Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Lyn Simmons (Bill Finger's second wife), 1922-2018

One of the last of Bill Finger's generation who knew him personally has left us: his second wife, Lyn (originally Edith) Simmons. On 5/2/18, she passed away at age 95.

Lyn in the 1960s

She was a mother, a grandmother, an artist, an advocate, and other things I don't know about. To me, she was first and foremost a critical living link to an important and emotional untold story.

When I started my Finger research in 2006, we knew Bill had been married…to a woman named Portia. We did not know that Bill and Portia divorced and that Bill remarried Lyn later in life. Bill's second wife was the second person I found in my research (after Charles Sinclair, Bill's longtime writing partner, who died in November 2017 at age 93). 

Surprisingly, I was the first author to reach out to Lyn about Bill.

But I was not the first writer.

While making the documentary Batman & Bill, I was asked who the heroes of the Bill Finger story are. One of the first who came to mind was Lyn. In 1989, in the run-up to Tim Burton's film Batman, Lyn almost single-handedly lobbied Warner Bros. to include Bill's name in the credits. She apparently also contacted some journalists.

As that paper trail shows, her son Steve helped and she got close…but was ultimately unsuccessful. That made it no less inspirational because Lyn did it solely for Bill. She wanted no money and offered to sign a waiver to that effect. 

What makes this even more admirable: by the time Bill died in 1974, Lyn was his ex-wife. They'd met in 1954, married in 1968 (no photos were taken, alas), and divorced in 1971. Another of Lyn's three children, Andrew, had a serious car accident in California at age 22; Lyn decided to move there to help take care of him but Bill did not want to go. (In fact, he was averse to flying and never went on a plane in his life.) Perhaps there were other factors contributing to their separation, but Lyn told me that she and Bill stayed in touch, regularly speaking on the phone. Had he lived, she felt they would've gotten back together. Lyn stayed to help her son for 12 years.

Lyn's oldest child, Steve, and her youngest, Eve, proved invaluable in my research. 

I found Lyn via Eve via her high school in Great Neck, NY. (The person I spoke with there said they are not at liberty to provide information about their graduates, but when I said this was about the secret history of Batman, he made an exception.) I left messages on the answering machines of more than one Eve or E. Simmons in New York and by chance one of them was the one I needed—and by chance she took the time to call me back. I asked what she remembered about what her mom told her about Bill, and she shared a recollection or two. Then she said "Why don't you ask her yourself?" I said "Oh, I didn't think she was still alive!"

Lyn and I first spoke almost immediately after, on 6/23/06. She was a delight from start to finish, each time we spoke. And though I did not need further motivation to pursue this story, Lyn sure infused me with a greater sense of urgency (and poignancy).

again in the '60s

She told me that Steve had a great photo of Bill that Steve had used in a birthday slide show for Lyn, so I emailed Steve to ask if he could email me a scan. He kindly said he'd first have to look for it. Seven months later, he found it. I was so excited that I emailed him several questions including "Where do you live?" Turns out Steve lived in…the exact same town as I did at the time. Meaning the photo was five minutes away from me the whole time.

That photo is of one of the clearest (and definitely the quirkiest) of the 12 "new" Bill Finger photos I uncovered: Bill fertilizing the lawn at Lyn's house in Roslyn, NY—topless (the photo is in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman). Lyn told me "One of my neighbors objected to Bill not having a shirt on even though the temperature was about 100 degrees. We ignored [that person]."

In that first talk, Lyn expressed gratitude that I was doing this. I told her I'd like to get Bill a proper burial; she didn't know he didn't have a headstone. She later said she'd like to cover the cost for one.

A few days later, in our second talk, she said she'd found her Bill file, which included a letter she'd written him (most likely in the early '70s) in which she said she was on her third Scotch. "If you publish the book," she said, "please change it to 'second.'" (No mention of alcohol made it into the final draft of the picture book aimed at young readers.)

On 7/30/06, she emailed "How old are you, Marc? I'm just curious because you're involved now with the 80s generation [meaning people in their eighties] and you seem to be handling it all very well." It wasn't hard, Lyn. Certainly not with you.

Lyn remembered Bill's scarab paperweight that Charles had given me. She had bought it for Bill (or possibly the other way around) at a New York museum gift shop.

Thanks to Lyn, we learned Bill's birth name was Milton, which enabled me to find his high school yearbook photo, the earliest known Bill Finger photo in existence. Knowing his given name also confirmed that his family does indeed appear in the census. At first I missed them because I was looking for a Bill (not Milton) Finger but saw none. And in confirming which census listings were his, I discovered that he had not one but two sisters, Emily and Gilda. 

For all Lyn knew, there were two big things she did not know. One: Bill had siblings. It appears he never told her. Two: Bill had a granddaughter. But that makes more sense as Athena was born two years after Bill died.

In 1974, after Lyn had not heard from Bill when she expected to, she asked Charles (whom she called Charlie) to look in on him. The way Charles found Bill dead is devastatingly recreated in the documentary. Charles asked Lyn if she was psychic.

I met in Lyn in person for the first time on 6/7/07, at a Starbucks. She said she hoped she'd still be alive when my book came out. (At that point, I had not even sold it—and wouldn't for three more years.) We filmed her twice for the documentary—first in 2008 (for an attempt that would implode), next in 2016. Clips from both interviews are in the finished film and the difference in Lyn in those eight years is striking.

2008

Bill the Boy Wonder is dedicated to three people: Athena, Charles, and Lyn. I called her the "heart" of Bill Finger. She was also the heart of my book, and I am one of many who will miss her.

2014, the last time I saw Lyn in person

Thank you, Lyn. It took 25 years longer than you had hoped, but mission accomplished.

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