Saturday, September 18, 2021

“I knew Bill Finger at Army Pictorial Center, here are some stories”

Six years ago today, DC Comics announced that Bill Finger would begin receiving official credit on Batman stories. 

In 2006, you had never heard of Bill Finger and I had just begun researching him. I asked the military for help.

Bill’s friend Charles Sinclair had told me that Bill was a freelance writer for the Army Pictorial Center in Queens, NY, in the late 1960s. Bill’s second wife Lyn said he hated the job.

At that time, I had only two photos of Bill (in a baseball cap, golfing), and the next two I scrounged were too grainy to be of much use. So I reasoned that if any place was likely to have more, it would be a pictorial center.

The APC kindly put out the word to its network (here and here).

And this week—yes, 15 (!) years later—I finally heard from someone. (That’s what prompted me to revisit my 2006 pleas, where, alas, I saw that one included a long-gone email of mine and the other had no email at all. I wonder how many others tried to reach me…)

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out in 2012, and Batman & Bill in 2017, but I continue to add to Bills story whenever I can. That’s partly what this blog is for.

The subject line of the email (now also the title of this post) was a jolt of electricity. The gentleman who kindly reached out is a retired, impressive multi-hyphenate (writer-producer-director-consultant-Vietnam vet-more) named Tim W. Hrastar. He does not have photos of Bill but does have some great anecdotes. I’ll let him speak for himself (lightly edited):

The end of 1968 and first five or so months of 1969, I was an Army Signal Corps Lieutenant stationed at the Army Pictorial Center as the Information Officer. 

My fellow young officers and I would usually have lunch with Bill Finger, Bert Channon (producer), Sam Robins (writer), and a few others. We would go to this diner-deli down the street. After, we would stop at a used book store a few doors away. 

One day I bought this very used Batman comic book in paperback and had Bill autograph it for me. The inscription has to do with me as the Information Officer (I did very little of anything in that position, just waited for my Vietnam orders) and [referenced himself] as the “ghost of Batman.” He also wrote on the cover “Vote for Tim Hrastar.” 

Because few known examples of Bill’s handwriting survive,
this is an especially exciting find.

At the time Bill was pretty bald on top, with long frizzy hair that stuck out on the sides. He smoked cigarettes with a cigarette holder, like the Penguin. He once told me that when they developed Robin as Batman’s sidekick, it was supposed to be a joke. They called him “Robin Rabinowitz.” As you know Bill was Jewish, and Rabinowitz is a Jewish name. They probably just used it as an inside joke. 

I remember him saying once that he didn’t get credit as co-creator of Batman, but shrugged it off as “but I [did get] credit for other things.” 

He was a character. We enjoyed hanging with him, and I think he liked hanging out with us young guys, too.

APC photos are from an APC brochure and courtesy of Bob Fulstone.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Bob Kane’s claim that Leonardo da Vinci inspired Batman

Recently a fellow writer asked me about Bob Kane’s assertion that his idea for Batman’s bat-like wings/cape was in part inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine.

I knew enough offhand to say that this is an almost certainly false nugget that some Batman fans have accepted simply because it is frequently referenced online and in print. By now it’s well established that Bob and the truth were often not well acquainted. See the scene in the documentary Batman & Bill in which I dissect the suspiciously-dated 1934 sketches published in Bobs autobiography Batman & Me.

But I realized I could not say for sure when this fishy LDV claim was first floated, so I went back through my sources. 

A da Vinci name-drop does not appear in the earliest (1940) Kane bio I’ve seen nor in the preposterous fever dream origin of Batman’s creation that DC published in 1946 nor in The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer (1965) nor, conspicuously, in The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1 (1970). Up till that point, those were the primary published sources on Kane and/or comics history. Meanwhile, Bob had stated that he took some inspiration from the Winged Bird-Men of the Flash Gordon comic strip, which indeed seems more likely given Bobs interests. So I speculated that (in a bid to seem more cultured) Bob concocted the LDV connection sometime after 1970.

