Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Porfirio (interviewed Bill Finger in 1972), 1938-2014

On 10/19/14, Robert Porfirio passed away. I never met Bob and know little about him. What I do know is that he was wonderfully kind...and one of the most important people in the story of documenting Batman co-creator Bill Finger.

Bill’s legacy is lousy with people who—like Bill himself—have not gotten sufficient credit for their contributions:


  • Jerry Bails—the fan who “discovered” Bill, was the first to interview him (in 1965), and singlehandedly spread word to other Batman fans
  • Tom Fagan—another pro fan who interviewed Bill, also in 1965
  • Jim Steranko—the only author to publish an interview with Bill in Bill’s lifetime, in 1970
  • Thomas Andrae—the primary writer of Bob Kane’s autobiography (1989); it was Tom who urged Bob to give Bill as much credit as he could in the book

And Bob Porfirio.

On 5/20/07, which was at the tail end of my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a generous novelist and popular culture historian named Will Murray contacted me (what follows is a consolidation of multiple emails):


I have discovered there exists an unpublished Bill Finger interview. Probably substantial. I and another researcher and looking at trying to get it into print. The interviewee is retired, but interested. The interview is at a university and will have to be released.

It shapes up like this. Robert Porfirio interviewed Finger late ‘60s or early ‘70s. [It turned out to be 1972.] And others. Never did anything with the interviews. He had worked at DC as office help, and through DC got this [entrĂ©e] to numerous comics people. Then went into teaching. When he [retired] from teaching, he left his papers at the university where he taught. They were forgotten.

But one of his other interviews fell into my hands in a strange way. I contacted [Robert]. Learned of these [other interviews].

On 6/30/07, thanks to Will, I first spoke with Bob. Nice as all get-out. He’d interviewed Bill at Bill’s place in New York. He remembered that Bill was a gentle guy who made Bob shut off the recorder for certain anecdotes, i.e. how editor Mort Weisinger would haunt Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, calling him at odd hours to rip apart his scripts.

When Bob left his job at California State University, Fullerton in 1980, he left the interview there and kept no copy for himself. Upon hearing from Will in 2007, Bob asked Fullerton if they could track down the interview and they tried—but they found neither tape nor transcript.

In early 2008, when considering going to my first San Diego Comic-Con, I asked Bob (who lived in San Diego at the time) for advice on scoring a hotel room in the ultra-competitive crucible of Comic-Con booking. Though he barely knew me, he graciously offered me to stay with him. (I didn’t end up going.)

On 11/25/08, while packing for a transcontinental move, Bob emailed “I found some of the tapes I made of comic industry people back in the seventies.”

Then:

“I do see one tape marked ‘Finger.’

JACKPOT.

On 12/2/08, Bob’s son-in-law emailed me a digital copy of the 28-minute interview—the first time I’d heard Bill’s voice. It is only one of two known audio recordings of Bill speaking, the other being his 1965 panel at a New York comic convention. Bob’s full interview was subsequently transcribed in Tom Andrae’s book Creators of the Superheroes. And a clip of it is in the book trailer I made for Bill the Boy Wonder.



Bob, thank you for interviewing Bill Finger and for taking the time, 25 years later, to look for that interview for me. I know you had other accomplishments worth noting, but this is the way I knew you. I regret that we never met in person. You were a good man.


Special thanks to (and photo courtesy of)
Lareesa Mumford-Pope.

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