Monday, April 21, 2008

If Bill Finger was on LinkedIn: part 2

If you're just joining me: Bill Finger was the uncredited co-creator of Batman and the subject of a book I am shopping around. In this series of posts, I am relaying how I tracked down various people related to Bill by blood or Batman.

First I covered Charles Sinclair, Bill's longtime (non-comics) writing partner.

This installment focuses on Bill's second wife...a person nearly every comics pro, comics historian, or Finger family member I talked to never knew existed.

In my first talk with Charles, he mentioned Bill's "final lady." She and Bill were together in the mid- and late 1960s, years after he and Portia had separated and not long before his death in 1974.

Shortly after, Charles clarified that she in fact had been Bill's second wife.

Charles referred to her as "ES" (full names will be withheld out of respect for privacy). He told me what town she and Bill had lived in together (not New York City but within New York State) and he told me she had a daughter "ES" (so let's call her "ES Jr.") who was in high school at that time.

In terms of research, the name "ES" was a mixed blessing. The "E" was not a particularly common name, but the "S" was. I first tried the usual search steps (Google, phone book, etc.), but the results were overwhelming. It would be more than a challenge to find her, or what had happened to her.

So I set out to find ES Jr. instead.

The first wrinkle when looking for a woman (no, not like that) is that you usually need to know her married name...unless she kept her maiden name or never married. In any case, assuming you know her high school, that's perhaps the best place to start.

As luck had it, there is only one high school in the town Bill and ES lived in. I called and asked if they would be so kind as to look for an ES Jr. in the yearbooks of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though schools will not give out contact details of alumni, whether or not a person went to the school is not confidential info. For what it was worth, I said that if I lived closer, I would gladly go to the public library and look through yearbooks myself. Hesitant at first, the person on the phone soon agreed to help me.

He verified that ES Jr. did in fact graduate in 1971. But I still did not know if she had subsequently changed her name or where she now lived. He admitted that they didn't know, either.

I found the alumni site for that school and that year. Though many such sites don't grant access to non-alumni, that one did. I e-mailed everyone from 1971 and the three class years on either side of it, several dozen at least. Made a lot of "friends" but found no leads. One woman did say she'd seen ES Jr. on the street in NYC a decade ago but remembered nothing else.

A librarian at the public library in that town confirmed that a "William Finger" was indeed listed with an "ES" in the 1970-1971 phone book. I even tried the phone number, now not in service. I called the town hall and found out that their address was a rental unit, so I called the rental company, which was still in service. The man I spoke to there was willing to look for her in old files.

Meanwhile, though it was a longshot, I searched for "ES" in the Manhattan online phone directory. The variables plotting against me in this search:

- she no longer lived in Manhattan
- she lived there but under a married/different name
- she lived there but was unlisted

The directory had no listings that matched exactly, but there were a few with matching last names and first initial E. I cross-checked each with and found that one did match the full name I was searching for. That cost $7.95.

Totally worth it.

Though I usually don't leave messages while researching, preferring to keep trying until someone answers, I decided to leave a message that time.

A few hours later, she called me back.

And it was the right ES Jr.

Daughter of ES.

Class of '71.

Bill's onetime stepdaughter.

It was even more of a fluke that I found her that way because she told me she didn't live at the number at which I left a message; it was her apartment, but she was subletting it. The kind, kind subletter whose name I never got passed ES Jr. the message, and quickly, too.

After ES Jr. asked me the usual questions ("How did you find me?"; "What are you writing?"; "Where do you live?"), she told me two facts that floored me.

The first was that her brother, a man in his sixties, lived in my town. For all I know, I'd already stood in line next to him at Whole Foods. (Nearly a year later, he would be one of the people to turn up a "new" Bill Finger photo.)

The second was that ES, her mother, Bill's second wife, was still alive.

All along I suppose I was assuming that if I were able to find her, I would find out that she was gone.

ES Jr. said she would ask her mother if she would be willing to talk with me. I thanked her profusely and crossed my, well, Fingers.

That evening, ES called. 

Age 84, as lucid and lively as person a quarter her age, living in California, and beyond thrilled that someone was finally doing something on her second husband, Bill Finger.

To be continued.

(NOTE: I added her name as a label for this post not when it originally posted but later, after I had revealed it in another post.)


msven said...

Bill's second wife.

Well... I knew about her. Alvin Schwartz knew about her. Alvin remembers their first encounter. (I think I video taped his recollections a bunch of years ago.) However, he could never remember her name whenever I pressed him.

Fantastic that you found her!

Marc Svensson 12.14.2010

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks! Alvin didn't mention her (or a second wife in general) when I spoke with him in June 2006. Bill and his second wife were married in the late '60s, at which time Alvin and Bill were no longer in touch; in the 1950s, Alvin would've known that Bill was dating, but I don't think he knew which woman (if any) Bill eventually tied the knot with.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I sit corrected, Marc. I revisited my interview transcription and you're right - Alvin DID know that Bill remarried. But he didn't recall any details I could go on, so I had to forge other routes to try to find her (as this post describes).