In my material, Bobs first known mention of da Vinci was in an unusual 1985 comic book called Fifty Who Made DC Great. (Side note: some choices have not aged well. Superman peanut butter made the list, but only two women, both actresses.) 

After that, the claim appeared in almost every book or article about the creation of Batman.

But I was missing something! The incomparable comics historian John Wells called to my attention multiple articles published on the eve of the debut of the 1966 TV show Batman in which Bob cites Leo. Here is one:

Thank you as ever, John!

It’s possible for a major detail like this to go unreported for decades—for example, so much about Bill Finger’s story. But it does seem like the kind of major detail that would have come out sooner than 1965…and it is curious that it is not mentioned in the Steranko passage that delineates other influences for Batman (Shadow, the Phantom, Doc Savage).

In other words, to quote comics language, it’s not canon. At least not from where I flit.

NOTE: There is more to my theory that did not make it into the post because I am flawed. See comment from Boswell and my reply.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

A year mistake in “Thirty Minutes Over Oregon”

I found a goof midway through my book Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story (I wish they’d add back page numbers to picture books!).

A sentence reads as follows: “And the residents of Brookings largely forgot about their close call—until 1962.”

It should be 1961. (Nobuo visited in 1962, but the town hatched the idea and sent the invite letter in 1961.)

This will be corrected in future printings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Milton in “The Suicide Squad” not a reference to Bill Finger

In the film The Suicide Squad, Polka-Dot Man grows especially fond of a minor character named Milton. 

Online there be rumors or theories that the name “Milton” is a nod to Bill Finger, who co-created PDM (not to be confused with TDK), and whose birth name was Milton.

Alas, it is not true, as confirmed by writer-director James Gunn himself. So a bummer, but a cool way to receive that bummer.

However, Bill is in the movie, on the list of the comics creators thanked in the credits (unfairly, none in connection to any specific characters).

Thursday, August 5, 2021

First in-person author talk since 3/12/20 (18 months ago)

Today I stood on a stage to give a presentation to human beings in the same room for the first time since March 12, 2020. 

Memorable enough in its own right, even more so because it was my daughter’s school. 

Best of all: she introduced me.

The offstage epilogue:

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Biographer of underdogs, Superman of author presentations

Just now discovering (or possibly rediscovering) a blog post sharing a Jewish-themed podcast I did nearly a decade ago. I was touched and tickled by two ways I am described: the title “biographer of underdogs” and, from the comment, “the Superman of author presentations.”

This micro-post is brought to you by summer.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Interview: Jim Youngs (Ariel’s boyfriend Chuck Cranston in “Footloose”)

In Footloose (1984), Jim Youngs played Chuck Cranston, boyfriend to Lori Singer’s character Ariel Moore.

Jim’s behind-the-scenes recollections of the experience (interview conducted in 11/20):

What were you doing professionally prior to Footloose?

I had been acting in town for about three or four years. I got started in an interesting way.

I had been living in Long Island and my sister Gail, who was an actress at the time, made me aware of an open casting call in New York City for a movie called The Wanderers. I had just begun to get pictures and was thinking about pursuing acting. Gail said there’s all kinds of gangs in this movie and they’ll need extras. I was a child actor in high school plays and my brother John Savage was already a star, but I knew nothing about the acting business. 

I went to this interview and the first person who saw me was named Craig Zadan, assistant to casting director Scott Rudin. They both went on to run studios, if I’m not mistaken. They liked what they saw and brought me to see the director Philip Kaufman. They asked me to read for Richie. I was flipping through script on the way to Penn Station and saw that Richie was the lead. 

[Another day, I auditioned.] Phil played it back on the monitor—they never do that, play the audition for the actor—and told me I was a natural. I said “Do something about it.” (laughs) They said they couldn’t give me the lead role [because they felt Ken Wahl was a better fit for it], but offered me the role of Buddy. A few weeks later, I was on the streets of the Bronx making a movie. 

In one month I went from bartending and running a nightclub in Long Island (a small, famous concert hall called My Father’s Place) to being in a film. 

The film came out five months later and people said “Go west, young man.”

