Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charles Sinclair (Bill Finger's longtime writing partner), 1924-2017

This one hits especially hard. 

While researching the book that would become Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I found and interviewed eight Golden and Silver Age comics creators who knew Bill personally, plus two outside of comics who knew him even better: his second wife Lyn Simmons and his longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair.


Of those ten, Lyn is the only woman—and now the last man standing. On 11/15/17, Charles passed away at age 93. 

Charles was a writer and journalist. Charles and Bill co-wrote radio serials, television shows (most proudly for Charles: 77 Sunset Strip), B-movie scripts (The Green Slime, Track of the Moon Beast), and a two-part episode of the 1966 Batman TV show (featuring the Clock King). Charles was the hustler who got many of the gigs; Bill was the only Batman comics writer to make the leap to Batman TV writer.

Charles was the first person I found in my research, the first of three people in the book's dedication (along with Lyn and Bill's granddaughter Athena), and now the first of those three to pass away.

I found Charles on 6/15/06 (at 1 p.m., I noted) after searching for hours. I learned of him on IMDb (he was listed as a co-writer with Bill), then combed People Finder records. This led me to call dozens of people and production companies in Los Angeles, where I assumed a former TV writer would be living. 

When that failed, I tried searching his name nationwide on People Finder, that time including his middle initial R (which appeared only on the Writer's Guild "missing writers" page). I called the first guy on the list—and struck gold. We talked for 1.5 hours. I was the first person who interviewed him about Bill. He said he would buy a copy of my book.

In 2010, I told him that I sold the manuscript. He suggested a title: Crusader Without a Cape.

Thanks to Charles, I learned the following (not a complete list):

  • Bill had a "lady friend" named Lyn Simmons who, it turns out, became his second wife (and later became as invaluable in my research as Charles was)
  • how and where Bill died
  • details about Bill's legendary gimmick books (including what kind of notebooks they were and examples of entries)
  • how Bill got to write for the Batman TV show
  • visual details about Bill's workspace (from the make of his radio to the Klee print hanging over his desk), which I shared with Ty Templeton, who illustrated my book

Also, Charles connected me with his second wife, Nancy H. Cole, who was the first person to produce a decent, previously unpublished photo of Bill (from their wedding).

Charles was married three times and had six children. 

His first wife, Cory, worked for DC Comics. It was through her that he and Bill met. Charles and Cory had two children, Lorna and Scott, and divorced in 1963.

His second wife was the aforementioned Nancy. They married in 1964, had three children (Kim, Jennifer, and Jason), and divorced in 1969.

He met Gayle Sanders in 1973 and married her 1978. They had a son, Peter. Gayle has been a friend to me almost as long as I've known Charles. Charles didn't email so everything digital went through Gayle.

Charles adopted three of Bill's belongings: a desk, a small sculpture Bill made of his then-wife Portia (which Charles would later give to Athena), and a paperweight (which he kindly gave to me, in July 2006).

I found out about Charles's death two days before the Bronx renamed a street "Bill Finger Way." I contacted him (via Gayle) to remind him of the sign unveiling, but wasn't expecting him to attend (he wasn't able to make the last event I had in New York, in February 2016, because the trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan would've been too exhausting). 

Unfortunately, Charles did not get the chance to watch Batman & Bill (which came out in May) and probably didn't know about the street renaming. It was similar to how Robin co-creator/early Batman ghost artist Jerry Robinson died only six months before my biography of his old colleague and mentor came out. Both men would've been so proud to see their friend get long overdue recognition. 

At school visits, after emphasizing how Bill's story took place a long time ago, I was always so touched to tell kids that both Charles and Lyn were still alive. In a way, I felt their longevity was in part to bear witness to a story that should not be lost.

I interviewed Charles numerous times for the book and twice on camera for the documentary, first in 2008 (for the first iteration, which did not come to pass) and again in 2016. His recall was astounding. His diction was crisp. His geniality was ever-present.

Jim Amash conducted a great interview with Charles, published in Alter Ego #84. Charles is the star of many posts on this blog.

Please read them. 

He, too, deserves to be recognized, and not just because he was always willing to take time to reminisce about Bill (for no gain for himself). He didn't help me because he was old and desperate for something to do. He had plenty to do. At times when I called him he asked me to try again later because he was on his way to the gym.

He helped me because he was a good man. I knew from the moment he first told me a Bill Finger story that I would dearly miss him one day, and that day has arrived. Meeting Charles was the closest thing I had to meeting Bill himself, and he ended up being a friend beyond that.

 2008

 2012

 2013

 2014 (with Athena)

2016 (last time I saw him)

He was a good man.

Charles, I will always be grateful to you. I will speak of you as I do Bill—without fail, with fondness, and with an eye on legacy.

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