oh god.

The friend of his that told me about you whose name is Charles Sinclair—

Oh yeah! Where is Charles?

In Brooklyn. I could put you guys in touch.

Yeah, I’d like to be in touch with him again.

[she said let’s continue tomorrow, I said if the book does well I’d like to get Bill a proper gravestone and she agreed]

I’m so glad, I’m so glad you’re doing this. I came out here 35 years ago to take care of my son Andrew who had a very bad accident and injured his spinal cord and he’s in a wheelchair so I took care of him out here for 12 years. When Bill died, well that’s another story that might interest you, Charlie said I was psychic, but it was very strange thing that happened, but I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Part 2.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Irwin Hasen previously unpublished interview, 6/12/06

Irwin Hasen was a comic book artist who co-created Wildcat with Bill Finger. I interviewed Irwin for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

Of the eight Golden and Silver Age creators (Jerry Robinson, Shelly Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Kubert, Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino, Irwin) whose previously unpublished interviews I'm posting, Irwin is the second oldest (after Alvin)—and last one living. 

The interview is transcribed (and slightly edited) from a recording.

What say you about Bill Finger?

Bill Finger was the greatest guy in the business at the time. A very sad character. He was always late. Always needed money.

What was your first impression of Bill?

A nice guy. We had a lot of common. We became friends. We became very close friends. And he was a very sweet guy.

What did you have in common?

Socially. We’d go out occasionally together. I met with his wife, Portia. We were like buddies.

What was he like when working? Was he making jokes?


A very civilized jokester. He was erudite and very, very smart. He wasn’t clever, but he was smart guy.

What is the difference between smart and clever?

He wasn’t a wiseguy. He was just a low-key, lovely guy. Very serious. And we made each other laugh.

Did he ever talk to you about working on Batman?

No, he never did. We worked on the Green Lantern stories, and of course Wildcat, which he and I both created, with Sheldon Mayer. [Irwin doesn’t read comics today, they can’t tell stories, idol is Alex Toth, and Irwin was Toth’s idol, Toth was 12 years younger than Hasen] I hope I’m not talking too much.

[I said of course not, backed up and told him I’m working on book on Bill Finger for young people]

Really? Good for you. Good for you.

[asked about texture of Bill’s life]

The texture of his life was very [vague?] and fleeting. He was never anchored. He was always in trouble financially.

Were you in touch with him until his death?

No.

Did you hear about his death?

I heard vaguely about his death.

But you didn’t go to his funeral?

No, I didn’t. I didn’t know where the hell it was. I don’t think he had one. He was a very underrated guy. … But Bill lived in obscurity.

So if there’s one thing you want conveyed in a book about him, what would that be?

I would say he was probably the most flamboyant creative artist in the stable of writers. He was short-lived and no one gave him that much credit except after he died. Of all of the writers, he was probably the most creative.

Do you have any photographs of him?

No. Isn’t that funny, I really don’t.

What did Bill look like?

A short man. Very good looking. He looked like a college professor.

Did he wear glasses?

I don’t think so, except probably when he worked.

He was well-dressed?

Always nattily dressed. He looked like an elegant professor.

Did you ever go golfing with him?

No, I never did. I never played golf. I played tennis all my life and he didn’t play tennis. … We drank … We weren’t drunks but we drank. We worked our tail off and when we delivered our work we bumped into each other, that’s all.

[I asked if he has any late night anecdotes about Bill]

No, I don’t. He was very secluded with his wife, Portia. I only saw them together, usually. Bill was a very elusive guy. He was only a couple inches taller than I was.

How tall is that?

I’m 5’2”. He was probably 5’4”.

What about Portia, what did she look like?

Very, very heavy. I don’t want to put her down but she was very heavy. Short. She was delightful. Delightful sense of humor. She and I hit it off beautifully. She and I became more friends than he and I.

Were you in touch with her later in life?

No.

Did you know [Bill’s son] Freddie?

No. … Bill was his own worst enemy. He just couldn’t keep up with deadlines and they didn’t want to pay him anymore.

Do you think that he regretted that he was never more assertive and asked for credit?

Possibly. I don’t know. When I did Wildcat, I insisted—that’s one thing I did nice in my youth—I insisted that his name would be next to mine.

[asked if he gets royalties for Wildcat, said no, Arnold Drake is going after getting credit, Irwin went to DC couple years ago cause Nodell got big sum for Green Lantern, approached Paul Levitz gingerly with articles that say he created Wildcat, DC said Wildcat is not a big thing with them, not busy with it, sort of patted Irwin on the head, said Arnold said they might make Deadman movie, he said “Arnold has dreams,” don’t want to risk that Wildcat becomes big, they send him Wildcat statues that are “disgusting”; after more shootbreezing, said Jerry Robinson most talented guy in the business]

Anything else about Bill?

I can’t tell you—he was an elusive character, that’s all I can say. If you can get something out of that, which could be interesting, by the way, it could be an interesting path. An elusive kind of a chap, elegant, he looked like a guy just out of Yale.

He looked handsome in those photos.

Oh yes.

But some people have said he wasn’t handsome.

He was a good looking. Don’t believe them. He had a lovely and refined looking little face (laughs)—little face, I like the way I talk about him. And he always smoked a pipe. And I loved to make him laugh.
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