I turned down the original Porky’s. Instead I did a series called Secrets of Midland Heights. That folded after 14 episodes. 

I haven’t done [an interview] in decades, so let me know if I’m talking too much.

You’re doing great. I want you to tell me a lot! You mentioned your sister Gail and brother John. Any other siblings?

[My other sister] is Robin Young, an Emmy-winning journalist, the dynamo of the family.

My sister Gail Youngs was married to Robert Duvall. She was an actress and is now a healer. Powerful. 

My brother John Savage was up for an Oscar for The Deer Hunter. He’s still in the business. One of the most prolific actors around. 

Why does he have a different last name?

When he joined the Actors Guild [sic] in New York, it was still that phase of “Pick a name.” He and his friends De Niro, Walken, Pesci were the first to say “I’m not changing my name.” But another guy had the name John Young (no “s” at the end) so my brother took the name John Michael Savage. When he got to Hollywood he dropped the “Michael.”

Ever do a movie together?

I forgot—we did. I don’t know the name of it. We were Cajun knife assassins. B-minus movie. He asked me to come to New Orleans to do this. Terrible acting on my part in that movie. [It’s The Dangerous from 1995.]

How did you get the role in Footloose?

I had a small agent but she worked hard for me. It came down to me and a few other guys, like it normally does, and [at the same time] she brought me into CBS for a soap opera, which I didn’t really want to do. I had that actor’s attitude about soap operas, which looking back is ridiculous. 

At the interview, they said they would screen test me the next day. If they did that, I could not do Footloose. My agent called the casting director Marci Liroff—who became very successful—to tell her that if I did this soap opera I wouldn’t be able to do Footloose. They talked into the night and called me in the middle of the night and told me that I got Footloose

Why such a push for Footloose? Was there advanced buzz?

No, just that it was a movie, not a soap opera. 

How soon after you were cast did you fly out to Utah to start shooting?

Probably not long. Maybe a month? It was a class-A operation so things were done professionally. The Executioner’s Song (which I was in) was filmed in Provo, so it was amazing to be back. Everywhere you are there has a magnificent mountain range view.

Any funny anecdotes about your Footloose experience?

I’ve got a few. 

The director was a great man named Herbert Ross. That alone was interesting because he had done nothing but intimate dramas so people were probably wondering why he was doing this kids’ dance movie. I think he was the reason there was so much heart and soul in the movie. 

Herbert called me in one day and asked me to do him a favor: keep an eye on Chris Penn. He was a young, talented kid. I was the older of the kids in the movie. So I kept an eye on Chris as best I could. He was a wonderful, sweet guy. 

Why did Herbert ask you to keep an eye on Chris?

I was the oldest out of the youngest group. I had my senses about me. Chris was a gentle, beautiful person, but he came from the Malibu rat pack and they didn’t know discipline. He was a young kid thrusted upon fame. We were in a foreign land called Utah. 

Ah, okay. On with the anecdotes!

One Saturday, we had the day off, I drove around to the back the motel we were staying in. I saw smoke pouring out of Chris’s room. I went to his door and asked if he was okay. He said yes. He had bought a small grill and was barbecuing by himself…inside. I told him that wasn’t a good idea. He put it out, but it was too late—they had to redo the drapes and repaint it. It got barbecued out. 

His dancing scene—Let’s Hear It for the Boy”—stole the whole movie. It was a showstopper for me. One of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. 

The night before we started filming, Herb called us together to let us know that Tracy Nelson, daughter of Ricky Nelson, was not going to be doing the role [of Rusty, the best friend of Lori Singer’s character]. She wasn’t comfortable with it. But Herb said a wonderful young actress was coming out from New York. Her name was Sarah Jessica Parker. I had no idea who she was. I realized only years later that she had done Broadway as Annie. Needless to say, she knocked it out of the park. 

I have to admit: I asked Sarah to go on a hike up Provo Canyon. I took a picture or two of her, which I still have. I had a crush on her. She was a stunning, talented, vibrant person. But she was 17-18 and I was 25-26, so it didn’t feel professional and I didn’t let her know. 

I had a tractor scene with Kevin Bacon. People call it the chicken races. Kevin and I filmed, then the second unit filmed long shots, dangerous shots. The dirt path that we were on with the tractors—on one side was a precipice that fell off down the hillside, on the other was a drainage system that I jumped into. (I did my own stunts.) There was room for the tractor with only a foot or so on each side. Looking back it was very dangerous and I’m surprised they let Kevin and I do it. 

At night they called us in to ask if we wanted to watch the dailies from the second unit stuntmen. It was a long shot of the tractors coming perilously close to each other, then they’d stop, to be edited later. On one of those shots, the stuntman playing my character skidded; the tractor veered to the side and he went off the cliff. The tractor went down the hill, too, but he jumped clear of it. Thank goodness he broke only his arm. He was there the next day in his cast saying hello to everyone. Miraculous that is all that happened. 

For some reason, they showed us this footage. So I went to the set the next day to finish the shooting. I was supposed to come at the camera (which was suspended over the dirt road at the same level as my head), duck, and stop. As I was about to do the shot, the stunt coordinator came over—a burly, older, Patton kind of guy—and said the tractor got kind of banged up yesterday during the accident. They patched it up but [now] it didn’t have any brakes. He said that I should just roll past the camera and it’ll stop. 

Looking back, as you can tell, this was all kind of ridiculous. You don’t put your actors in jeopardy because they could get hurt…and not be able to shoot. I did the shot—it’s the one you see in the movie. I raised the shovel, I dropped the shovel, I reached the camera, I ducked down, I took my foot off the gas. They called cut—and there’s the executive producer Dan Melnick getting a cup of coffee from the craft table on the side of the path I was on! I said “Dan, get out of the way! I don’t have any brakes!” He found a sliver to stand on as the tractor went by. I almost killed the executive producer. Poorly planned out stuff. 

Is there one story about your Footloose time you tell more than any other?

You got the three of them there. Oh, I got one more. I don’t know if anyone knows this but it’s a dandy. 

There was a scene where I have a fight with Ariel. Dean Pitchford scripted it to take place entirely in the cab of my truck. We have an argument, I slap her, push her out. Lori Singer and I were off rehearsing the scene. It was to take place behind the bleachers of the high school football field. I don’t know how, but I changed the scene [so that some of it took place outside of the truck] and she and I worked on it. We didn’t change the dialogue, just [added more] action. We told the director that we changed it around and asked if he would like to see it. He said okay. We played it out and he said “I love it. We’re going to shoot it.” That’s the scene you see in the movie. 

The head of each department on that film probably hated me immediately because the scene was now more expansive—Ariel smashing the front window [of the truck], smashing the headlight, and so on. [It now required] hours [more] of prep work. I [came to feel that] it was too violent for the film. Maybe it helped reinforce my character being an asshole. I was so surprised that Herb filmed it and kept it in the film. 

What made me think of it was I had done a few fight scenes so I understood a bit about how they work. Number one, you have to go about one-third of the speed or else it’ll be a blur. Make all your moves bigger, broader, and slower. It’s up to the other actor to sell it. We’d worked it out so when I slapped Lori, I am not near her face. It’s up to the camera to set up an angle to sell it. And the actress or actor has to sell it with their movements. The stunt coordinator who said I had no brakes was feeling left out—that’s my opinion. When I was about to do the slap, he stepped in to explain something to me. But Lori was in front of him and he did the slapping motion and hit her right on the side of the head. She and I had done it a half dozen times with no injury. When I tackled her and we fell, I absorbed all of her weight (and hurt my back). 

How did Lori react?

She was like WTF did you do? She didn’t fall down, but he coldcocked her. We were all stunned, probably took a break, got some ice, and continued. 

While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? I don’t have any memories of it being special. It was great, it was fun, it was professional. I was nervous [if I could measure] up to these people. I don’t think anyone knew. I didn’t even know who John Lithgow was, the greatest actor in Hollywood. I didn’t know Dianne Wiest, a brilliant Broadway star. I didn’t realize how lucky how I was to work with Phil Kaufman and Herbert Ross. I didn’t realize till I did movies later on that were terrible. 

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon?

A really, really good guy. I didn’t know enough at the time to know how special that is. Later I worked with some neurotic actors and I’ve probably been told I’m neurotic once or twice. I didn’t realize how great Kevin was till later—he’s a professional, get-the-job-done guy. He was sweet, kind. He was well-mannered, level-headed.

Chris Penn?

A wonderful, sweet young man. Guileless. What you saw was what he was—no hidden agenda. I didn’t see him for decades after, then I ran into him after Reservoir Dogs. He was a big man at that time, as you know, which ended up taking his life. But nothing [else] had changed—still the sweetest, most open guy I’ve met. Really broke my heart when he passed away. (chokes up a bit)

Lori Singer?

An absolute professional. Not many people realize that she was a graduate of the music school at Julliard. She played cello. A serious, intelligent gal. She would have to work hard to be goofy. She’d put headphones on and dance around. [At first] I didn’t understand it but then realized she had to work to be that kind of adolescent. That was acting. 

John Lithgow?

I didn’t have many times to be with John. I think the only scene when we were together was when he was giving a sermon and I was in the back sulking. I didn’t have any contact with him. But years later at a golf course, ten to twelve years ago, a friend of mine—the late Paul Gleason, I think—said he had someone he wanted me to meet. He brought this person out from the clubhouse and it was John. That was the last time I saw a member of the cast in person.

Did you two reminisce at all?

No, he was on his way, but first thing out of his mouth was “What a fine older human being you’ve turned into.”

Did you get to know Dianne Wiest?

Not at all.

Sarah Jessica Parker?

I didn’t have any work with her on the film. Just a wonderful hike in Provo Canyon. (laughs)

The physical confrontation between Chuck and Lori is difficult to watch. How was it to film?

It was very comfortable, very professional. She and I worked it out. All actors in that situation have to be careful but you have to have a governor on it. You have to be in control even though you are supposed to act out of control. That was a real metal pipe in her hand! You can see in the shot that there are all kinds of pads in my jeans and back—[well, you] can’t see it unless you are looking for it. 

Did you attend the premiere?

I don’t remember. 

How often were you recognized on the street? 

It wasn’t as much as you would think. So I guess people weren’t looking for Chuck. 

I’m not a tough guy. I’m kind a pushover and a sweetheart, a charmer. When people would say I looked familiar, I asked if they had seen Footloose. I was the bad guy. Their eyes would go wide and they’d say “You were the asshole!” I could see it coming, year after year. I took it as a compliment.

Do you remember what you earned for the movie, and do you still earn residuals?

I earned a nice paycheck, not through the roof, not low. I had nothing to bargain with, really. It was not a big film, mostly unknowns who were being given breaks. I still get residuals but it’s a sliding scale, so I kid with people: “[By now] it’s a nice steak dinner.” I am very thankful for that residual system and thankful that we have a union that makes sure I get [those residuals].

What are you doing these days?

I’m retired. I’ve been away from acting for a couple of decades. I was in some small films that I was the star of that didn’t work out and I got tired of the whole thing. I left the business about 1997. One of the last I did was called Skeeter and it was disappointing. 

My first love in life was golf. Within a year of [first] picking up a golf club, I was second best in New York State. I was going to be a professional golfer right about when I got The Wanderers. That shifted the path of my life. 

About 20 years ago, I started getting back into golf. I was working at a country club here in Los Angeles. Many actor friends of mine were members and they were appreciative that I was working there. I had a private, simple life. 

What was your job at the golf club?

I was a caddy. The lowest on the ladder but I did really well. I helped a lot of people. 

Caddies are essential workers for golf clubs! Any interest in acting again?

One day I would like to do some acting again. The timing has to be right. I’ve had health problems. My back’s been out for a year or so. Health first, then maybe I’ll hit up some friends.

When I first got to town, I was a big partier, but I was never much for promoting myself which might’ve been a mistake. I should have been in touch with every one of those people [in the Footloose cast].

Tony Ganios is a dear old friend of mine. He and I met on The Wanderers. He was in Porky’s[In 2012], Tony [was trying to get a movie off the ground] called Daddies’ Girls, a continuation of Porky’s. All the guys from the original movies would be fathers now and their daughters are terrors. Tony brought me to the set years ago because someone from original cast had died and they wanted me to replace him in the photo shoot. But I wouldn’t [have been] in the movie. 

Where do you live?

Los Angeles. 

Any children?

No, I missed that boat, marriage and children. 

Have you ever participated in a Footloose-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?

That’s interesting you say that. That is something I would do. 

Tony Ganios is probably the only hero in my life. A great man on many levels. A year or so ago, he said “Jimmy, you’ve got to [do] this autographing thing.” I said it’s been years [since I was in the business]. He said they’d love me and I’d make some money. 

My initial thought was “Who would want to see me?” But I’m actually still pretty good looking. (laughs) I realized I was being selfish. If people want to see me, I should let them see me.

[So] we were about to do that, but [then] my back went out and I couldn’t get out of bed. 

Why is Tony a hero to you? 

He was a Renaissance man. He was as strong as Hercules [and had] a mind that was historical and interesting and intelligent. He’s never changed. I wish more people would listen to what he has to say.

When was the last time you watched Footloose? How did you think it held up?

Last year. Whenever it’s on at a friend’s house, they’ll make me watch it for a little bit. I think it holds up, owed to Herbert Ross. Did you know that the writer, Dean Pitchford, collaborated on every song on that soundtrack? 

I didn’t. Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

No (laughs). I’m not a big collector kind of guy. I’m more into getting rid of stuff. I have the photos of Sarah Jessica Parker. For years, I had the belt buckle I wore in the film but as you get older you let things go.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

Never. Or if I did back in the day, I can’t remember. Looking back, it made me nervous. I didn’t think I was that great an actor. I wish I had a manager or agent to help me get through it. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Humbled and proud. [We then talked about how I found him, which was tricky because he has almost no online presence, doesn’t currently own a computer though will be getting one, and has never had an email address.]

How do you look back on your Footloose experience?

Footloose was probably one of the greatest things that happened in my life. We didn’t know it would be on every month for the rest of our lives. I’m proud of what I did. I did the best I could. I’m so happy that it has such a following. 

Did you see the Footloose remake (2011)?

I never saw it. (laughs) Maybe the mojo would spoil it. I worked for a great writer at the golf club. He said to me “You see the new Footloose? Yours was better.” I heard that they did not change the script. How could you not update the script?

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

Of course it did in the sense that I was in a classic movie that will be played forever. I’ve been fortunate to be in a couple [of other classics]—YoungbloodThe Wanderers, [which I think is] one of the greatest movies ever. Started a dozen careers. 

Anything you’d like to add?

[paraphrasing a story he told: In 1987, I was in a movie called Hotshot, which filmed in Brazil. The soccer legend Pelé was also in the movie. When we were filming, I didn’t stay in a hotel. I lived with Pelé for a month—in all three of his homes! (laughs) First a suite on the top floor of a building on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Then his suite in São Paulo. Then we went into the jungle to his third house, a walled home.] 

(long pause) I’ve been talking a lot. I guess I needed to talk to somebody. [Because you write for children, I think you can be sensitive about this.] I’ve struggled with alcohol my whole life. Fifty years. I’m 64. 

I did FootlooseYoungblood totally sober. But I’ve been fighting with it my whole life. Not that anyone would care what I’ve been through, but I would like to address it so it might help others. We can talk more about it. 

[People who are struggling with alcohol] shouldn’t give up. 

courtesy of Lori Singer

Sunday, June 13, 2021

One year of virtual school visits

Cringe notI'm not going to recount every visit one by one. I'm also not going to reflect more broadly on our COVID year (because I've already done that). I'm simply noting a milestone, albeit small, as I am wont to do.

Prior to COVID-19, I'd done few virtual appearances. (What is now called a "Zoom visit" was then known as a "Skype visit.") I would advocate for in-person engagements whenever possible; kids these days are so used to screens that anything up close and personal in the real world has a bigger impact. Plus my approach is more performance than presentation and it gets quite emotional, both of which make it harder to convey remotely. (Though this year, I've learned how.)

That said, if Skype was a school's only option, I was open to it.

Even when the human race went into lockdown in March 2020 with no indication of when such extreme measures would end, I (and some other authors/speakers) at first resisted going virtual. I thought I would wait it out.

Something else I have learned: don't play chicken with a pandemic. The pandemic will win.

So on 6/10/20, I did my first full virtual visit, with a school in Massachusetts. By "full" I mean more than a single talk. This was also the first school I booked to be virtual from the start (i.e. not rescheduling what was originally scheduled as an in-person). My previous talk was in person in Ohio on 3/12/20. That night, or within the next three days, the world went home and stayed there.

In July, I did my first international virtual visit (the students were in Dubai, I was on a second-floor deck a few houses from the beach in North Carolina). In April 2021, I did my first virtual keynote. In between and since, I did more talks (K-12 schools, universities, synagogues, community groups, etc.) than I was expecting in March 2020.

On 6/11/21, almost a year to the day I first waded into virtual waters, I did my last visit of the 2020-21 school year, speaking remotely to middle schoolers in New York. 

Unlike some pivoters, I hadn't invested in a ring light; an adjustable floor lamp on either side of my desk—both already there pre-COVID—worked just fine. I hadn't picked up a classic-looking 1940s microphone; no one complained about the sound via my laptop. I didn't have to plunk down a nice chunk of change for a standing desk...well, not during quarantine; I had bought one in 2017. I didn't gussy up my background; it's the same old window, bookshelves, and boxes of comics it was in the Before Times because all of that already align with my raison d'etre.

What I did do:

  • added images to my presentation to bolster spots where formerly I would talk for a stretch without changing slides; in person, I can use facial expressions and body language to compensate, but that isn't an option with videoconferencing; even without these new additions, my presentation already included more images than I typically see in other author talks, but staring at one picture on a screen for more than a few seconds can cause attention to wander; at first I thought I'd remove these "hitch" images when I go back in person but have now decided to keep them
  • bought a laptop stand and wireless keyboard for better ergonomics (mostly for everyday health but it also helps with presentations)
  • began using earbuds for aesthetics even though I still prefer wired headphones both for fit and for our future; the first time I used both these and the laptop stand for a presentation was the same day, 6/11/21 (again, the final presentation of the school year)

I know blog posts (or online articles in general) without pictures can be a drag, but so are the now-ubiquitous screenshots of Zooms, so I will spare you.

Looking ahead, I am so eager to return to live audiences...but also fully on board for virtual visits. What they may lack in the palpable energy you get only when in close proximity to other people they make up for in they give every student a front row seat.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bill Finger has been inducted into New York State Writers Hall of Fame

On 6/8/21, Bill Finger was one of seven writers (four living, three deceased) inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. 

This event was originally scheduled to take place at the Princeton Club with 180 attendees on 6/2/20, but the pandemic forced a reschedule to 9/14/20....then 6/7/21...then 6/8/21 (virtually). 

I had the honor of inducting Bill with a precorded speech


Even the T-shirts got a shoutout.

Congrats again to all the inductees!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A central perk of being a Brandeis graduate

September 1993: as a college senior interested in screenwriting, I mailed letters to Brandeis University alumni in Hollywood. A TV producer who wrote back said if I was ever in Los Angeles, he would be happy to meet with me.

Spring break 1994: my first trip to the West Coast. I called this producer. He said he’d love to get together but was now swamped working on a sitcom pilot. He apologized and, though disappointed, I understood.

Before we hung up, I asked what he could tell me about the show. All he could reveal was that it was about six twentysomethings who hang out in a New York City coffee shop.

I didn’t say this to David Crane, but I didn’t think it sounded like a hit.

His second and final letter to me:

Note two things about letter #2:

  • It is dated six days after the debut of Friends.
  • David’s signature looks different when he’s busy building a legend.

Friends premiered the year I entered the workforce and aired its series finale a few weeks before my first child was born. For the duration of the show’s run, I was in the exact same phase of life as its characters. 

Thank you again, David. Could you be any more kind?

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Plaque honoring Bill Finger's induction into New York State Writers Hall of Fame

The (virtual) ceremony will be on June 8 but the plaque is already in place of pride in Athena Finger's house, alongside a sculpture Bill made of Portia, his first wife and Athena's grandmother.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Hey kids! Translate the hieroglyphics on Bill Finger's paperweight!

One of the first posts I made on this blog was about one of the last items Bill Finger owned...and which is still around: a scarab paperweight.

During a (virtual) school visit today, a student asked me a question I can't recall getting before: what is the meaning of the hieroglyphics on the bottom of the paperweight?

I threw it right back to her by saying I'll post an image so she (or anyone) can do some detective work on this. I don't know whether or not these hieroglyphics are authentic. So if anyone decodes any of it, please post your findings in the comments!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Bill Finger to be inducted into New York State Writers Hall of Fame: UPDATE

So this event did not happen in 2020 as planned. I'll give you (COVID) 19 guesses why...

The induction ceremony for the New York State Writers Hall of Fame changed dates several times, ultimately landing on 6/8/21. It will be virtual, and all induction speeches will be precorded.

As you can see, another inductee is one of my own: fellow author of books for young people Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Tickets are only $5 and support the Empire State Center for the Book.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

1960s articles implying Bill Finger is Batman co-creator

A man by name of Bill Mullins kindly reached out to me because he has access to a number of digital newspaper archives and often searches for whatever subject is of current interest. 

Luckily, one night, that subject was Bill Finger. And Bill found some curious new old material on Bill.

The following six articles are all from the second half of the '60s, most focusing on the now-infamous Batman TV show that debuted early in 1966. One is a review of said show, and a highly entertaining one at that. It has no byline, but seasoned Batmanians including film producer Michael Uslan suspect it was written by superfan Tom Fagan (the big clue being that it was published in a newspaper of Tom's town, Rutland, Vermont). 

Another article details some of Bill's writing work for the Army Pictorial Center. The article does not mention that Bill apparently hated the experience.

Most curiously, however, is how many of these articles refer to both Bill and Bob as the creators of Batman. In some cases, Bill's name is even first. 

Perhaps this suggests that fandom maestro Jerry Bails's pivotal 1965 piece "If the Truth Be Known or 'A Finger in Every Plot!'" spread wider (and faster) than I originally thought.


Newsday 11/4/65 
The "I'm no fool..." line is lifted from a 8/21/65 New Yorker piece.

Newsday 12/20/65 
"[Kane]...looks a little like a comic book crook." 
"Finger...for 24 years has received no credit..."

Rutland (VT) Daily Herald 1/19/66
Bill is referred to as one of the original creators.

Hollywood (CA) Citizen-News 8/27/66, p. 8
Bill's name is first.

Glens Falls (NY) Times 8/31/66 
Bill's name is first.

Augusta (GA) Chronicle 7/18/68, p. 14

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Surprising college students who watched “Batman & Bill”

Professor Justine Wilson is a friend and Batfan who teaches English Literature and College Composition at three New York universities: SUNY College at Old Westbury in Hicksville; St. John’s University in Jamaica; and the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. She also teaches a graphic novel course. 

Justine and I have started a tradition, if twice counts. She shows her students Batman & Bill during one of the first classes of the semester. The next time they meet, without warning, I crash their Zoom for a surprise Q&A. #zoombombing #batzooming #batbombing

It’s so fun to see the reactions of kids who had no idea that Justine knows me. I’m a big fan of surprises in general, but especially with respect to education, and extra-especially with respect to education during a global health crisis (when we are spending more time than usual on screens).

If not for COVID-19, this would not have happened as an ambush. Pre-pandemic, Justine and I were planning an in-person visit, but that would have been announced in advance. 

I have a feeling we will continue this surprise (whether virtually or live). 

So if you’re going to take a class with Professor Wilson, please keep this between us. 

Even better, this blog post never happened.
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